After describing a meeting between Trump associates and a Russian lawyer as "treasonous" in Michael Wolff's new book, Bannon has been ordered to testify as part of Robert Mueller's investigation.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on January 17, 2018

Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon could be forced to testify before a grand jury, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The New York Times revealed the development on Tuesday, saying the grand jury subpoena — the first issued in the investigation to date — could be a negotiating tactic. A source said Mueller would likely meet Bannon halfway, allowing him to be questioned by investigators in the special counsel’s offices rather than front a grand jury.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti agreed, saying “he thought having an attorney present and giving Bannon a more relaxed setting would not yield the same testimony as if he got him in the grand jury room with no attorney there and a more adversarial style of questioning”.

The court order followed the explosive accusations Bannon made in Michael Wolff’s book — “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”. In the supposed tell-all, he described a June 2016 meeting between Trump associates, including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer, as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”. He even predicted that Mueller’s investigation would lead to money laundering,

Trump has referred to Bannon — whom he removed from his inner circle in August — as “sloppy Steve Bannon”, and said he “lost his mind” when he was fired.

Bannon and Brietbart News, the right-wing site he co-founded, have also parted ways, as he fell afoul with Trump supporter and billionaire donor Rebekah Mercer as a result of his comments.

Legal experts have a range of theories as to why Mueller took the subpoena route. David Shapiro, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice with FBI experience, went as far as to suggest he could be looking to extract information on the sacking of former FBI boss James Comey rather than Russian meddling.

“It’s a fishing expedition to see if Bannon can provide them with confirmatory evidence regarding the firing of [former FBI Director James] Comey and obstruction of justice,” he told CNBC.

“That might be the stronger charge here, rather than Russian collusion.”

Bannon would be well-placed to provide evidence on the possible obstruction of justice, considering he publicly condemned Comey’s dismissal, calling it the “biggest mistake in modern political history”.

There is also a thought that Bannon didn’t want to be made out to be a petty whistleblower, so by forcing Mueller’s hand he can say he was left with no choice but to comply with the investigation.

Mueller’s investigation has already led to the indictments of former Trump aides, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, as well as two guilty pleas.

Trump and Moscow continue to deny there was any collusion during the presidential race.

Bannon talks to intelligence committee

Separately on Tuesday, Bannon spent hours in front of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

Bannon reportedly refused to answer questions about his time in the White House, prompting Devin Nunes, the committee’s Republican chairman, to pressure Bannon further by authorising a subpoena.

“Of course I authorised the subpoena. That’s how the rules work,” Nunes told reporters.

Asked if the White House had told Bannon not to answer certain questions, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “As with all congressional activities touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material.”

“We’ve been cooperating fully with these ongoing investigations and encourage the committees to work with us to find an appropriate accommodation in order to ensure Congress obtains information necessary to its legitimate interests,” she said.

Later in the week, the panel will hear from former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, who served as Trump’s spokeswoman during his campaign.