By now, news of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s refusal to answer questions in front of the House Intel Committee on Tuesday is well-known. What leaked today, though, reveals quite a bit more than Bannon or the White House intended.
Bannon insisted that the White House had ordered him to claim “executive privilege” in refusing to answer questions about incidents during his time in the White House or during the transition period. Those interrogating him on the committee, however, got him to slip within 90 minutes, according to an Axios report:
‘Steve Bannon made one conspicuous slip up in his closed-door hearing on Tuesday with the House Intelligence Committee, according to four sources with direct knowledge of the confidential proceedings. Bannon admitted that he’d had conversations with Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and legal spokesman Mark Corallo about Don Junior’s infamous meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower in June 2016.’
Priebus, Spicer and MARK Corallo all knew about the Don Jr. meeting with the Russians. They have all been lying. Bannon talked to them about it. https://t.co/1KNYp87CIC
— Janet Heinsler (@HEINSLERJAN) January 17, 2018
The mistake had unintended consequences. Both Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) pressed him for some time on his refusal to answer some questions about his time in the White House while giving answers to other questions about it. If it wasn’t important to keep that information private due to executive privilege, what are the answers he cannot give concealing?
Another suspicion about Bannon was confirmed because of that same refusal to provide answers. In Michael Wolff’s explosive new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Wolff stated repeatedly that Bannon had been the guilty party responsible for all of the leaks that have so infuriated Trump in his first year as president. Many of the book’s most damaging claims are also attributed to Bannon, whom Wolff interviewed extensively and of which he kept audio recordings as proof.
House Intel Committee members brought up those leaks to journalists and the book’s author while Bannon continued to claim executive privilege.
‘They kept asking him why he felt liberated to abandon executive privilege and leak prolifically about the White House to journalists and author Wolff, but wouldn’t talk to Congress.’
Bannon has not denied his statements to Wolff, including one about the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager with Russian government operatives who promised compromising information on Trump’s political rival, Hillary Clinton. Bannon called that meeting “treasonous,” and apologized when the story went public instead of denying the claims, lending Wolff’s quotes credence.
Apparently, the committee believed Bannon made those quotes and leaked inside information to journalists, as well.
One point on which the committee did get the former Breitbart CEO to back down was over his claims that there “was no way” that no one told President Trump about the Trump Tower meeting. After being pushed by questioners, Bannon finally relented and said he had been just speculating.
Another very tense, as well as undisputed, exchange came over Bannon’s use of the word “treasonous.”
‘Gowdy asked Bannon whether he would consider it treason for somebody close to him to approach Wikileaks’ Julian Assange to get opposition research on Hillary Clinton. Bannon replied that such a scenario would be bad judgment. Then Gowdy produced emails from a Cambridge Analytica employee — the Trump campaign data firm closely affiliated with Bannon — boasting of just such contacts with Assange. Bannon claimed this was the first time he’d seen these emails.’
Those on the committee also refused to entertain Bannon’s repeated claims that the Trump/Russia probe was simply a GOP “establishment” push to get Trump out of office and “nullify the election results.” Gowdy, the ranking GOP member, reminded Bannon that Trump’s close confidant, Kevin McCarthy, is also the leader of the Republican House conference, which makes him a part of the same “establishment” Bannon was attempting to blame for the investigation.
Bannon ‘slipped up’ during hearing — and revealed inside information about Trump-Russia meeting: report https://t.co/IvqtS9Ke2p
— (((DIXIE MARTIN))) (@MARTINDIXIE) January 17, 2018
Trump’s former chief strategist was served with a subpoena by Special Counsel Robert Mueller early on Tuesday before his testimony to the committee. Before finishing the interrogation where he refused to answer questions, he was hit with another subpoena by the House Intel Committee, as well, during which he can be compelled to answer those questions under oath.
Featured image via Getty/Bloomberg