"Russia fever” is the way White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has described the ongoing investigations, and the media interest that's followed, into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Yet, in recent weeks, White House cooperation with Congress has changed with two words: executive privilege.
Recently, as congressional investigators have turned their sights on former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, the White House counsel has called for Bannon to cite executive privilege and decline to answer questions from the House Intelligence Committee.
The privilege can be used with Congress, but Bannon could be barred from claiming executive privilege when he speaks with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team next week, according to Mark Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University and author of "Executive Privilege: Presidential Power, Secrecy and Accountability."
That is because “the right to claim executive privilege is substantially weakened when there are allegations of wrongdoing” as there are in the Mueller probe, said Rozell. Whether a president can claim the privilege “ultimately comes down to a balancing of the president’s need for secrecy against the public's need for information,” added Rozell.
Sources have told ABC News that Bannon is expected to meet with Mueller in the coming weeks.
He joins a long list of current and former members of the Trump administration who have already sat for an interview with the special counsel:
REINCE PRIEBUS served as President Donald Trump’s first White House chief of staff. Prior to joining the administration, the Wisconsin Republican served as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Priebus met with Mueller’s team last October for an interview. Priebus was among the small handful of aides who knew about Trump’s intention to fire former FBI director James Comey and voiced his objection to the firing.
JEFF SESSIONS, the embattled attorney general, was the first sitting United States senator to endorse candidate Trump. Sessions and Trump have had a rocky relationship since Sessions recused himself from overseeing the special counsel’s investigation. He, too, met with the Mueller team during which he was likely not only asked about Comey’s firing and his time as attorney general, but also about his involvement in the Trump campaign’s foreign policy advisory council – a team that included advisor George Papadopoulos, who has already plead guilty to lying the federal authorities.
JARED KUSHNER, President Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior advisor, has been a force close to the president going back to his powerful position during the presidential race. Kushner has come under fire for two meetings he took during the presidential transition, the first with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States as well as with a Russian banker close to Vladimir Putin. Kushner met with the special counsel’s team in November for what sources described at the time to ABC News as an interview primarily focused on retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser who was later fired. Sources have told ABC News they expect Kushner might have to meet with the Mueller team for a second interview. Kushner would also be of interest to Mueller for his involvement in the firing of FBI director James Comey – he was one of just a few aides that knew of the president’s intentions.
MICHAEL FLYNN, the former national security adviser, met with the special counsel’s team long before he ultimately pleaded guilty to lying to federal authorities. Flynn had multiple conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. regarding sanctions. Since his guilty plea, he has been cooperating with the special counsel’s team and has provided them with multiple and ongoing interviews.
DON MCGAHN, the White House counsel, met with Mueller late last year. ABC News confirmed that McGahn and other attorneys made clear they were not in favor of President Trump’s suggestion last year to fire Mueller. The news of Trump’s desire to fire Mueller was first reported by The New York Times. As the chief lawyer for the office of the president, McGahn has been in charge of making sure all documents and staff interviews Mueller requests have been complied with.
HOPE HICKS is the current White House communications director and the longest-serving and closest aide to the president. Hicks was the press secretary for candidate Trump’s campaign, serving previously as an employee at the Trump Organization. Hicks sat with Mueller for two days of interviews in early December 2017. Among the areas of interest in Hicks is her involvement in crafting a statement for Donald Trump Jr. responding to reports in The New York Times about the now infamous June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower when he hosted a Russian attorney. Trump Jr. was promised dirt on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, but claimed at first that the meeting was only about Russian adoptions. Hicks aided Trump Jr. in writing the first misleading statement that said the meeting was about adoptions and did not mention Clinton.
STEPHEN MILLER has been among Donald Trump’s closest advisers, both during the campaign and now in the White House. Miller has been looked at as one of the closest lanes to the president’s conservative base and the face of the president’s tough immigration policies, including the wall along the Mexican border. Miller met with the special counsel’s team around November last year. ABC News confirmed at the time that it was Miller who wrote the initial drafts of a letter used to defend the firing of former FBI director James Comey.
THE NATIONAL SECURITY TEAM ABC News confirmed in the early phases of the special counsel’s investigation that NSA director Mike Rogers, CIA director Michael Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats each met with the special counsel’s office for an interview.
K.T. MCFARLAND served as deputy national security adviser in the Trump White House. McFarland met with the Mueller team for an interview in which, according to sources, the conversation centered on fired national security adviser Michael Flynn. ABC News confirmed as part of Flynn’s cooperation deal, he indicated communicating with two senior officials during the transition period regarding contacts with Russia. One of those officials was McFarland. Most recently, the former Fox News commentator withdrew as President Trump’s nominee to become Ambassador to Singapore.
SAM CLOVIS served as the Trump campaign co-chairman with a key role on the then-candidate’s team of foreign policy advisers. Clovis testified before a grand jury and met with the Mueller team for an interview about his role in President Trump’s campaign. Clovis currently serves as the senior White House adviser to the Department of Agriculture. The White House first learned Clovis met with the grand jury hearing the Russia case, not from Clovis, but from news media reports, sources with knowledge of the investigation tell ABC News. Clovis was nominated to be deputy secretary at the Department of Agriculture but withdrew once his meetings with the special counsel became public.
SEAN SPICER, the first White House press secretary, also met with the special counsel’s team just days after Priebus. Spicer, as the person tasked with crafting the White House’s message, was asked repeatedly when he stood behind the White House podium about the special counsel’s investigation.
RICK DEARBORN recently stepped down as a deputy White House chief of staff. Dearborn came aboard the Trump campaign via Jeff Sessions and had a key role on the candidate’s foreign policy team. He was questioned by the special counsel’s team just prior to his departure from the White House.
LT. GEN. KEITH KELLOGG – Trump’s National Security Council chief of staff was among one of the first of the West Wing staff to meet with Mueller’s team. Kellogg, a Trump original, was an adviser during the president’s campaign.