Prosecutor in Bannon trial lays the basis for jury to issue 'not guilty' verdict

In her opening argument to the jury in the government's case against Steve Bannon for contempt of Congress — not complying with a subpoena from the House Select Committee on Jan.  6 — prosecutor Amanda Vaughn said, according to a report in Politico, "Ours is a nation of laws, and our system doesn't work if people think they're above them."  The Politico report then out pointed that the jury Ms. Vaughn addressed consisted of "nine men and five women, including alternates."

It might have been pointed out to this jury that the House committee that issued the subpoena that is at the heart of this criminal trial consisted of nine members, seven Democrats and two Republicans, all of whom were selected by the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Yet the resolution that established this committee, House Res. 503, called for a committee of 13 members of the House of Representatives: eight Democrats selected by Speaker Pelosi and five Republicans selected by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.  The committee that issued the subpoena to Mr. Bannon consisted of nine House members, not thirteen, and not one of them was named by House Republican leader McCarthy, not even the two so-called Republicans on this committee — they were specially selected by Speaker Pelosi.  Is a House committee above its own rules?  If so, what kind of instruction does that give the American people other than this?  The American people are not above the law, but members of Congress are.

Let me tell you now what James Madison, in Federalist No. 57, said about the possibility that Congress would make itself exempt from the laws it passed for the people of America to obey.  Madison wrote that if the American spirit of freedom "shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate anything but liberty."

I say to you that if you permit the specially selected, indeed specially partisan, House committee established by Speaker Pelosi to ignore the very rules by which it was established, not only will you be signaling that the people of America will "tolerate anything but liberty," but you are saying the people of America will tolerate committees of Congress that are boards of inquisition whose proceedings can be as repressive as the show trials of a dictatorship, the star chambers of a tyrannical legislative body.

And mind you, it is not only in the number of members of this illegitimate, unconstitutional panel by which Speaker Pelosi disregarded the organizing resolution, or the fact that she vetoed the Republican leader's selections.  House Resolution 503 provided for a ranking member who would consult with the chairman on the matter of issuing subpoenas.  There is no ranking member, because there is no member chosen by the House Republican leader.

This above-the-rules committee claims to have a vice chair — Rep. Liz Cheney — but guess what!  House Resolution 503 does not call for a vice chair.  Ms. Cheney's post as "vice chair" is the above-the-rules decision of Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, not the decision of the House of Representatives in approving the establishment of this wayward panel.

Ms. Vaughn has declared, in effect, that no one is above the law.  James Madison, in Federalist No. 57, has indicated that the starting point of this vital principle on which is based the American spirit of freedom, is the Congress of the United States of America.  If you find Steve Bannon guilty of not complying with  a subpoena issued by a House body in utter disregard of its own rules, the jury will be telling Speaker Pelosi and the members of her January 6 committee that no one is above the law — except the majority members of the House of Representatives — and their allies in the minority party.  Validate the subpoena in this case that traduces the essence of our spirit of liberty, and you declare to the country that you are "prepared to tolerate anything but liberty."

The jury should tell the country, tell the world, that the United States will not tolerate a legislative body that places itself above its rules.

Photo credit: Gage SkidmoreCC BY-SA 2.0 license.

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