By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The defense in Steve Bannon's trial rested its case on Thursday without calling any witnesses and asked the judge to acquit Donald Trump's noted former presidential adviser on contempt of Congress charges for defying a subpoena by the committee investigating last year's attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Bannon, 68, has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor counts after rebuffing the House of Representatives select committee's subpoena requesting testimony and documents as part of its inquiry into the Jan. 6, 2021, rampage by Trump supporters trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
A day after the prosecution rested its case, having called only two witnesses over two days, David Schoen, one of Bannon's lawyers, told U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols that the defense would not present witness testimony. Closing arguments from both sides are expected on Friday, with the jury then due to begin deliberations.
The defense argued motions on Thursday asking Nichols to acquit Bannon, contending the prosecution failed to prove its case, or dismiss the charges because the defendant was blocked from calling as witnesses lawmakers who sit on the committee, undermining his right to a fair trial. Such motions are common and rarely granted.
In a court filing, Nichols said he intends to rule on both motions after the jury reaches a verdict.
"The government has rested its case and they have not presented evidence upon which a reasonable person can find beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Bannon is guilty of the charges of contempt of Congress," Evan Corcoran, another of Bannon's defense attorneys, told the judge.
"The government has presented sufficient evidence," prosecutor Amanda Vaughn responded.
Schoen told Nichols that "we have been badly stymied in being able to present a defense" due to some of the judge's pretrial rulings limiting the types of arguments Bannon could make to the jury. Nichols replied that some of his rulings were bound by legal precedent "that I don't even think is right."
Bannon opted not to testify at the trial because of the limits the judge placed on the defense, Schoen said. Bannon was barred from arguing that he believed his communications with Trump were subject to a legal doctrine called executive privilege that can keep certain presidential communications confidential. Nichols also blocked Bannon from arguing that he relied on legal advice from an attorney in refusing to comply.
Bannon's primary defense in the trial was that he believed the subpoena's deadline dates were flexible and subject to negotiation between his attorney and the committee.
Kristin Amerling, a senior committee staff member, testified on Wednesday that Bannon disregarded the subpoena's two deadlines, sought no extensions and offered an invalid rationale for his defiance - a claim by Trump involving a legal doctrine called executive privilege that can keep certain presidential communications confidential.
Corcoran on Thursday told the judge that even though Amerling testified the subpoena dates were inflexible, she was unable to articulate why those dates were selected or who picked them.
Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol and attacked police in a failed effort to block formal congressional certification of his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, which Trump falsely claimed was the result of widespread voting fraud. Bannon was a key adviser to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, then served in 2017 as his chief White House strategist.
Bannon has spoken only once in court during the trial. He said, "Yes, your honor," when Nichols asked if he agreed not to testify.
Outside the courthouse, Bannon has let loose in front of the TV cameras. On Thursday, Bannon told reporters he probably has testified in various cases "more than anybody else in the Trump administration" and that in those instances lawyers negotiated and they worked it out "every time."
"One last thing. I stand with Trump and the Constitution," Bannon added.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Will Dunham)