Steve Bannon Was Made to Testify, Truthfully, Once

Chuck Rosenberg has an interesting prosecutor’s analysis arguing — based on Steve Bannon’s indictment for fraud — that Bannon can never be made to testify truthfully, and so DOJ should be considering criminal contempt to send a message.

Recall, in August 2020, federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicted Bannon and others for “defraud[ing] hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction,” according to a Justice Department press release. As a legal matter, that meant that a grand jury found probable cause to believe that several defendants – including Bannon – committed an egregious fraud. Before Bannon could be tried on those felony charges, former President Trump pardoned him.

It makes sense for Justice Department prosecutors to ask whether Bannon – accused of defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors – would tell the truth about the January 6 insurrection. And because Bannon has demonstrated his disdain for the work of the select committee, helped spread election misinformation and fanned the flames ahead of the insurrection, it seems that he might be an unwilling witness and an untruthful witness. In that case, pressuring Bannon to testify seems pointless.

The notion of letting someone off the subpoena hook because they are unwilling to testify, or because they are untruthful, or both, is distasteful. Accountability matters, before Congress and in the criminal justice system. We should expect people to come forward and tell Congress what they know, to help better understand the events leading up to that awful day and to ensure that something like that never happens again.

But some people are more interested in staging insurrections and discrediting valid elections than they are in speaking the truth. Some people might use a congressional forum not to help heal the nation, but to further sow division. In that case, pursuing civil contempt against Bannon to pressure him to testify makes little sense. But charging him with criminal contempt – punishing his defiance – sends the right message to him and others.

I’m in no position to question Rosenberg’s wisdom speaking as a prosecutor.

But the public record suggests that Bannon can be coerced to testify in damning ways. That’s what happened with the Mueller investigation, possibly assisted with Bannon’s staged testimony to the House Intelligence Committee.

Steve Bannon is known to have testified in various forms at least nine times (this post analyzes Bannon’s second Mueller interview, this post describes how he read from a White House script at his second HPSCI interview, this post describes how he inched closer to the truth, and this post includes links and analysis on the Mueller interviews liberated by BuzzFeed).

  1. January 16, 2018: Bannon did an interview with the House Intelligence Committee at which he refused to testify about the Transition and Administration and falsely claimed the campaign would have all relevant emails on Russian interference, which served to cover-up damning emails he had with Roger Stone.
  2. February 12, 2018: Bannon’s first Mueller interview largely covered obstruction; as with the HPSCI interview days later and the SSCI interview nine months later, Bannon hid his involvement in sanctions discussions during the transition.
  3. February 14, 2018: Bannon’s second Mueller interview finished obstruction topics and covered campaign related events and included some breathtaking lies about his role and knowledge of optimizing the hacked releases.
  4. February 15, 2018: After Devin Nunes shared the transcript of his first interview with the White House, Bannon did another HPSCI interview and largely read from a pre-arranged script from the White House designed to hide (among other things) his involvement in discussions about sanctions before Mike Flynn attempted to undermine Obama’s sanctions on Russia.
  5. October 26, 2018: After Mueller obtained communications proving a number of Bannon’s lies in the earlier interviews, he inched closer to the truth on obstruction and the WikiLeaks releases (including about a December 2016 meeting between Roger Stone and Trump that Trump wanted Bannon to attend as a witness), though still told incredible stories about his ties to Russia during the transition.
  6. November 19, 2018: In an appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he told suspected lies that the committee referred for prosecution. [I’ve excerpted the parts of his testimony quoted in the SSCI Report here.]
  7. January 19, 2019: The content of a January 19, 2019 interview and grand jury appearance (one that took place after Mueller obtained Bannon’s HPSCI transcripts) remains entirely sealed, but he was forced to adhere to some of it at Roger Stone’s trial and Stone has recently accused Bannon of betrayal in this appearance.
  8. Unknown date (possibly July 26, 2019): A trial prep interview with DC’s AUSAs at which Bannon tried to back off his grand jury testimony.
  9. November 8, 2019: After prosecutors forced him to match his grand jury testimony, Bannon testified to speaking to Stone about the hacked emails both before and after he joined the Trump campaign.

Somehow, Mueller’s attorneys were able to get Bannon to be more truthful in that grand jury appearance, and then with it, they forced him to adhere to his more damning testimony at Roger Stone’s trial. But Stone’s continued attacks on Bannon suggest Bannon’s grand jury testimony extended beyond his trial testimony.

My guess is that Mueller’s team got Bannon to tell something approximating the truth on some topics via a range of tactics. First, Bannon originally lied about when he used his personal email on the campaign; after Mueller obtained some damning emails with Roger Stone from that email, Bannon conceded more of the truth. Additionally, Bannon clearly was playing different audiences for different purposes (for example, Republicans ensured that the entirety of the HPSCI investigation served to get Trump flunkies to tell false cover stories, and as noted, Bannon literally read from a White House issued script in his second appearance). But that likely served to alert prosecutors to what Bannon was trying to hide (and in the case of Bannon’s efforts to hide his knowledge of discussion of sanctions during the transition, Mueller actually got somewhat useful testimony from Flynn). Finally, it seems likely that prosecutors used earlier lies to coerce Bannon to tell the truth later in their investigation.

To be clear, the January 6 Select Committee doesn’t have the time to coerce some truths out of Steve Bannon, though it’s possible that DOJ could use any testimony he did offer as Mueller’s team seems to have done during their investigation, as a means to corner him about prior lies.

In any case, tough his testimony helped convict Roger Stone (after which Trump pardoned the rat-fucker), whatever truths Bannon told during the Mueller investigation were useless. The truthful bits remained sealed in an unreleased 302 and grand jury testimony, of no use to the public.

Still, the overriding lesson from Bannon’s book of laughter and forgetting is that his past lies and changing loyalties can be exploited, if you have the time to really work on him.

18 replies
  1. Stephen Calhoun says:

    Thanks for the compendium. Presumably some of Bannon’s lies might already have him under investigation for lying to investigators and to congress.

    If not, are his legal vulnerabilities noteworthy, or, are they decidedly ‘water long over the dam?’

  2. subtropolis says:

    Is it so wrong that I was amused by Stone’s Henry II impression? Or, that I covet the moments when they turn on each other, generally?

  3. JamesJoyce says:

    This comment should not be moderated at all..

    Bannon’s mistaken view of the law is no excuse, Henry Ford Sinclair?

    Let’s rewrite history to appease Trump, the consummate American 🇺🇸 Corporate Fascist?

    USA v. Sinclair

    If ill gotten wealth obtained via fraud over lease contracts for Oil was of paramount concern to Congress, attempted overthrow of the United States via claims of broad based election fraud, when there is none, is a massive fraud!

    Sinclair was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice for failing to answer pertinent and relevant questions on advice of counsel.

    Teapots and Domes?

    Is William Barr actually Donald Trump’s Brother Mally?

    Sinclair’s “Conviction” in the Senate was “affirmed,” for obstructing a Select Senate Committee in Congress in 1929.

    Deja Vu..

    Ignoring precedent is like driving without a seatbelt or Electronic Car Ignition System, Byron Carter..


    Cuff and stuff Bannon…

    Bannon Will at least make its to the Committee unlike George Floyd who never got to see the fact finder?

    Illusory, is all that equal protection and due process “stuff,” Bannon.


    Take the 5th at least☝️.

    “Truth” must not matter anymore for the moderators and censors here there and everywhere?

  4. Jenny says:

    Thank you Dr. Marcy.
    When I see a photo of Bannon, what comes to mind is placing him in a very large washing machine to be cleansed.

    • Theodora30 says:

      When I see a photo of Bannon I think of how he assaulted his wife….I mean one of his wives. The police who responded to her call wrote a report that supported her complaint but she wound up withdrawing it in exchange for custody of their kids.
      This man is a wife beater but he has also been an associate of the leader of the right wing Catholic leadership, Archbishop Raymond Burke. Bannon has been working with far right Catholics to start a Catholic leadership training institute in Italy when he isn’t having meetings with top right wing populists in Europe.

  5. timbo says:

    Why would anyone listen to a prosecutor that is too lazy to do the work to catch liars like Bannon up in all his inconsistent testimony? At least the Mueller investigators didn’t give up when it looked like indicting folks like Bannon might get a little cumbersome. It’s too bad that there are so many prosecutors out there that seem to think that if people like Bannon lie enough then it becomes too much trouble to investigate their perjury and crimes. Basically, that’s the sort of attitude that makes things fall apart, not get better with regard to the respect for the law and moral and ethical behavior generally.

  6. pablo says:

    I don’t know, I’ve always been partial to TELEVISED testimony where the witness says over and over that they won’t speak because they may be INCRIMINATING themselves. Makes for great visuals.

  7. Bay State Librul says:

    I abhor the term “behind close doors” “redacted” and “executive privilege”

    Let the light shine in.

    Take an open book exam.

    Whistleblowers of the World Unite

  8. FL Resister says:

    “Still, the overriding lesson from Bannon’s book of laughter and forgetting is that his past lies and changing loyalties can be exploited, if you have the time to really work on him.”

    Thanks for that reminder of the excellent Czech writer Milan Kundera, whose characters and plots, including The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and the aptly titled Unbearable Lightness of Being caused readers to come to their own conclusions and interior dialogues about what was happening in his novels. In accomplishing that, Kundera skillfully, and sometimes to his own public detriment, caused art to imitate life.

    One can imagine Bannon’s forked tongue offers the same journeys into internal dialogue although in a much cruder sense, with no illumination of anything except personal ambition, malevolence, and civil decay.
    Time for full exposure. We’re expecting the DOJ is up to the job.

    (Note: Kundera considers himself a French writer after emigrating 1971, being stripped of Czech citizenship in 1979, and gaining French citizenship in 1981 and stands among the ranks of imperfect humans and darned good writers.

  9. Theodora30 says:

    A lot of people think Bannon is a joke but he is a master manipulator of the mainstream “liberal” media. It was Bannon and his partner-in-smears, Peter Schweitzer, who conned The NY Times into printing Schweitzer’s slanders about the Clinton Foundation that were very damaging to Hillary’s campaign. First Schweitzer wrote a book “documenting” his facts, then they went to the Times to get an exclusive deal.

    He and Schweitzer repeated that exact con when they got the media to report on Schweitzer’s lies from his book “Secret Empires” about Biden actions in the Ukraine. This time they got Schweitzer’s good pal to first print the accusations, confident that the Times would then pick it up without too much fact-checking.

    Bannon has openly said he always works to get his propaganda into the mainstream media because that is who does the real damage to Democrats. He uses right wing media to keep the base inflamed and motivated. Unfortunately time and again the mainstream media has allowed itself to be used by right wing operators like Bannon. The Times was the stenographer for them back in the 90s, pushing fake scandal after fake scandal (Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, Chinagate). When we taxpayers were forced to waste over $70 on investigations that came up with nothing but an affair, the Times didn’t do any soul searching. Instead it doubled down by allowing itself to be used by Cheney to spread his WMD lies. The mainstream media never learns from experience when it comes to right wingers who schmooze them.

    • Rayne says:

      He continues to flood the zone with his toxic shite, too; he’s overtly weaponized the First Amendment because he can say nearly anything he wants exercising his free speech rights.

      Media should be watching him more closely for the moments when he crosses the line into hate speech and incitement, but the media is still entrenched in its both-sidesism model having failed to realize one of the sides is democracy and their own existence and the other is against them and co-opting their rights to attack their foundation.

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