Bannon refuses to comply with House subpoena

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon (centre) leaving Capitol Hill on Tuesday after spending hours in closed-door meetings with members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon (centre) leaving Capitol Hill on Tuesday after spending hours in closed-door meetings with members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Order issued to pressure ex-Trump key aide to answer questions as part of Russia probe

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon has declined to comply with a subpoena ordering him to answer questions from a House intelligence panel as part of a probe into allegations of Russian interference in the US election.

After Mr Bannon initially refused to answer questions about his time at the White House on Tuesday, the committee's Republican chairman Devin Nunes authorised the issuing of the subpoena to press Mr Bannon to respond.

Even then, Mr Bannon refused to answer questions, Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters.

Separately, the New York Times reported that Mr Bannon was subpoenaed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury in a probe into alleged ties between Russia and Mr Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

It was the first time Mr Mueller is known to have used a subpoena against a member of Mr Trump's inner circle, the paper reported.

A spokesman for Mr Mueller's office declined comment and Mr Bill Burck, a lawyer for Mr Bannon, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The reported subpoena for Mr Bannon does not necessarily mean that he is a target of Mr Mueller's criminal investigation.

Mr Bannon, a champion of the President's "America First" agenda, was among Mr Trump's closest aides during the 2016 campaign, the presidential transition and his first few months in office.

UNPRECEDENTED

This is the broadest effort to effectively gag a witness that we've seen.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF, the top Democrat on the committee.

But the pair had a bitter public falling out over comments Mr Bannon made to author Michael Wolff for his recent book, Fire And Fury: Inside The Trump White House.

In the book, Mr Bannon is quoted as saying that a June 2016 meeting between Mr Trump's associates, including the President's son Donald Trump Jr and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and a Russian lawyer was "treasonous" and "unpatriotic".

Russia has denied meddling in the election and Mr Trump, a Republican, has denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

Mr Bannon was fired by the White House in August last year, and he returned to the right-wing news website Breitbart News. He continued to speak to Mr Trump and tried to promote the President's agenda.

Mr Bannon spent hours on Tuesday in closed-door meetings with members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

He is the latest high-profile figure to appear before the panel as part of its investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the American election. "We expect to have Mr Bannon back in, we hope, very soon, with a different position by the White House," Mr Schiff said.

Mr Schiff later said Mr Bannon had refused to answer questions about conversations held both during his time at the White House and during the transition between the election and Mr Trump's inauguration. "This is the broadest effort to effectively gag a witness that we've seen," he added.

Asked if the White House had told Mr Bannon not to answer certain questions, White House spokesman Sarah Sanders said: "As with all congressional activities touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material.

"We've been cooperating fully with these ongoing investigations, and encourage the committees to work with us to find an appropriate accommodation in order to ensure Congress obtains information necessary to its legitimate interests."

Mr Mueller's subpoena, which was issued last week, could be a pressure tactic to induce Mr Bannon to cooperate fully with his investigation.

Mr Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said the most likely reason for Mr Mueller to serve Mr Bannon with a subpoena was that "he thought having an attorney present and giving Bannon a more relaxed setting would not yield the same testimony as if he got him in the grand jury room with no attorney there and a more adversarial style of questioning."

Witnesses are not permitted to bring an attorney into federal grand jury proceedings, but can step outside to consult their lawyer.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'Bannon refuses to comply with House subpoena'. Print Edition | Subscribe