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Sunday 16 December 2018

Lawyer relayed questions to White House during Steve Bannon’s grilling

The former senior counsellor to Donald Trump is to be interviewed by Robert Mueller who is probing alleged Russian influence.

Steve Bannon is a former special counsellor to Donald Trump (AP)
Steve Bannon is a former special counsellor to Donald Trump (AP)

By Tom LoBianco, Zeke Miller and Jonathan Lemire

Steve Bannon’s lawyer relayed questions in real time to the White House during a House Intelligence Committee interview of the former chief strategist to Donald Trump, according to reports.

As politicians probed Mr Bannon’s time working for Mr Trump, Mr Bannon’s lawyer Bill Burck was asking the White House counsel’s office by phone during the Tuesday session whether his client could answer the questions, the Associated Press claimed.

He was told by that office not to discuss his work on the transition or in the White House.

It was unclear who Mr Burck was communicating with in the White House.

He is also representing top White House lawyer Don McGahn in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the questions were relayed over the phone and said it was a typical process.

“Sometimes they actually have a White House attorney present in the room,” she said. “This time it was something that was relayed via phone and again was following standard procedure for an instance like this and something that will likely happen again on any other number of occasions, not just within this administration but future administrations.”

On Wednesday, the AP also confirmed Mr Bannon will meet with Mr Mueller’s investigators for an interview instead of appearing before a grand jury.

A person familiar with that issue confirmed the interview and said Mr Bannon is expected to cooperate with Mr Mueller.

Mr Bannon refused to answer a broad array of queries from the House Intelligence Committee about his time working for Mr Trump, leading the Republican committee chairman to authorise a subpoena.

The developments brought to the forefront questions about White House efforts to control what current and former aides tell Congress about their time in Mr Trump’s inner circle, and whether Republicans on Capitol Hill would force the issue.

The congressional subpoena for Mr Bannon came after the former far-right media executive and recently scorned Trump adviser received a grand jury subpoena issued by Mr Mueller.

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Donald Trump at the White House (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

That subpoena, first reported by The New York Times, appeared to be a negotiating tactic that then prompted Mr Bannon to agree to sit down with Mr Mueller’s prosecutors rather than appearing before the grand jury.

Mr Bannon confirmed he had received the subpoena from Mr Mueller during his House Intelligence Committee interview, sources said.

Politicians questioned Mr Bannon as part of their investigation into Russian election inference and sought answers about Mr Trump’s thinking when he fired FBI director James Comey.

But Mr Bannon refused to answer questions about that crucial period, and as a result, the chairman, Representative Devin Nunes issued the subpoena, spokesman Jack Langer said.

Press Association

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