Steve Bannon refuses to answer some questions in House Russia probe

Bannon (left) arriving to testify at the US Capitol in Washington, Feb 15, 2018.
Bannon (left) arriving to testify at the US Capitol in Washington, Feb 15, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Former White House strategist Steve Bannon declined to answer some questions on Thursday (Feb 15) during a closed-door meeting with the House panel conducting a Russia probe, deepening a standoff between the panel and the White House.

Bannon, who did not respond to questions from reporters, was appearing before the panel under a subpoena after he told the panel that White House lawyers wouldn't let him answer certain questions.

Representative Michael Conaway, the Republican running the panel's probe, said Bannon only answered 25 questions, and invoked some kind of presidential communication privilege in refusing to answer others.

"There is frustration," he said, about Bannon's refusal, adding that the panel now needs to debate its next steps.

The Intelligence Committee has been looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"He refused to answer almost all the questions," Adam Schiff of California, the panel's top Democrat, told reporters. "The breadth of that claim of executive privilege is breathtaking and unsupportable and, indeed, at times, it was laughable."

Schiff said that Bannon only agreed to answer 25 yes-or-no questions that had been written by the White House.

"That's not how executive privilege works," he added, saying the next step is for Congress to initiate contempt proceedings.

EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE

Bannon's initial appearance before the committee came on Jan 17 and was interrupted several times. During those breaks, Bannon's lawyer, William Burck, called the White House to ask whether Bannon could answer certain questions considering that President Donald Trump might later assert executive privilege over their conversations.

Schiff has said the White House was barring Bannon from testifying on "matters during the transition, his tenure at the White House, and his communications with the president since leaving government service, even though the president has not in fact invoked executive privilege."

On his way into the committee session on Thursday, Bannon said only, "Good morning folks. It's a fine day today."

Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is refusing to appear for a second time before the House Intelligence Committee. He hasn't been under subpoena, but Schiff says he should be compelled to testify.