Former White House strategist and Breitbart publisher Steve Bannon refused to answer questions from the House Intelligence committee on Tuesday prompting a “free-for-all” among committee members. The standoff ended with the House committee issuing a subpoena for Bannon’s testimony.
CNN reported that Bannon’s testimony before the committee had been underway for about 90 minutes when questions about the transition began. At that point, Bannon’s lawyer interrupted him and the interview was stopped. The subpoenas were issued shortly after.
Sources told The Hill that Bannon had stated that he would only answer questions about his work on the Trump campaign while refusing to answer questions about the transition or his time in the White House. In response, committee members issued a subpoena to compel Bannon’s testimony as well as another to seeking documents.
Robert Mueller, head of the independent Russia investigation, had previously issued a grand jury subpoena for Bannon’s testimony as well. CNN reports today that Bannon and Mueller have reached a deal to allow Bannon to estify directly to Mueller’s investigators.
Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fl.) speculated that Bannon’s refusal may have been related to executive privilege even though the principle was not formally cited by Bannon. It is a gray area as to whether Bannon’s activities in the transition would be covered by executive privilege.
“I certainly think that when the committee expects an executive privilege, when does that attach is the question that is sort of dominating the day. You know, at what time does it attach? During the transition or during the actual swearing in?” Rooney said in The Hill. “If you are part of the White House in any way and you’re talking about things that were during the campaign, but it happens to be in the White House, then what? What’s the answer? So that’s the quandary.”
Bannon was fired by President Trump in August 2017 after working for a year in positions on the campaign and transition team as well as the White House. In an interview with author Michael Wolff, Bannon said that the June 2017 meeting between Trump campaign officials and a lawyer who claimed to represent the Russian government was “treasonous” and that the FBI should have been notified. Congressional investigators were expected to ask Bannon about the president’s knowledge of the meeting as well as about alleged financial crimes.
A White House statement said that the Trump Administration is “fully cooperative” in the investigations. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders noted, “As with all congressional inquiries touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material.”
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Ct.) noted the discrepancy with White House claims of cooperation and its actions, telling the Washington
Times, “This is a White House that has said there’s absolutely nothing there, that this is all a big hoax, that there was no collusion, and yet when they send Steve Bannon in front of the committee, they say, ‘You can’t talk about anything related to your time at the White House or the transition.’ ”
A source told The Daily Beast that concerns about executive privilege will not impact Bannon’s testimony to Mueller’s team. The source, which The Daily Beast says is “familiar with Bannon’s thinking,” says that “Mueller will hear everything Bannon has to say.”