Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon subpoenaed over questions about White House tenure

Democrat says Bannon declined to answer after counsel spoke with White House.

ByABC News
January 16, 2018, 4:31 AM

— -- The House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon Tuesday after members said he refused to answer questions about his time in the Trump White House and on the Trump transition team during a roughly ten-hour-long interview behind closed doors.

Later Tuesday, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News that Bannon had been subpoenaed to appear before Special Counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the committee's top Democrat, told reporters Bannon's counsel conferred with the White House after he was served with the committee subpoena during the interview and told the panel Bannon would still not answer any questions about the transition, administration or any conversations he had with President Trump after leaving the White House last year.

The source familiar with the matter said the White House had instructed Bannon not to answer questions about his time during the transition and the White House unless and until the committee and the White House can reach agreement on the proper scope of questioning in light of executive privilege concerns.

“The scope of this assertion of privilege, if that's what it is, is breathtaking. It goes well beyond anything that we've seen in this investigation,” Schiff said. “This was effectively a gag order by the White House preventing this witness from answering almost any question."

In a statement to ABC News, Bannon attorney William Burck said, "Executive privilege belongs to the President of the United States. It’s not Mr. Bannon’s right to waive it.”

Earlier Tuesday, when asked whether the White House had told Bannon not to answer certain questions, press secretary Sarah Sanders responded, "No one has encouraged him to be anything but transparent. But there is a process of what that looks like and what that process should go through."

"Look, we've been completely cooperative throughout this entire process. We're going to continue to be cooperative. But we're also going to maintain some of the executive privileges here at the White House that have been practiced for decades and that need to be maintained," Sanders added.

The same source familiar with the matter, while confirming Mueller's subpoena of Bannon, said that the White House has not placed any restrictions on Bannon’s testimony to Mueller and that he is free to cooperate fully with Mueller’s investigation and answer any questions Mueller’s team poses to him.

Meuller's office has not responded to a request for comment from ABC News.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., confirmed he signed off on the committee subpoenas. An aide to Nunes said one subpoena is for Bannon's testimony and another is for documents the aide said Bannon failed to provide to the committee.

Schiff suggested that Bannon refused to answer questions about conversations with Michael Flynn, any conversations in the White House around the time the New York Times first reported on the controversial Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer, and questions regarding any potential obstruction of the Russia investigation.

“Whether he was ever given any instructions that he felt might hinder the Russia investigation is of interest to us, whether he was witness to any actions to obstruct the investigation is of deep interest to us. If he's precluded from answering any questions during transition or administration and many questions even after he left the White House, obviously we're not able to do our job,” Schiff said.

Asked what prompted the subpoenas, Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, the Republican overseeing the committee's Russia's investigation since Nunes recused himself, told reporters "We weren't getting all the answers that we wanted and so we subpoenaed Mr. Bannon to try to compel answers."

Bannon was “vociferously defending Trump” behind closed doors, according to a source close to Bannon. “It got heated. He was showing his loyalty to Trump.”

Bannon not only declined to answer questions about his time in the White House and transition but also about transition emails, according to committee members.

“Unfortunately, there were a lot more non-answers than answers to many of the questions,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, told CNN in an interview. “ I think we'll have to have Steve Bannon back."

Bannon is one of several Trump campaign aides expected to appear before congressional Russia investigators this week on Capitol Hill. Corey Lewandowski, Trump's first campaign manager, is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee later this week.

Tuesday's interview came after Bannon resigned as executive chairman of Breitbart News following the release of Michael Wolff’s tell-all book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House."

The book includes harsh comments from Bannon on the controversial June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. Bannon, according to Wolff, called the meeting "treasonous" and "unpatriotic," but has since retracted his criticism of Donald Trump Jr.'s participation.

In the book, Bannon also suggested Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation would focus on money laundering, something congressional investigators hoped to question him about.

<i>ABC News' Ali Dukakis contributed to this report.

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