Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon refused to answer questions Tuesday from lawmakers who are investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Bannon spent hours in front of the House Intelligence Committee, one of several bodies conducting its own Russia probe.
The committee responded to Bannon’s refusal by issuing a subpoena. The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, said White House officials had instructed Bannon to not answer questions.
“No one has encouraged him to be anything but transparent,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
She said the Trump administration has been “cooperating fully with these ongoing investigations” and that the Congress has to consult with the White House before it can obtain confidential material.
Schiff said he expects Bannon to make another appearance before the committee.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed Bannon last week to testify before a grand jury investigating Trump campaign contacts with Russia.
Bannon has continued to avow his support for Trump. But his relations with the president frayed badly after he was quoted extensively with critical remarks about the campaign and the first months of White House operations in author Michael Wolff’s new book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”
The former Trump adviser was quoted as calling it “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer in the midst of the campaign in an effort to get “incriminating” evidence against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
After the book was published, Trump started calling Bannon “Sloppy Steve” and said, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” Bannon also was removed last week as the top executive at Breitbart News, the alt-right news site that has championed Trump’s brand of populism.
Trump has repeatedly said there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, although none of the months-long congressional investigations or Mueller has reached any conclusions.
“Do you notice the Fake News Mainstream Media never likes covering the great and record setting economic news,” Trump said in a Twitter comment Tuesday, “but rather talks about anything negative or that can be turned into the negative. The Russian Collusion Hoax is dead, except as it pertains to the Dems. Public gets it!”
Mueller has secured guilty pleas from Flynn and former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to federal agents about their contacts with Russia, and has charged Manafort and another campaign aide, Rick Gates, with money laundering in connection with their lobbying efforts for Ukraine that predated the 2016 presidential campaign.
Mueller is also investigating whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, who was heading the agency’s Russia probe before Mueller was appointed, over Trump’s objections, to take over the investigation.