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House Panel Subpoenas Bannon           01/17 06:15

   Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on Tuesday refused to 
answer a broad array of queries from the House Intelligence Committee about his 
time working for President Donald Trump, provoking a subpoena from the panel's 
Republican chairman.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on 
Tuesday refused to answer a broad array of queries from the House Intelligence 
Committee about his time working for President Donald Trump, provoking a 
subpoena from the panel's Republican chairman.

   The development brought to the forefront questions about White House efforts 
to control what the former adviser tells Congress about his time in Trump's 
inner circle --- and whether Republicans on Capitol Hill would force the issue.

   The congressional subpoena came the same day The New York Times reported 
that Bannon --- a former far-right media executive and recently scorned 
political adversary of the president's --- has been subpoenaed by special 
counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a federal grand jury.

   With the issuance of Mueller's subpoena, Bannon became the highest-ranking 
person who served in the Trump White House to be called before a grand jury as 
part of the special counsel's investigation.

   By itself, the move doesn't confirm that Mueller is presenting evidence to 
support future criminal charges. But it does show that Mueller is still 
actively using a grand jury as he probes the actions of Trump, his family and 
his staff during the campaign, the presidential transition and the early months 
of the administration.

   Congressional officials declined to say whether Bannon disclosed Mueller's 
subpoena during an all-day, closed-door interview with members of the House 
Intelligence Committee.

   The members grilled Bannon as part of the committee's investigation into 
Russian election inference. Lawmakers also wanted answers about Trump's 
thinking when he fired FBI Director James Comey.

   But Bannon refused to answer questions about that crucial period, prompting 
the committee's chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, to issue the 
subpoena, said Nunes spokesman Jack Langer.

   Late Tuesday, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the 
committee, said Bannon's refusal to answer those questions came at the 
instruction of the White House.

   "This was effectively a gag order by the White House," Schiff said shortly 
after Bannon's interview concluded. Schiff said the committee plans to call 
Bannon back for a second interview.

   A spokeswoman for Bannon did not respond to multiple requests for comment 
Tuesday afternoon.

   At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said "no one" had 
encouraged Bannon not to be transparent during questioning but there's a 
"process of what that looks like."

   "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," 
Sanders told reporters.

   A White House official said the president did not seek to formally exert 
executive privilege over Bannon --- a move that would have barred him from 
answering certain questions. The official said the administration believes it 
doesn't have to invoke the privilege to keep Bannon from answering questions 
about his time in the White House. The official spoke on condition of anonymity 
to discuss internal deliberations.

   The House committee had planned to press Bannon on "executive actions" taken 
by Trump that have drawn interest from congressional investigators prying into 
ties between Trump's campaign and Russian operatives, said another person, who 
wasn't authorized to speak on the record about the closed-door session and 
spoke on condition of anonymity.

   Those key elements bear directly on the criminal investigation led by 
Mueller, who is charged with investigating ties between the Trump campaign and 
Russia and whether the president obstructed justice by firing Comey or by 
taking other actions to thwart investigators.

   The focus on Bannon follows his spectacular fall from power after being 
quoted in a book saying that he sees the president's son and others as engaging 
in "treasonous" behavior for taking a meeting with Russians during the 2016 
campaign.

   In Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury," Bannon accuses Donald Trump Jr., Jared 
Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of essentially 
betraying the nation by meeting with a group of Russian lawyers and lobbyists 
who they believed were ready to offer "dirt" on Democratic candidate Hillary 
Clinton.

   More recently, Bannon has said he was not referring to Trump Jr. but rather 
to Manafort. Wolff stands by his account.

   After the book's release, Trump quickly disavowed "Sloppy Steve Bannon" and 
repeatedly argued there was no evidence of collusion between his presidential 
campaign and operatives tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bannon 
apologized a few days later but was stripped of his job leading the pro-Trump 
website Breitbart News.

   Bannon last year had largely avoided the scrutiny of congressional 
investigators, who instead focused much of their energy on trying to secure 
interviews with top witnesses like Manafort and former national security 
adviser Michael Flynn.

   But Bannon played a critical role in the campaign, the presidential 
transition and the White House --- all now under scrutiny from congressional 
investigators.


(KA)

 
 
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