House intel panel leaders: Bannon refuses to answer many queries

House intel panel leaders: Bannon refuses to answer many queries

Donald Trump's former senior adviser Steve Bannon has been accused of "stonewalling" a U.S. congressional committee, with some members of the committee calling for him to be held in contempt. Like his first visit in January, Bannon declined to answer some questions in the closed-door interview - forcing Republican lawmakers to weigh whether to hold him in contempt of Congress.

Schiff called the list of questions from the White House that Bannon limited himself to answering were "self-serving" and "misleading". Bannon and other administration officials have claimed executive privilege during hearings somewhat circuitously, saying they did not want to preempt President Trump's right to invoke executive privilege to withhold the information they were being asked about.

Schiff has said the White House was barring Bannon from testifying on "matters during the transition, his tenure at the White House, and his communications with the president since leaving government service, even though the president has not in fact invoked executive privilege".

Mr Bannon would answer only 25 questions approved in advance by the White House, members said.

Schiff said accepting the White House's "stonewalling" of Congress would have "deep implications" for future congressional investigations.

"The breadth of that claim of executive privilege is breathtaking and insupportable and, indeed, at times, it was laughable", Schiff said. He said committee Republicans would discuss whether to hold Bannon in contempt with House lawyers and with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is likely to have the final say.

"If they don't force him to answer legitimate questions, they will be ceding Congress' authority, and we'll be setting a very, very risky precedent that people can just tell Congress what they will and will not answer, and will show no resolve to use our subpoena power to get to the bottom of what's going on", Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) told CNN.

The committee is reportedly considering holding him in contempt.

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Rep. Trey Gowdy, a GOP member of House Intelligence Committee, said Thursday "I'm not OK with" Bannon refusing to answer questions about topics during the transition period.

According to the New York Times, he has also been subpoenaed by former Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller, the Justice Department special counsel who is leading a parallel inquiry into alleged collusion with Russian Federation during the 2016 election campaign. Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, the Republican leading the panel's Russian Federation probe, said Bannon would only answer the pre-approved questions about any time period past the day President Trump was elected in November 2016. His answer to each question was "no" and he told the committee he was not authorized to elaborate, according to lawmakers of both parties.

"That's an ongoing conversation we'll have among an bad lot of lawyers", Conaway said after Bannon's interview.

"If they don't force him to answer legitimate questions, they will be ceding Congress' authority, and we'll be setting a very, very unsafe precedent that people can just tell Congress what they will and will not answer, and will show no resolve to use our subpoena power to get to the bottom of what's going on", said Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat. "And we can not take that kind of stonewalling for an answer".

But on Bannon, Republicans have joined Democrats in expressing anger over his refusal to answer questions.

On his way into the committee session Thursday, Bannon said only, "Good morning folks".

Bannon's attorney, William Burck, was present for Thursday's meeting.

A source familiar with Bannon's thinking had said previously that he was prepared to be held in contempt for defying the House panel. The person declined to be named because the interview schedule isn't public.

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