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Former White House strategist Steve Bannon speaks with reporters as he departs federal court, in Washington, on July 20.Alex Brandon/The Associated Press

The defence 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 misdemeanour 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 defence would not present witness testimony. Closing arguments from both sides are expected on Friday, with the jury then due to begin deliberations.

Evan Corcoran, another of Bannon’s defence attorneys, made a motion asking Nichols to acquit Bannon, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case – an assertion the prosecution rejected.

“We would ask the court to grant our motion for judgment of acquittal. 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,” Corcoran told the judge.

It is common for defence attorneys to file such motions at the end of a trial. They are rarely granted.

“The government has presented sufficient evidence,” prosecutor Amanda Vaughn told the judge.

Schoen also told Nichols that “we have been badly stymied in being able to present a defence” 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 defence, 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 spoke only once throughout the trial. He said, “Yes, your honour,” when Nichols asked if he agreed not to testify.

His primary defence was that he believed the subpoena’s deadline dates were flexible and subject to negotiation between his attorney and the committee. His lawyers also said their defence was hindered by their inability to call lawmakers who are members of the House committee to testify.

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.

“No reasonable juror could find that Mr. Bannon refused to comply with dates that we now understand were open – were in flux,” Corcoran told the judge.

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.

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