After initially avoiding questions from lawmakers in the House Intelligence Committee on the ongoing Russia probe, Steve Bannon has struck a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.
According to CNN, Bannon has agreed to be interviewed by prosecutors instead of testifying before a grand jury. The former White House chief strategist is expected to “talk openly” to Mueller’s team.
On Tuesday, however, Bannon was singing a different tune. During a 10-hour interview before the committee, Bannon told lawmakers that he wouldn’t be answering any questions about his time in the White House. He also said that he would not answer questions about the transition team.
Both Republicans and Democrats were reportedly furious with Bannon’s refusals. According to Politico, they “subpoenaed him on the spot.”
“We’re going to get answers from Mr. Bannon,” said Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, the committee’s top Republican.
A presidential gag order?
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, said that the White House had issued an “audacious” gag order, telling Bannon not to answer any questions about the Russia probe.
“This was effectively a gag order by the White House,” Schiff said, adding that Bannon would likely be back in front of the committee soon, and this time without any restrictions.
Bannon reportedly claimed that he was maintaining executive privilege by not answering any questions. CNN reported that Bannon would answer Mueller’s questions because executive privilege would not then apply.
But according to Rep. Jim Himes, Conway said that the “expansive claim of executive privilege doesn’t apply.”
“There was a great deal of consternation on both sides of the aisle,” Himes said. “I am glad to say that members of both parties really pushed back hard against this unprecedented claim.”
Lawmakers also debated whether that executive privilege would even extend to the transition period, since Trump was not the top executive of the land at the time.
If Bannon continues to refuse to answer questions, he could be held in contempt of Congress. According to CNN, even GOP lawmakers haven’t ruled out that possibility.
Getting back in Trump’s good graces?
It’s hard not to think Bannon’s initial loyalty to Trump during the House Committee interview has nothing to do with he and the president’s recent falling out.
In his book “Fire and Fury,” author Michael Wolff dished about Bannon’s reaction to the news that Donald Trump Jr. met with Russians in Trump Tower. The former chief White House strategist reportedly called the meeting “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
In a written statement after an excerpt of Bannon’s comments went public, Trump distanced himself from Bannon and downplayed any role that he had in his election.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency,” Trump said. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.
“Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was,” the president added.
“It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.”