- Thomson Reuters
- Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon will not be testifying on Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee as had previously been scheduled.
- The committee has decided to postpone his interview until next week to allow time for the committe and the White House to agree on the terms of the interview.
- The White House seeks to invoke executive privilege in order to limit which questions Bannon will answer, but only the president can assert this privilege.
- Bannon though is likely todefer=”defer”to President Donald Trump on the scope of his testimony.
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has forced the House Intelligence Committee to delay an interview with him for the third time despite a bipartisan congressional subpoena, and will instead be questioned next week, according to a spokesperson for Rep. Michael Conway, who runs the House Russia investigation.
Bannon reportedly refused to answer questions this week because he says White House attorneys and the Intelligence Committee have not yet reached an agreement on the scope of the panel’s questioning, CNN reported. This is the third time the committee has had to delay Bannon’s testimony after his initial appearance last month.
Conway’s office said the committee itself – which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election – had decided to delay the interview with Bannon.
“The House Intelligence Committee’s interview with Stephen Bannon has been postponed at the Committee’s initiative until next week,” a spokesperson told Business Insider. “We look forward to having him before the Committee once we can assure that he will be able to thoroughly answer all our questions without concerns regarding the scope of executive privilege.”
But the negotiations between the committee and the White House have reportedly stalled, as President Donald Trump’s office will only permit Bannon to answer fourteen simple “yes” or “no” questions, the Associated Press reported. In addition, the White House has barred Bannon from speaking about his time on Trump’s transition team, his time on the president’s staff, and his conversations with Trump after he left the White House, effectively giving investigators very little room to operate.
Committee members from both parties have denounced the White House’s prohibitions, and stated that they could hold Bannon in contempt of Congress.
The White House sought to exercise control over what kinds of questions Bannon answered for the committee during his appearance in January, and Bannon and his lawyer reportedly frustrated Committee members by taking numerous breaks to make phone calls to the president’s counsel in order to ask which questions he should answer, according to Foreign Policy.
Bannon refused to answer questions about his time in the White House or on the president’s transition team then as well, although he did make an apparent slip-up and admitted he spoke to several high-level White House staff members, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus, about the infamous meeting in Trump Tower that took place in July 2016, according to Axios. That meeting took place between members of Trump’s campaign team and a Russian lawyer who had promised Donald Trump, Jr. compromising information on 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s staff have tried to utilize the concept of executive privilege to withhold information from the committee. Executive privilege is a concept that originated with former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and argues that the president must be able to protect internal discussions in order to ensure that he or she will be able to receive honest advice from staff members.
Only the president can invoke executive privilege
Although executive privilege is not a new idea and has been asserted by past presidents, constitutional law professor at University of North Carolina School of Law Michael Gerhardt said only Trump himself can invoke the argument.
“Executive privilege relates to material generated for or on behalf of the President, not anyone else working in the White House. But, Bannon is not the one to assert executive privilege – only the president can do that,” Gerhardt told Business Insider.
Gerhardt added that the degree to which the White House can exert control over his testimony before investigators depends on Bannon and his team.
“It is not unusual for a White House to try to control the questioning of current or former employees,”Gerhardt said. “It has as much control as Bannon and his lawyer allow them. They can’t order [Bannon] to do anything, but he has an interest in keeping the [White House] happy.”