Steve Bannon, former senior aide to President Donald Trump, became the center of not one but two investigations into Russia interference in the 2016 election over the past day.
On Tuesday Bannon spent 10 hours testifying behind closed doors in front of the House Intelligence Committee. Bannon refused to speak about conversations with the president, forcing the committee to subpoena him.
Then, late last night, news broke that Bannon had also been subpoenaed as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Bannon is the first person of Trump’s inner circle to be subpoenaed to testify in Mueller’s investigation.
It’s likely, the New York Times reports, that Bannon will not be forced to testify before Mueller’s grand jury, but that the subpoena is being used to get Bannon to speak with investigators on Mueller’s team. Bannon infamously was quoted as saying in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury that the Mueller investigation would focus on “money laundering” and that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer was “treasonous.”
In his testimony with the House Intelligence Committee earlier in the day, the former counselor and campaign chair refused to answer questions about conversations between him and Trump, citing executive privilege. In response, the House issued a subpoena that would compel Bannon to testify.
Members of the House committee said that Bannon’s refusal to speak was because of a “gag order” from Trump.
“This was effectively a gag order by the White House preventing this witness from answering almost any question concerning his time in the transition or the administration,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said. “The scope of this assertion of privilege, if that’s what it is, is breathtaking. It goes well beyond anything we have seen in this investigation. If the White House is permitted to maintain that kind of gag rule on a witness, no congressional investigation could ever be effective. So this obviously can’t stand.”
In response to those claims, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called that assertion false.
“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.
However, according to the Associated Press, Bannon’s lawyer was in communication with the White House during his testimony.
BREAKING: AP Sources: Steve Bannon attorney relayed questions to White House during House interview, was told when not to respond.— The Associated Press (@AP) January 17, 2018
It’s been a precipitous downfall for Bannon, who just a year ago was considered a rising star in the Republican party. Instead, his White House coalition fractured and he was forced out. Then, in the wake of Wolff’s explosive tell-all, he lost the support of his financial backers and was forced out at Breitbart, becoming a target of Twitter derision from the president.
This article has been updated.