Stephen K. “Steve” Bannon, the former Donald Trump “chief strategist” and ex-president of the right-wing Breitbart online news site, was expected to share damaging information about Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner on Tuesday, in closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee. Bannon’s testimony comes as part of the committee’s ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
Also on Tuesday, The New York Times reported that Bannon was slapped with a grand jury subpoena by Russia Investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller — the first such grand jury subpoena issued by Mueller to a onetime member of Trump’s inner circle.
Though Bannon refused to answer questions about his time in the White House at Tuesday’s hearing, he reportedly will not hold anything back when he testifies to Mueller’s grand jury.
The 64-year-old Bannon, a former mid-level Goldman Sachs investment banker, has consistently denied that the Trump campaign — which he took over starting in August of 2016 — cooperated with Russia in that country’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election. However, Bannon was hired after Trump’s previous campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was forced to resign over his own financial ties to Russian interests.
Bannon himself was fired from Trump’s White House in August of 2017, and last month a series of incendiary quotes from Bannon in the newly released book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by author Michael Wolff led to a schism between Trump and Bannon that now seems beyond repair.
In the book, Bannon is quoted regarding a July 2016 meeting in which Kushner, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., and Manafort sat down in Trump Tower with a group of Russians who offered the Trump campaign “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. In Wolff’s book, Bannon called the actions by Kushner, Trump Jr., and Manafort “treasonous.” That meeting and Bannon’s knowledge of it is expected to be a focus of Bannon’s confidential testimony on Tuesday.
But Bannon is also expected to damage Kushner, his longtime rival in the Trump White House, by pointing to another mysterious Russia meeting.
In December of 2016, during the presidential transition period, Kushner met with powerful Russian banker Sergei Gorkov, whose financial institution, Vnesheconombank, is reputed to have deep ties to Russia’s intelligence agencies and which has funded numerous initiatives pushed by Russia President Vladimir Putin.
The meeting was arranged by then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak at around the same time that Kushner had approached Kislyak about creating a secret and secure channel of communication between the Trump organization and the Russian government — a channel that would be secure from United States intelligence agency surveillance.
While the White House and Vnesheconombank have offered sharply divergent accounts of the meeting, some investigators have speculated that the sit-down between Kushner and Gorkov was called to further explore how to create that secret and secure line of communication between Trump and Russia. Why the Trump White House would require a secret communication line to Russia that U.S. intelligence could not monitor has not been explained.
According to some media reports, it may have been Bannon who leaked news of the Kushner-Gorkov meeting to the New York Times, where it was first revealed — and that just days before the leak, Bannon had boasted to associates that he possessed damaging information about Kushner.
Bannon is also quoted in Wolff’s book saying that the Russia investigation “is all about money laundering” and that investigators’ “path” to Trump himself on money laundering charges “goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner… It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”
There is one other area in which Bannon may point the finger at Kushner in Tuesday’s testimony, and that involves the data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, which played a large role in the Trump campaign voter-targeting program. Kushner oversaw data operations for Trump, and brought Cambridge Analytica on to the campaign.
Bannon sat on the board of Cambridge Analytica, which was funded in part with capital from the billionaire Mercer family, who were also major backers of Trump’s campaign and of Breitbart when it was under Bannon’s control.
In the summer of 2016, at time when Bannon was on the board, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix contacted Wikileaks chief Julian Assange requesting access to emails illegally hacked and stolen from Clinton’s private email server. While Wikileaks did not turn over any such emails, and there is no evidence that Assange possessed them, Wikileaks did release thousands of emails stolen from Democratic National Committee servers, and well as from Clinton campaign Chair John Podesta. Those emails, U.S. intelligence as well as media investigations have determined, were illegally obtained by Russian hackers working for Putin’s government.