Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed former presidential advisor and Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon to testify in front of a grand jury on what he knows about the Donald Trump campaign and administration's connections to Russian agents who were attempting to sway the 2016 election in Trump's favor, according to an article Tuesday in the New York Times.
The New York Times reports that the Mueller's subpoena of Bannon was actually delivered last week, about the time Bannon stepped down as head of Breitbart, but is just now being revealed. The news broke as Bannon was in the middle of more than eight hours of testimony on Donald Trump's ties to Russia in front of the House Intelligence Committee. He is the first member of Trump's inner circle to be ordered to stand before the grand jury.
This news raises a lot of questions as it comes quickly on the heels of a rather startling fall from grace for Steve Bannon. After being fired from his job at the White House back in August, Bannon drew sharp criticism from the president recently for the words he is quoted as saying in Michael Wolff's new book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. In the book, Bannon is alleged to have referred to a meeting between Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr., and representatives of the Russian government at Trump Tower before the election as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic." Moreover, he was quoted as saying that Trump, Jr. would "crack like an egg" under Mueller's questioning and that there was no way that Donald Trump himself would have been unaware of the meeting.
The president has since nicknamed Bannon "Sloppy Steve" and released a statement saying that when Bannon lost his job he also "lost his mind."
According to a report from the BBC, the move could simply be a negotiating tactic by Mueller to compel Bannon to submit voluntarily to a less formal interview with the special counsel. The BBC also reports that this latest move by Mueller is a very clear and definite sign that, contrary to what Trump's lawyers have been saying recently, the investigation shows no signs of coming to a close anytime in the near future.
According to an article in the Washington Post, a grand jury is not, in and of itself, a trial, but no person can be accused of a federal crime without one being convened. A grand jury, though, is a powerful tool for determining truth because a witness cannot refuse to answer questions and there are no defense lawyers present, so a witness will never have forewarning of what prosecutors intend to ask.
The subpoena from Mueller was actually only the first of two that Bannon received today. Politico is reporting that the House Intelligence Committee subpoenaed him as well when Bannon refused to answer questions about his tenure in the White House. Bannon reportedly did not invoke executive privilege but frustrated Republican lawmakers in the committee with his reticence to provide responses to their queries.