Steve Bannon had a busy week, spending many hours testifying before both the Mueller investigation and the House Intelligence Committee (in private session). Before Congress, at least, his testimony did not go well because he refused to answer any question that wasn’t preapproved by the White House.
After a more than four-week stalemate, Bannon also returned to Capitol Hill Thursday to resume his interview with the House Intelligence Committee, which was halted when he earlier refused to answer key questions in the Russia probe.
He left today after four hours, answering little more than the two dozen questions that the White House had negotiated with the House’s lead counsel…
“The only questions he would answer were questions that had been scripted, literally scripted for him by the White House,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, told reporters. “Whenever we sought to probe anything beyond the four corners of the specific wording of the question, he refused to answer. That’s not how executive privilege works.”
Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, the lead Republican on the committee’s Russia probe, said he would work with House Speaker Paul Ryan and House lawyers to further probe the executive privilege claims made Thursday and determine whether contempt proceedings were appropriate.
Bear in mind that this was the second time he testified before that committee. The first time, he refused to answer almost any question, but he had come there voluntarily, so this time they issued a subpoena requiring him to be there. But again, he would only answer questions that had been pre-screened by the White House. Also bear in mind that at no point in any of this has the White House actually made any claim of executive privilege. Like Jeff Sessions in earlier testimony, the position seems to be that he can refuse to answer any question for which the White House might conceivably want to invoke executive privilege later.
Interesting sideline to this: In the Michael Wolff book, Bannon tells Wolff that the people involved in that meeting aboard Air Force One where they wrote the dishonest statement about Donald Jr’s meeting with Russian officials at Trump Tower would inevitably be hauled before an investigative committee and that they would not be able to use executive privilege because Watergate had ruled that out. They also can’t invoke executive privilege with Mueller because that is a criminal investigation.
When it comes to the Russia investigation, I don’t think Bannon had anything to do with that. He was very careful to keep his distance from any of it and he made some very strong statements against it that implicate Donald, Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner. But I doubt that’s what Mueller is really interested in with Bannon. I suspect he’s more interested in his statements about money laundering. In the Wolff book, Bannon comes very close to just outright saying that the Trump family and Kushner are guilty of money laundering and that this is what is going to get them indicted. I’m sure Mueller wants to know everything Bannon knows about that.