Jan. 17 (UPI) — Congressional investigators looking into potential Russian election interference vowed to get answers from former White House strategist Steve Bannon after he refused to answer their questions Tuesday and defied a subpoena.
Federal lawmakers attributed Bannon’s silence Tuesday before the House intelligence committee to the White House — saying officials told him to refuse to discuss his time in President Donald Trump‘s administration or his transition team.
“We’re going to get answers from Mr. Bannon,” Rep. Mike Conaway R-Texas, said.
Tensions rose after Bannon informed the committee Tuesday he would refuse to answer questions in their closed-door meeting. He was subpoenaed on the spot.
“Of course I authorized the subpoena,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said. “That’s how the rules work.”
According to Rep. Adam Schiff D-Calif., the committee’s ranking Democrat, Bannon’s attorney had contacted the White House and officials “doubled down” on its demand for the ex-strategist to decline answers.
Conaway and Schiff said Bannon didn’t assert executive privilege, but suggested some of his answers could potentially infringe upon the right. He also refused to discuss conversations he may have had with Trump after he left the White House.
“This was effectively a gag order by the White House,” Schiff said, noting the committee planned to call Bannon back for a second round of questioning.
Bannon is the highest-ranking person from the Trump White House called to testify before a federal grand jury as part of the special counsel’s investigation into whether Russia colluded with Trump officials prior to the 2016 election.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that no one told Bannon to remain silent during questioning, but claimed there was a “process of what that looks like.”
“As with all congressional inquiries touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material,” Sanders said. “This is part of a judicially recognized process that goes back decades.”
Tuesday’s meeting followed controversy over the release of author Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House — in which Bannon is quoted as calling a meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
The president publicly criticized Bannon, saying he’d “lost his mind.”
“Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue,” Trump said in a statement.