Former Trump campaign strategist, Steve Bannon struck a deal with Mueller to avoid grand jury testimony. Instead, Bannon met with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team for an interview. Bannon was just supposed to answer questions prior to his stint in the White House because executive privilege would not apply, he said.
Tuesday was a difficult day for former White House Strategist Steve Bannon, since the first excerpts of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” were published earlier this year.
Bannon endured 10 hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday while refusing to answer any questions about his time in the White House or the transition, per the White House’s orders. The New York Times also reported that he had been served with a subpoena last week to testify before the grand jury in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian collusion after refusing the offer of an informal interview.
Bannon’s subpoena, as it turns out, was hand-delivered by FBI agents who showed up at his home last week to deliver the subpoena and discuss the Russia probe with Bannon. However, the agents were unaware that Bannon had retained counsel just hours before their visit, and subsequently redirected the subpoena to Bannon’s lawyer…
Bannon had retained Washington lawyer William Burck just hours earlier, according to two people familiar with the events that took place on Jan. 9.
Bannon reportedly told Wolff that Trump probably did meet Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya when she visited the White House in June 2016 for a meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner. Trump has previously denied knowing anything about the meeting.
Bannon agreed to testify before the committee because the White House believed it had an agreement in place to limit questions only to events during the presidential campaign while avoiding questions about Bannon’s six-month stint in the West Wing, one Trump administration official said.
This explains yesterday’s report that Bannon had invoked executive privilege during his meeting to avoid sharing details about his time in the Trump administration, where he served as chief strategist.
Bannon reportedly stopped answering questions once his lawyers had alerted the White House that the scope of the House panel’s questions would be expanded to include his time in the White House.
According to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, staffers for the committee and the White House on Friday discussed the parameters of Bannon’s testimony.
The White House emerged from that conversation believing it had an agreement to limit the questioning of Bannon just to events during the campaign, and not during the transition period or his time in the White House.
Then, hours into Bannon’s closed door testimony, his lawyers informed the White House from Capitol Hill that the questions would extend beyond the scope of what the White House understood the agreement to be. At that point, the White House told Bannon not to answer any further.
“We said ‘Hey, hey, pump the brakes,'” the official said. “We said to Bannon, ‘Don’t answer those questions because we haven’t agreed to that scope under the process.'”
The official declined to say who initiated the mid-testimony phone call or who took part on behalf of the White House.
Following Bannon’s refusal, Republicans and Democrats joined forces to issue Bannon a subpoena on the spot to compel his testimony. It is not clear what, if any, questions Bannon answered after that. A Reuters report said the former top Trump aide refused to comply with the subpoena. Committee member Trey Gowdy was frustrated by Bannon’s refusal and his decision to invoke executive privilege.
Gowdy, one of the Republicans leading the committee’s investigation, told Fox News Bannon’s excuse was “…the most tortured analysis of executive privilege I have ever heard of,” Gowdy said on Fox News.
“Executive privilege now covers things before you become the chief executive — which is just mind-numbing and there is no legal support for it.”
Democrats were also frustrated by Bannon’s refusal, with Adam Schiff saying it was tantamount to a gag order.
“This was effectively a gag order by the White House preventing this witness from answering almost any question concerning his time in the transition or the administration and many questions even after he left the administration,” Schiff said.
The committee had previously turned down a White House offer on Friday to have an administration attorney sit in on the Bannon session to referee the questions surrounding scope of the interview. “The committee’s belief was it was not necessary,” the official said.
Members of the committee say they still want to hear more from Bannon, and have raised the possibility of him returning on Thursday, though right now, things are unclear.
“We have additional questions,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas. “The subpoena remains in effect. And we have additional questions we don’t have the answers to yet. We’re going to work to get those answers.”
However, as Axios reports, Bannon made one conspicuous slip up: he admitted that he’d had conversations with Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and legal spokesman Mark Corallo about Don Junior’s meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower in June 2016. As a reminder, this is the meeting that Bannon allegedly told Michael Wolff was “treasonous”, and led to the violent fallout in relations between Trump and Bannon.
This matters because the meeting — and the subsequent drafting of an allegedly misleading statement on Air Force One — has become one of the most important focal points of the Russia investigations, both on Capitol Hill and within Robert Mueller’s team, as it provides the closest thing that exists to evidence that the Trump campaign was willing to entertain collusion with Russians, according to Axios’ Jonathan Swan.
Bannon immediately realized he’d slipped up and disclosed conversations he wasn’t supposed to discuss, because they happened while he was chief strategist in the White House. Throughout the rest of the session, committee members — in particular Republican Trey Gowdy and Democrat Adam Schiff — hammered Bannon over the fact that he’d mentioned those conversations but refused to discuss anything else about his time in the White House.
This is also why the pressure on Bannon to disclose all he knows will only grow, and also why Mueller will be especially interested in what he has to say.
Who knows where this investigation will end up, but one thing is for certain…Bannon didn’t ‘slip up’. He was a paid strategist for the winning Trump campaign. You don’t think this is ALL about strategy?
Resource: Zero Hedge