Published: Fri, January 19, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Rep. Chris Collins: If I were Bannon, I'd answer lawmakers' questions

Rep. Chris Collins: If I were Bannon, I'd answer lawmakers' questions

Steve Bannon's refusal to answer questions during his meeting with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday was "unprecedented", according to Rep. Adam Schiff.

Bannon is expected to face questions about the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

In the Tuesday hearing, Bannon refused to answer questions and disclose communications with key officials, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, and he would not discuss what information he may have leaked to the news media, according to Schiff.

The move marked a new tenor to the investigation - the first time a grand jury subpoena was used to compel a top member of the Trump team to testify - even as Mr Trump's lawyers insisted the special counsel's probe was winding down.

The House Intelligence Committee questioned Bannon for eight hours.

Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said when he does testify before the grand jury, which will be without his attorney present, "it will be easier to catch Bannon off-guard and receive truthful answers".

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Lawmakers questioned Bannon as part of their investigation into Russian election inference and sought answers about Trump's thinking when he fired FBI Director James Comey.

The twin developments intensify the pressure on the former Breitbart News executive after his public falling-out with President Donald Trump, who reacted angrily to comments Bannon made in the new book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House". A spokeswoman for Bannon did not respond to multiple requests for comment. He continued to speak with Trump and tried to promote the president's agenda. "If he's going to go [to a congressional committee] voluntarily, he can testify before the grand jury".

A grand jury testimony is usually more taxing for the witness, as the entire proceedings are transcribed and the witness is required to answer every question.

Those key elements bear directly on the criminal investigation now underway by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is charged with investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation and whether the president obstructed justice by firing Comey or by taking other actions to thwart investigators.

In Wolff's book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House", Bannon is quoted as saying a June 2016 meeting Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was "treasonous" and "unpatriotic". Mr. Bannon said he believed there was "zero" chance that the younger Mr. Trump did not take them to meet his father, who has said he knew nothing about the meeting. Mr. Bannon did not apologize, however, and though he had approved the statement, an associate sent it to reporters without his knowledge.

But Trump accused Bannon of having "lost his mind" when news of his comments to Wolff surfaced earlier this month.

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