CLOSING IN: Trump lawyer questioned by FBI in Bannon contempt case
Things are getting hot for former Trump advisor Steve Bannon in his contempt of Congress indictment. Today, it was revealed that Justin Clark, an attorney for the disgraced ex-president Donald Trump, was interviewed by the FBI in connection with Bannon’s contempt charges.
Justice Department prosecutors disclosed the June 29th interview with Clark in a court filing in Bannon’s case related to his July 18th trial for refusing to honor a subpoena to testify before the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection.
Interestingly, with the trial date imminent, Bannon suddenly decided after eight months of intransigence that he would agree to testify before the committee if his conditions were met. His excuse for the change in his stance was a letter from Donald Trump waiving the former president’s supposed claims of executive privilege over Bannon’s testimony.
There are two things wrong with Bannon’s excuse, however.
Firstly, since Bannon wasn’t a federal employee at any time close to the January 6th insurrection, any claims that executive privilege would apply to his conversations with Trump are erroneous and fabricated.
Secondly — and this is where the FBI interview with attorney Justin Clark comes in — according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn, Clark confirmed in his interview with federal investigators that Trump himself had never actually invoked executive privilege — a right that he is anyway no longer entitled to after leaving office — to prevent Bannon from testifying.
This suggests that Bannon’s primary defense against his contempt of Congress charges was based on a lie and could explain why his former attorney resigned after saying that he may be called as a witness in the trial. It also explains why Bannon is suddenly willing to cooperate and testify before the House Select Committee, as Vaughn was quoted as saying by POLITICO.
“The Defendant’s timing suggests that the only thing that has really changed since he refused to comply with the subpoena in October 2021 is that he is finally about to face the consequences of his decision to default,” Vaughn wrote.
“All of the above-described circumstances suggest the Defendant’s sudden wish to testify is not a genuine effort to meet his obligations but a last-ditch attempt to avoid accountability.”
Vaughn explained what Justin Clark told the FBI:
“that the former President never invoked executive privilege over any particular information or materials; that the former President’s counsel never asked or was asked to attend the Defendant’s deposition before the Select Committee; that the Defendant’s attorney misrepresented to the Committee what the former President’s counsel had told the Defendant’s attorney; and that the former President’s counsel made clear to the Defendant’s attorney that the letter provided no basis for total noncompliance.”
Unfortunately for Bannon, his decision to testify to the committee at this late date does not make his contempt charges moot. The government can continue its case against him simply because he did not heed the subpoena when it was originally issued.
Depending on what the Department of Justice and the House Select Committee find in their investigation of the planning of the January 6th insurrection, the contempt charges may prove to be the least of Bannon’s legal troubles, particularly since Trump’s end-of-term pardon of Bannon only covered the charges against him in the fraud prosecution surrounding his build-the-wall fund raising efforts.
It will be interesting to see how Bannon tries to weasel out of accountability now that the federal prosecutors appear to have him cornered.
Original reporting by Kyle Cheney at POLITICO.
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Vinnie Longobardo is the Managing Editor of Occupy Democrats. He's a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.