By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The prosecution rested its case on Wednesday in the trial of Steve Bannon, the noted former presidential adviser to Donald Trump, after calling just two witnesses including a senior staff member of the congressional panel investigating last year's U.S. Capitol attack who detailed Bannon's defiance of a subpoena.
After prosecutors wrapped up their case on the second day of testimony in the criminal trial, the defense said it plans on Thursday to ask U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols to dismiss the charges against Bannon. Nichols earlier in the day let the defense inform jurors that Trump this month gave the green light for Bannon to testify before the House of Representatives select committee after previously asking him not to cooperate.
Bannon, 68, has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor counts of contempt of Congress for defying the committee's subpoena for testimony and documents as part of its inquiry into the Jan. 6, 2021, rampage by Trump supporters.
Kristin Amerling, the committee's deputy staff director and general counsel, testified as a prosecution witness that Bannon disregarded deadlines to respond to its September 2021 subpoena, 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.
The only other prosecution witness was an FBI special agent who investigated the circumstances of Bannon's defiance of the subpoena. The defense on Thursday will get its chance to present its case, though it is unclear if any witnesses will be called.
While Amerling did not specifically address Bannon's offer this month to testify to the committee at a public hearing - a reversal announced shortly before the trial's start date after refusing to do so last year - she told the jury "we always welcome relevant documents and testimony."
During questioning by defense attorney Evan Corcoran, Amerling said that if Bannon is interested in communicating with the committee, then "we would be interested in exploring that further."
Corcoran then asked the judge to let him introduce as evidence Trump's July 9 letter to Bannon offering permission to testify and waiving any executive privilege claim, and question Amerling about it. The judge allowed it, but told jurors they cannot consider Bannon's belief about executive privilege as an excuse or consider future offers of compliance as a defense against prior non-compliance.
Nichols also let Corcoran enter into evidence a letter by the committee's Democratic chairman, Bennie Thompson, responding to Bannon's 11th-hour offer. Thompson asked Bannon to first produce documents before a deposition could be scheduled.
On Tuesday, Corcoran told jurors that Bannon believed the subpoena deadlines last year were not set in stone and that negotiations between his attorney and the committee would continue.
Trump 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. Bannon was a key adviser to the Republican Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, then served as his chief White House strategist during 2017.
Amerling said the panel set deadlines requiring an "expeditious response" because it had reason to believe Bannon had relevant information. Amerling said Bannon was identified as one of the people who attended a planning meeting at a Washington hotel the day before the riot.
Prosecutor Amanda Vaughn asked Amerling about Trump's failed bid to block the committee from accessing White House records on executive privilege grounds. The Supreme Court in January rejected Trump's request to block release of records sought by the panel, meaning material held by a federal agency that stores government and historical records could be disclosed even as litigation over the matter continued in lower courts.
Vaughn asked Amerling how long after that decision did Bannon "suddenly" offer to comply.
"About six months?" Vaughn asked.
"Yes," Amerling replied.
The judge warned Corcoran earlier in the day without the jury present: "I do not intend for this to become a political case, a political circus." Nichols made the comment after the prosecution complained about remarks Corcoran made to the jury on Tuesday suggesting the case was politically motivated.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)