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- Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s lawyer informed the White House, in real time, what questions lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee were asking his client.
- The White House replied and told Bannon’s lawyer which questions he should and shouldn’t respond to.
- Bannon was told to avoid answering questions about his work on the Trump transition team or in the White House.
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s attorney relayed questions, in real time, to the White House during a House Intelligence Committee interview on Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.
Bannon’s lawyer, Bill Burck, was in constant contact with the White House counsel’s office during the interview, according to the report. He was told to advise Bannon not to discuss his work on the transition team or in the White House.
The news confirms reports on Tuesday which said Bannon, citing executive privilege, refused to answer questions related to those topics. The committee subpoenaed him afterward.
It is not clear who Burck communicated with. Burck is also representing White House counsel Don McGahn in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, and whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey. Comey was leading the Russia probe until he was fired in May.
“It’s not surprising that there is communication between a lawyer for the witness and the White House,” said former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. “But there is no question that Bannon is not required to abide by the White House’s wishes.”
The White House has not formally invoked executive privilege, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on Tuesday.
“Bannon is doing that voluntarily,” Mariotti continued. “His attorney did not need to be as vigilent as he was in ensuring that he was complying with the White House’s request – there is nothing legally Trump could do to Bannon if he ignored it. What this shows is that Bannon is very much on Trump’s team.”
Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School and expert on criminal law, echoed that point, saying Bannon was “certainly not obligated” to coordinate with the White House on his House intel interview.
More than that, he said, “there’s nothing forcing Bannon to respect executive privilege at all. He could just spill the beans, if he wants.” The fact that the former chief strategist didn’t pursue that course, Ohlin added, indicates that he is working to get back into Trump’s good graces.
Bannon was one of Trump’s top advisers during the transition period and in the White House. In addition to serving as chief strategist, he also had a seat on the National Security Council. He was ousted from the White House last August but was still in frequent contact with Trump and his allies until recently.
The relationship devolved, however, after Bannon was quoted eviscerating Trump, his family, and his close allies in Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire & Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”
Trump hit back with characteristic fervor, calling Bannon “Sloppy Steve” and saying he had “lost his mind” and was “only in it for himself.”
“Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book,” Trump later added on Twitter. “He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job.”
Bannon did not deny making the comments about Trump and his loyalists, but he issued a lengthy apology as the president ramped up his attacks. Shortly after, when he began losing support from conservative donors and Trump backers, Bannon stepped down from his perch atop the far-right website Breitbart News.
He was issued a subpoena last week by Mueller’s team to testify before a grand jury in the Russia investigation. CNN reported Wednesday that Bannon had stuck a deal with the special counsel to submit to an informal interview in place of testifying.
A source close to Bannon told NBC News that Bannon would hold nothing back while interviewing with Mueller.
Legal experts told The Washington Post Wednesday that among the topics Mueller would be likely to focus on were what Trump knew about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russians and whether he instructed Flynn to mislead the FBI; the events surrounding Comey’s firing; and a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, during which Donald Trump Jr., senior adviser Jared Kushner, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer who had promised dirt on then Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
According to “Fire & Fury,” Bannon called the meeting “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s—, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” Bannon was quoted saying.
He later clarified that he was criticizing Manafort, not Trump Jr., adding that Manafor should have known better than to meet with the Russians at the height of the campaign.
He also said, according to the book, that there was “zero” chance Trump Jr. did not introduce the lobbyists to Trump.