Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon was back on Capitol Hill on Thursday and, once again, he drew the ire of lawmakers. In a closed-door meeting with the House Intelligence Committee, Bannon was asked questions about Russia’s interference in American elections, but only questions that were “scripted” by the White House.
The list of 25 pre-screened questions were crafted to be intentionally misleading to lawmakers and of very little value to the investigation, according to the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff. “There were questions along the lines of ‘Did you ever meet with X?’ And because the question had been written by the White House the answer was invariably ‘No,’” Schiff told Politico.
It wasn’t just the committee Dems that Bannon irked, however. When the committee members pressed Bannon for further details, the former Breitbart editor claimed executive privilege, a legal claim used by the president to protect conversations from scrutiny by other branches of government. This action provoked the ire of Republican and Democratic committee members alike. Schiff called the invocation “breathtaking” and “laughable.” Rep. Mike Conaway, the head of the committee’s investigation into Russia, said he plans on discussing the possibility of seeking contempt charges against Bannon with House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Schiff also recognized another conflict of interest in Bannon’s attorney, William Burck, who also represents current White House counsel Don McGahn. McGahn and his office advised the committee on the questions Bannon would and would not answer. “I can only speculate because the attorney who represents Steve Bannon also represents the White House counsel that this is being done in concert as part of a coordinated strategy to stonewall this committee,” said Schiff.
In response to the Intel Committee’s frustration, one White House official stated that the 25 questions were the result of negotiations between the White House and the committee staff, and that committee members were aware of and had agreed to the nature of Bannon’s testimony. That same official informed Politico that the White House will respond if Conaway or any other committee member tries to charge Bannon with contempt.
Bannon’s appearance before lawmakers comes days after he reportedly met with Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into Russia. A source close to Bannon confirmed that he met with the Special Council for roughly 20 hours over multiple days recently. Unlike his meetings with the House Intelligence Committee, though, Bannon was not expected to declare any subjects as untouchable while talking to Mueller.