Steve Bannon refuses to answer questions from House Intelligence Committee, members say
(WASHINGTON) – -Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon again refused to answer questions from the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors Thursday, spurring calls from the panel’s leading Democrat to hold him in contempt of Congress.
“I think the next step for Congress to take is to initiate contempt proceedings,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told reporters after the interview.
Bannon apparently was not as tight-lipped when he also met with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team this week. The former top White House aide met with Mueller’s team for 20 hours over several days, sources close to Bannon confirmed to ABC News.
Former Trump legal team spokesman Mark Corallo met Thursday with Mueller’s team, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
While meeting with congressional investigators, Bannon, according to Schiff and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who is helping to lead the Russia investigation, would only answer questions from a list of 25 provided by the White House.
“He did not answer all the questions we’d like answered,” Conaway said.
Bannon, who spent roughly three hours behind closed doors, repeatedly “asserted that he had been instructed to invoke executive privilege on behalf of the president,” Schiff said.
Schiff said the executive privilege claims in the congressional interview – which he said covered questions about the transition, administration, and Bannon’s post-White House activities – were “breathtaking,” “insupportable” and “at times it was laughable.”
At one point, Schiff fumed, Bannon refused to discuss conversations he had after leaving the White House with “people who played no role in the administration.”
“There is no plausible claim of privilege that could apply to those circumstances,” he said.
Schiff called the list of questions from the White House that Bannon limited himself to answering were “self-serving” and “misleading.”
“There were questions along the lines of, ‘did you meet with x?’ And because the question was written by the White House the answer was invariably ‘no,’” he recalled.
“When we asked the question, ‘Did you talk with x,’ the answer was ‘yes.’ When we asked, ‘What did they discuss?’ there was the invocation of privilege,” Schiff said.
Schiff said accepting the White House’s “stonewalling” of Congress would have “deep implications” for future congressional investigations.
He said Bannon did not make a case against being held in contempt to the committee, an opportunity provided to him under House rules.
“I don’t know why Mr. Bannon would go along with this strategy unless this is an effort to re-ingratiate himself with the White House,” Schiff said.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Conaway suggested he’d have to confer with House lawyers and House Speaker Paul Ryan about how to go about responding to Bannon, and potentially holding him in contempt of Congress.
A key figure in the Trump campaign and West Wing until he was forced out of the administration in August, Bannon has been at odds with the House panel investigating Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election over his testimony.
He first met with the committee behind closed doors in January, when he told congressional investigators privately that the meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton in June 2016 at Trump Tower was “unpatriotic,” according to sources familiar with the meeting.
Bannon’s comments came after he attempted to distance himself from disparaging comments he made about the meeting attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by author Michael Wolff.
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