Steven Bannon appeared before a U.S. House Intelligence Committee investigating possible collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia Tuesday but refused to answer many, or most, of the questions.
CNN and other news outlets reported U.S. President Donal Trump’s former chief strategist told the panel he was instructed by the White House not to answer and multiple reports say that when refusing to answer questions, Bannon invoked the doctrine of executive privilege.
In response committee chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California) issued a subpoena to Bannon. However, after Bannon was served his lawyer spoke with the White House and then told his client the White House was still telling him to refuse to answer questions in key subject areas.
Despite his refusal to answer many or most questions, the 64-year-old Bannon, a co-founder of Breitbart News, spent some 10 hours in the closed-door session before the panel. It is unclear what information, if any, he did impart to them.
The highest-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, called the White House’s instruction to Bannon to keep mum a “gag order” and said that silencing Bannon was “audacious.” He told media that despite the White House, he anticipates the committee will speak with Bannon again.
“We expect to have Mr. Bannon back in, we hope very soon, with a different position by the White House,” Schiff told the media late Tuesday.
Mueller Probe Also Subpoenaed Bannon
Also on Tuesday, the New York Times reported that last week Bannon was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury in Special Counsel Robert Mueller III’s probe into the Trump campaign and possible election collusion with Russia.
Should he go before the grand jury, Bannon will not be able to invoke executive privilege – some analysts doubt he had a right to do so before the House Committee – and will be compelled to answer all questions. It is unclear when that appearance would be.
Bannon is a unique witness to events surrounding Trump and his ascendancy to the office of the presidency in that he has knowledge of all three phases: he was involved in the campaign, was a part of the Trump transition team and he was also there for the first few months of Trump’s administration.
He was pushed out of the White House in August but has since remained in contact with the president.