He’s on the outs with President Trump, but onetime top White House strategist Steve Bannon could soon find himself squarely in the legal spotlight as forces continue pushing him to the center of multiple federal and congressional Russian election-meddling probes.
Even as Mr. Bannon, once a key member of the president’s inner circle, spent a day behind closed doors testifying to the House Intelligence Committee, word leaked that he had also been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller in the wake of incendiary comments he made about the Trump campaign in a recent White House tell-all book.
Despite his long day in a House office building, the notoriously combative Mr. Bannon, who’d agreed to speak to lawmakers voluntarily, refused to answer questions about his work with Mr. Trump during the transition and in the White House, a stance backed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. For that, Mr. Bannon found himself slapped with his second subpoena — this one by the committee.
According to multiple Capitol Hill sources, Mr. Bannon angered both committee Republicans and Democrats by citing executive privilege to decline to answer question about events that occurred during the Mr. Trump’s transition period after the 2016 election.
Mr. Bannon served as a key figure during the transition, a time period that Mr. Mueller’s Russian election meddling probe and multiple congressional Russia probes have scrutinized intensely.
Senior committee Republican, Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida, told reporters that the issue of executive privilege was “dominating the day.”
“I certainly think that the committee respects executive privilege,” Mr. Rooney said, but said the question was at what point does the privilege kick in for someone like Mr. Bannon.
Mrs. Sanders said the White House was cooperating with the Russia probes, but told reporters, “As with all congressional inquiries touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material. This is part of a judicially recognized process that goes back decades.”
In August, Mr. Bannon left the White House after a brief, turbulent tenure helping Mr. Trump channel his “America First” populist agenda.
Last week, the publication of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” caused a major public spat between him and the White House.
The former strategist accused Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of “treasonous” behavior for meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign who offered political “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
President Trump said Mr. Bannon had “lost his mind” after his firing in agreeing to speak so openly with the author on the book. Although Mr. Bannon apologized a few days later, he ended up being stripped of his job leading the pro-Trump online news site Breitbart News.
Like a number of current and former Trump associates, Mr. Bannon had also lawyered up, hiring Washington attorney William Burck, a onetime counsel to President George W. Bush, to advise him.
The subpoena issued from Mr. Mueller’s investigation, which occurred last week but was announced Tuesday, was the first for someone in Mr. Trump’s group of close aides, according to The New York Times, which first reported the move.
There was speculation it was a negotiating tactic that to pressure Mr. Bannon to speak with the special counsel’s investigators in the less formal setting of Mr. Mueller’s Washington office, as opposed to appearing in a courtroom before a grand jury.
Later this week, more Trump administration staff are expected to testify before congressional Russia-related probes, including White House Communications Director Hope Hicks and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
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