WASHINGTON — A former Trump campaign staffer asked a judge this week to hold Steve Bannon in civil contempt for allegedly failing to comply with a subpoena seeking his testimony in her ongoing sexual discrimination lawsuit against former President Donald Trump' 2016 campaign.
In filings in D.C. Superior Court, Jessica Denson says she was hired in September 2016 as a national phone bank administrator on Trump’s first presidential campaign. She was then elevated to Hispanic outreach director by Bannon, who took over as campaign CEO that August. But her continued rise through the ranks – and a spot on the transition team allegedly promised to her by Bannon – was cut short, she claims, by a campaign of sexual discrimination and bullying by a supervisor.
Denson filed a lawsuit in New York in 2017 seeking millions of dollars of damages from the Trump campaign. She also brought a class-action suit in federal court seeking to invalidate the non-disparagement clauses required by all Trump campaign staffers. Last year, a federal judge ruled her NDA was invalid and unenforceable. Litigation regarding other Trump campaign NDAs continues.
In November, attorneys for the law firm representing Denson in the New York case, Bowles & Johnson, filed a subpoena in D.C. Superior Court seeking documents and testimony from Bannon. The subpoena, issued on Nov. 11, required Bannon to appear for a deposition in January. According to an affidavit filed in December, attempts to serve Bannon with the subpoena at his D.C. home on Nov. 18, Nov. 23 and Dec. 3 were all unsuccessful. On Dec. 4, according to the affidavit, Bannon’s attorney Robert Costello contacted the process server and asked if the papers could be emailed to him. According to attorney David Bowles, Costello informed him via email he wasn’t authorized to accept service on Bannon’s behalf. Since then, Bowles said, they’ve had no contact from either Bannon or Costello.
WUSA9 reached out to Costello multiple times by phone and email seeking comment for this story. None of those messages were returned. Messages to attorneys David Schoen and Evan Corcoran, who represented Bannon in his contempt of Congress case, were also not returned.
WUSA9 also reached out to the law firm of LaRocca, Hornik, Rosen & Greenberg, which is representing the Trump campaign in Denson’s suit. An employee said the attorney representing the campaign was not available and that no one else in the office was authorized to answer questions about the case.
In March, Denson sought and received a new subpoena for Bannon and former Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. That subpoena was issued by a court clerk on March 17 in D.C. Superior Court and required Bannon to provide documents by April 27 and appear for a virtual deposition on May 9. The subpoena sought documents in 27 categories, including about Denson’s work assignments, the decision not to consider her for a position on the Trump transition team and communications with more than a dozen members of the campaign. The subpoena noted that failure to comply “is punishable as contempt of court.”
Bowles said Bannon is a “key figure” in Denson’s case and they intend to pursue whatever remedies are available to get his testimony. He noted they have largely been successful in obtaining documents and testimony from other witnesses in the case, including Conway, who he said was deposed last week.
“The whole point is to get him to sit for a deposition,” Bowles said. “That’s what we want. And civil courts have the power to do that. If necessary, by arrest.”
On June 7, an attorney for the D.C.-based Veritas Law Firm, which Denson brought on to assist with the subpoena, filed a motion seeking to compel Bannon’s compliance. In the motion, attorney Christopher LaFon said Bannon had not responded to the subpoena – despite being served with it personally at his D.C. home.
In an affidavit included with the motion, Denson said her mother, Marie, served Bannon with the subpoena on April 17. According to Denson’s affidavit, Bannon “took the subpoena in his hands and threw it to the ground."
The affidavit included a still image purporting to show Bannon being served with the subpoena. Denson also recorded a video of her mother serving the subpoena. In the video, Denson can be heard explaining the subpoena seeks Bannon’s testimony “for my lawsuit against the Trump campaign.” A rustling sound is then audible and the subpoena documents can be seen lying in the street as Bannon walks off toward his house.
Scott Rome, Veritas Law’s co-founder and lead litigator, said the video helped convince them to join the case.
“We stepped in and said, not only does it look like a valid subpoena, it looks like it was properly served by a non-party and he just threw it on the ground. And you can’t have that,” Rome said. “It appears [Bannon] is taking the same tact of ignoring it and hoping it goes away.”
On Wednesday, LaFon filed another motion claiming Bannon had never responded to either the subpoena or the motion to compel and asking a D.C. judge to treat the latter as uncontested. D.C. Superior Court records show no attorney has ever entered an appearance on Bannon’s behalf in the case and no responses have ever been filed to any of Denson’s or LaFon’s motions.
The motion to compel asks a judge to order Bannon to provide documents responsive to the subpoena within 21 days and to appear for a virtual deposition within 30 days. The motion also asks for Bannon to be ordered to pay Denson’s attorney fees and suggests he should be held in civil contempt of court.
“As made clear and obvious when he immediately threw the subpoena on the street, he had no intention of complying with the demand for his attendance at a virtual deposition,” LaFon wrote.
Denson said she has spent “hundreds, if not thousands of dollars” on process servers over the course of her case. That’s why, she said, her mother has taken to serving some of the subpoenas – including the ones for Bannon and Conway. In D.C., any person who is at least 18 years old and not a party to the case may serve a subpoena.
Denson said she will continue pursuing Bannon’s testimony and, if necessary, a bench warrant for his arrest.
“We’re after his testimony, under oath, about what he did or did not do to rectify a hostile workplace in the Trump campaign,” she said.
“We are playing the long game to get the truth here,” Denson added.
Denson’s latest effort to compel Bannon to testify comes less than a week after he was convicted by a D.C. jury of two misdemeanor counts of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the January 6th Committee. The Justice Department indicted him on the rarely-used charged just one day after the initial subpoena was filed in Denson’s case.
Bannon maintained he was prohibited from testifying or providing documents to the committee due to an invocation of executive privilege by Trump – something both the committee and a Trump attorney, Justin Clark, have disputed. Bannon faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail at sentencing on Oct. 21. His defense team has promised to appeal his conviction.
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