Bannon returns to House Intelligence Committee under subpoena

Thursday , February 15, 2018 - 10:35 AM

Karoun Demirjian

(c) 2018, The Washington Post.

WASHINGTON - Former top White House strategist Stephen Bannon returned to Capitol Hill under subpoena Thursday morning to meet with House investigators probing Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but it was unclear whether he planned to answer the committee’s questions behind closed doors.

Bannon and the House Intelligence Committee have been in a weeks-long standoff over his refusal to discuss anything from the presidential transition period or his tenure advising President Donald Trump in the White House. The committee issued Bannon an on-the-spot subpoena last month, after his attorneys argued that executive privilege could apply to the periods in question.

Bannon’s return to the committee has already been scheduled and delayed three times, while the White House hammers out the terms of the interview with the House counsel. On Wednesday night, the White House sent the committee a letter outlining its argument for why executive privilege could apply to the transition period, according to panel members. But lawmakers continue to reject that premise, and it was not clear whether the letter constituted a formal invocation of privilege.

If Bannon continues to be silent on questions about the transition period, “I’m not okay with it,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said heading into the closed-door interview.

Gowdy led the panel last month in pushing Bannon to answer all of its questions and ultimately deciding to issue him a subpoena. Now several Republicans on the panel, as well as Democrats, are ready to hold him in contempt if he does not fully comply with it.

“If you don’t, I mean, what kind of precedent is that sending? For not just our committee, but every committee?” said Rep. Thomas Rooney , R-Fla., who was deputized to help run the committee’s Russia probe. He surmised that the panel’s leaders, including Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., would be ready to sign off on the move.

Bannon has not put any such limitations on his participation in the Justice Department’s Russia probe, being run by special counsel Robert Mueller. The Intelligence Committee’s effort is not supposed to overlap with Mueller’s probe, but members stress that the same events and people are relevant to both the investigations.

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