- Steve Bannon sat down with the House Intelligence Committee for a voluntary interview on Tuesday.
- Bannon faced questions about what he witnessed while serving as the Trump campaign’s CEO from August 2016 through Election Day, as well as during the transition period and the first six months of the administration.
- But he cited executive privilege and refused to answer questions related to his post-election work for Trump.
President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was issued a subpoena by the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday after citing executive privilege during his interview to refuse to answer questions related to his work on the Trump transition team and in the White House, according to CNN.
Bannon’s refusal to discuss any of his post-election work for Trump frustrated both Democrats and Republicans, including GOP Reps. Mike Conaway and Trey Gowdy, per Politico. GOP Rep. Tom Rooney told reporters during a break in the interview that while the committee “respects executive privilege,” the question “dominating the day” is whether that privilege took effect before Trump was inaugurated.
Bannon was also issued a grand jury subpoena last week by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. He was interviewed by the House panel on Tuesday as part of the panel’s investigation into Russia’s election interference and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
It was expected that Bannon, who until recently headed the far-right media outlet Breitbart News, would face questions about what he witnessed while serving as the Trump campaign’s CEO from August 2016 through Election Day. Bannon was also one of the president’s top advisers during the transition period and in the White House, where he served as chief strategist and was given a seat on the National Security Council.
Rumours have swirled that Bannon, while in the White House, was responsible for some of the most damaging leaks about Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner – including one about Kushner’s December 2016 meeting with the CEO of a sanctioned Russian bank.
By most accounts, Bannon and Kushner have long been bitter enemies, stemming primarly from their divergent ideological views. Bannon refers to Kushner and his allies as “the Democrats,” while Kushner has dubbed Bannon and his nationalist cohort “the crazies,” according to Vanity Fair.
House Democrats will likely home in on Bannon’s willingness to criticise his former Trump campaign and White House colleagues – particularly Kushner – for taking meetings with Russian officials.
“He’s taking meetings with Russians to get additional stuff,” Bannon told Vanity Fair late last year. “This tells you everything about Jared. They were looking for the picture of Hillary Clinton taking the bag of cash from Putin. That’s his maturity level.”
Bannon has been especially critical of the meeting Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort attended in June 2016 with two Russian lobbyists on the promise of obtainining dirt on Hillary Clinton. Bannon called the meeting “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” in an interview with author Michael Wolff.
“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor with no lawyers,” Bannon said, according to Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury.
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s–t, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” Bannon added. He later clarified that he was primarily criticising Paul Manafort, who he said should have known better than to meet with the Russians at the height of the campaign.
The Trump Tower meeting was held two months before Bannon took on a formal campaign role. One month after he was appointed the campaign’s CEO, however, Bannon received emails from Trump Jr. regarding messages Trump Jr. had exchanged with WikiLeaks, according to The Atlantic.
WikiLeaks published emails and documents throughout 2016 that US officials have concluded were stolen by Russian hackers. Kushner forwarded the emails about WikiLeaks to the campaign’s communications director, Hope Hicks, who will also sit down with House investigators this week.
Bannon, who served as a top transition official, was also in a position to shed light on why the Trump transition team sought to reassure Russia after the Obama administration imposed new sanctions on Russian government officials in December 2016. He was forwarded emails written by his transition team colleague KT McFarland that criticised the sanctions decision.
“Key will be Russia’s response over the next few days” to the sanctions, McFarland wrote. She characterised the sanctions as an attempt by Obama to “box Trump in diplomatically with Russia” and wrote, perhaps sarcastically, that the transition team should try to reassure the country that had just “thrown” the election to Trump.
Bannon will likely be asked who instructed former national security adviser Michael Flynn to discuss the sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak – and then lie about it to federal investigators – and whether Trump himself was privy to those discussions. Flynn and Kushner’s meeting with Kislyak at Trump Tower in early December, and Kushner’s meeting with Sergei Gorkov, the Russian bank CEO, were held while Bannon served as a transition adviser.
Investigators may also want to know why the White House made at least two attempts in the months after Trump took office to get the State Department to review the sanctions. The administration looked into easing or lifting the sanctions just days after Trump’s inauguration, according to reports by Yahoo News and NBC, and a senior White House official asked the State Department again March to assess if the sanctions were harming US interests.
In addition, House investigators will undoubtedly ask Bannon why he pushed the Trump campaign to hire the data mining and analysis firm Cambridge Analytica in June 2016.
It was revealed last October that Cambridge’s CEO Alexander Nix reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the campaign to offer help in finding Hillary Clinton’s “missing” emails. Lawmakers have asked Nix whether his firm had any contact with foreign government entities, such as Kremlin officials, during the election.
Bannon maintained a close relationship until recently with Robert Mercer, one of the biggest investors in both Cambridge Analytica and Breitbart. Mercer and his daughter Rebekah have been credited with paving the way to Trump’s victory.
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