Jul 24, 2022

Steve Bannon found guilty of contempt of Congress Transcript

Steve Bannon found guilty of contempt of Congress Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsJanuary 6th CommitteeSteve Bannon found guilty of contempt of Congress Transcript

Longtime Donald Trump ally Steve Bannon was found guilty on two counts of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1: (00:01)
This is an ABC News Special Report.

Whit Johnson: (00:06)
Good afternoon. I’m Whit Johnson in New York, and we’re coming on the air because the jury has reached a verdict in the trial of former President Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Bannon was charged with two counts of contempt of Congress. One contempt count involving his refusal to appear for a deposition. The other, involving his refusal to produce documents to the House Committee investigating the January 6th Capitol riot. Both are misdemeanors. We’re now learning he has been found guilty on both counts. The jury, eight men and four women, deliberated for about three hours. Again, delivering that verdict guilty on both counts, just moments ago. Let’s bring in our Chief Justice Correspondent, Pierre Thomas, who’s been watching this trial closely and, Pierre, the defense from the Bannon team was interesting. It was sort of a scattershot approach, if you will, trying to cast doubt in different areas. It seems the jury didn’t buy it.

Pierre Thomas: (00:58)
They did not buy it. And here’s the Justice Department’s position in prosecution. It was very simple. That the house select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection had a subpoena that was legal and enforceable, and they maintained that Steve Bannon had a duty and an obligation to respond to it. And when he did not, it was a crime. Now, he now faces up to two years in prison, a maximum sentence of up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $200,000, depending on whether these two counts would run parallel to one another. And, Whit, again, the bottom line here is the Justice Department maintained that he had to comply. That by not responding at all, not producing a single document whatsoever, and refusing to come in for a deposition, that that was unacceptable. And, this gives more clout to the House Committee investigating the January 6th violence. In terms of that, you must respect their subpoenas.

Whit Johnson: (01:56)
And Pierrre, I want to get into that more. Let’s bring in our Chief Washington Correspondent, John Karl, because Pierre brought that up, but what this means for the House Committee, the January 6th committee, and really the power of Congress to be able to subpoena people and force them, if you will, to provide documents and testify.

John Karl: (02:14)
This is an incredibly important case beyond the specifics of the charges against Steve Bannon or the January 6th committee. This is really about the power of Congress to conduct investigations and to issue subpoenas. The Trump administration had frequently flouted subpoenas without much impact at all. The simple truth of it is, Whit, Congress has no power itself to enforce its subpoenas. So in this case, they went to the Justice Department, went through the justice system. The Justice Department took on the case. Prosecutor and reached two guilty verdicts, reestablishing that Congress’s subpoenas should come with the force of law. And if you defy them, you can be prosecuted. You can go to jail.

Whit Johnson: (03:05)
And we noted there were a few… John, thank you… a few different defense strategies from Bannon’s team. One of the things that they were saying was that Steve Bannon was now willing to testify after former President Trump sent a letter saying that he would waive the executive privilege. That was part of their argument as well. And, the Bannon team also saying that they thought the date was flexible. That it wasn’t a hard deadline, even though the language was clearly stated in the documents and letters that they sent to Steve Bannon. Let’s bring in Kate Shaw, our legal analyst and ABC news contributor to talk more about this because, not only is this significant, Kate, to Congress and the power that they have… Kate’s joining us on the phone right now… but we haven’t seen a case like this when it comes to contempt of Congress for decades.

Kate Shaw: (03:54)
That’s right, Whit. I do think as John was just saying, this is a very important kind of reset in terms of congressional authority. The Trump administration, many officials within it treated congressional subpoenas like invitations or suggestions, but not like legally binding orders. And, this is a reminder that they do carry the force of law. Although it is the case that the Justice Department under current practice is required to participate in the enforcement of these subpoenas. But you’re right, Whit, it has been decades, it’s basically post Watergate that you have to go back to, before you see successful contempt prosecutions like this. And, in some ways you don’t need to do it very often to basically send the message to everyone else who’s subject to a subpoena that it’s not an optional document, that there’s an obligation. So, I am sure that’s what the January 6th committee is hoping, potentially, recalcitrant witnesses will take from this. That they actually do need to comply, or they too could face prosecution and conviction.

Whit Johnson: (04:56)
Kate Shaw for us. Thank you. We’re getting a little bit of color from inside the courtroom, from our team in there telling us that Steve Bannon was stone faced when the verdict was read, and that his attorneys seemed deflated at the news of that coming through. I want to turn back to John Karl, if I could. Because, John, circling back to this point about Steve Bannon suggesting sort of late in this trial here, as the jury was about to look at it that, “Wait a minute, maybe I will go back and testify before Congress.” After this verdict now, is there any chance that Congress could still come after him and get Steve Bannon to talk?

John Karl: (05:31)
Well, what’s interesting about the way this works is, he can be punished for defying the subpoena if convicted. As we mentioned, the maximum sentence for each count is a year, but there is nothing that the court can do to compel him to testify. It’s, you face the penalty if you don’t, but nothing can compel him. His offer to talk before the committee was portrayed by the prosecution as a simple ploy to avoid what is happening now, to avoid this trial and to avoid what was believed to be a very likely conviction. This was not a complicated case. It was not taken seriously. And the January 6th committee has moved beyond. I mean, they wanted to talk to him. They issued this subpoena back in October of last year, early phases of their investigation. That’s when they wanted to talk to Bannon. That’s when they wanted to get his documents. To come in, as they’re wrapping up their main hearings in the summer, and say, “Ah, here I am, turn on the cameras. I’ll come and talk to you.” They, didn’t have much interest in that at all.

Whit Johnson: (06:34)
And as we noted there, the prime time hearing wrapped up last night. They’re taking a break for a while. We do expect to hear more hearings coming up in the fall. John Karl, Pierre Thomas, Kate Shaw, our thanks to our entire team. We’re going to have much more on ABC News World News Tonight, later this evening. We are also monitoring the health of President Joe Biden. We are expecting an update at any moment on his condition after his COVID diagnosis. His doctors saying that his conditions have improved, but giving us some more details on the symptoms. He did have an elevated temperature for a period of time and is also using an inhaler. So, any moment now we’re expecting word from the White House. We’ll break back on the air once that happens. In the meantime, we’ll be back here with the entire World News Tonight team. You can get updates on abcnews.com and alerts on the ABC News app. For now, I’m Whit Johnson in New York. Have a great day.

Speaker 1: (07:26)
This has been a special report from ABC News.

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