House panel subpoenas Bannon in Russia probe showdown
WASHINGTON: Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on Tuesday refused to answer a broad array of queries from the House Intelligence Committee about his time working for President Donald Trump, provoking a subpoena from the panel’s Republican chairman.
The development brought to the forefront questions about White House efforts to control what the former adviser tells Congress about his time in Trump’s inner circle and whether Republicans on Capitol Hill would force the issue in light of the newly issued subpoena from the GOP-controlled panel.
The congressional subpoena came the same day The New York Times reported that Bannon — a former far-right media executive and recently scorned political adversary of the president’s — has been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a federal grand jury.
With the issuance of Mueller’s subpoena, Bannon became the highest-ranking person who served in the Trump White House to be called before a grand jury as part of the special counsel’s investigation.
By itself, the move doesn’t confirm that Mueller is presenting evidence to support future criminal charges. But it does show that Mueller is still actively using a grand jury as he probes the actions of Trump, his family and his staff during the campaign, presidential transition and the early months of the administration.
Congressional officials declined to say whether Bannon disclosed Mueller’s subpoena during an all-day, closed-door interview with members of the House Intelligence Committee.
The members grilled Bannon as part of the committee’s investigation into Russian election inference. Lawmakers also wanted answers from him about Trump’s thinking when he fired FBI Director James Comey.
But Bannon refused to answer questions about that crucial period, prompting the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, to issue the subpoena, said Nunes spokesman Jack Langer.
Late Tuesday, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the committee, said Bannon’s refusal to answer those questions came at the instruction of the White House.
“This was effectively a gag order by the White House,” Schiff said shortly after Bannon’s interview concluded. Schiff said the committee plans to call Bannon back for a second interview.
A spokeswoman for Bannon did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.