Former Barack Obama Aides To Testify In Russian ‘meddling’ In 2016 Election

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    Steve Bannon has so far avoided the scrutiny of congressional investigators.
    Steve Bannon has so far avoided the scrutiny of congressional investigators. Photograph: Brynn Anderson/AP

    The House intelligence committee on Tuesday questioned Steve Bannon, the one-time confidant to Donald Trump. The New York Times reported, meanwhile, that Bannon has been subpoenaed by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

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    The House panel is speeding toward a conclusion of its investigation into Russian meddling and alleged collusion between Trump aides and Moscow.

    Mueller’s investigation, which has led to two indictments and two guilty pleas from Trump campaign aides, has shown no sign of flagging. According to the Times, the subpoena for Bannon to appear before a grand jury was issued last week.

    A spokesperson for the former White House aide did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Bannon lost the backing of key Republican donors and his position at the hard-right Breitbart News after the publication, first reported by the Guardian, of an explosive book on the Trump White House by the journalist Michael Wolff.

    The former White House strategist was a key source for the book, in which he was quoted as calling a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump aides including Donald Trump Jr and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner “treasonous”, “unpatriotic” and “bad shit”.

    Quick guide

    What are the Trump-Russia congressional inquiries?

    Beyond Mueller

    Three separate congressional committees are investigating Russian tampering in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign: the Senate judiciary and intelligence committees, and the House intelligence committee.

    The committees have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents. The list of witnesses to have been interviewed so far is long, and includes  Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner, as well as lesser figures such as former adviser Carter Page; Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, which commissioned the Steele dossier; and Ben Rhodes, the former Obama adviser.

    Senate intelligence committee

    The most aggressive of the three committees so far, with a reasonable appearance of bipartisanship. Republican chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina said in October that the question of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives remained open. But Burr has also said the committee was not focused on “criminal acts” but a larger picture. The committee notably heard testimony from James Comey after the former FBI director was fired.

    Senate judiciary committee

    Hampered early on by partisan disagreement about the scope of its investigation, the committee has interviewed top witnesses including Donald Trump Jr and has taken a particular focus on the firing of James Comey. But the committee has deferred to Mueller in the investigation of Paul Manafort and has interviewed fewer witnesses than others.

    House intelligence committee

    Riven by partisan conflict, the committee appears to be on track to produce two reports – one from each party. Chairman Devin Nunes recused himself from the inquiry in March after Trump tweeted that Barack Obama had "tapp[ed] my phones" and Nunes, in an apparent attempt to defend the president, revealed that some communications involving Trump aides had been intercepted by US surveillance programs.

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    The Trump aides believed the Russians at the meeting had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president.

    “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers,” Bannon is quoted as saying in the book, Fire and Fury.

    “They didn’t have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”

    Bannon also gave a prescription for how such a meeting should have been set up and said he believed the Russians would probably have been introduced to Donald Trump.

    “The chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the 26th floor is zero,” he said.

    The Trump White House was now “sitting on a beach trying to stop a category five” hurricane, he said, adding that Mueller’s investigators would “crack Don Jr like an egg on national TV”.

    Bannon’s interview with the House panel was held behind closed doors. It was be his first appearance before any committees investigating Russian interference.

    Trump Jr was interviewed by the House intelligence panel in December, behind closed doors and for roughly seven hours. He was pressed in particular on the nature of the meeting at Trump Tower and his contacts with WikiLeaks, which published hacked emails from the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee.

    Trump Jr reportedly shared with senior Trump officials, including Bannon, details of his correspondence with WikiLeaks. Democrats on the House committee have expressed a desire to hear from Bannon about what he observed, and why he suggested to Wolff that Mueller would focus on money laundering.

    Bannon’s name has also surfaced in other aspects of the investigation. The fiancée of George Papadopoulos, the former foreign policy aide who has been cooperating with Mueller since July, said Bannon was informed by Papadopoulos of his contacts with Russians.

    During the transition, Bannon was forwarded an email pertaining to a pending discussion about US sanctions between then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Michael Flynn, who had been appointed as national security adviser.

    Flynn, who was fired last February for misleading vice-president Mike Pence about his communications with Kislyak, reached a plea deal with Mueller in December. He was charged with lying to the FBI.

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    Prior to the fallout from Wolff’s book, Bannon was also closely connected to Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, billionaire backers of Trump and conservative causes. The Mercers family is a major investor in Cambridge Analytica, a company that contacted WikiLeaks about Clinton’s emails just before it was hired by the Trump campaign.

    Bannon, who also told Wolff he knows no Russians, would not be a witness in any investigations, would not hire a lawyer and would not appear on national TV answering questions, recently retained the same lawyer being used by former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus.

    In the explosion of controversy from Wolff’s book, Trump disavowed “Sloppy Steve” and argued there was no evidence of collusion between his presidential campaign and operatives tied to Vladimir Putin.

    Bannon rowed back, saying his remarks about the “treasonous” meeting had only referred to Paul Manafort, his predecessor in charge of the Trump campaign who is one of the four aides indicted by Mueller. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to money-laundering charges. A hearing in that case was also scheduled for Tuesday.

    Source : https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/16/steve-bannon-house-russia-trump

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