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Steve Bannon Flirts with Contempt of Congress: Won’t Dump on Trump, Refuses to Answer Questions Outside Scope of ‘Russia Collusion’ Probe

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 15: Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon (C) arrives to speak at a closed-door meeting with the House Intelligence Committee February 15, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Bannon showed up to meet with the committee after the meeting was pushed back for three …
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
KRISTINA WONG

Former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, living up to his Honey Badger moniker on Thursday, staunchly refused to answer questions about President Donald Trump and the administration when he appeared before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

Striding into the meeting, with reporters taking videos and snapping photos of the former Trump campaign chairman and former Breitbart News executive chair, he smiled and quipped, “It’s a fine Navy day” — which means the opposite in Navy speak.

During four hours with the committee, he refused to answer questions outside the scope of its probe, which is on Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion by the Trump campaign.

He did not answer any questions about his time on the Trump transition team, in the Trump administration, and after he left the White House. He brought with him a list of 25 questions he would answer about the campaign period, with scripted answers to each — reportedly just the word “No.”

The White House has asked Bannon not to discuss those periods, not only because they are outside the period the committee is investigating for Russian “collusion,” but also due to White House executive privilege that would protect conversations with the president.

Lawmakers on the committee — both Democrats and some Republicans — have gone after Bannon hard, believing that a public spat between him and President Trump over the book Fire and Fury would cause him to turn against the president.

“He’s defending Trump. They all thought they were going to break him. He’s defending the president,” said a source familiar with the matter. “They’re trying to take Trump’s head off.”

Lawmakers were so frustrated that top Democrat on the committee Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) declared towards the end that Bannon “did the impossible and united the Democrats and the Republicans.”

The committee’s standoff with Bannon began four weeks ago when he first appeared in front of the committee. During a more than 10-hour session, Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike pressed him for answers, including how he managed to get Trump elected.

When Bannon refused to answer questions about the transition period and his time in the administration under request from the White House, the committee dramatically issued a subpoena to compel him to talk. Bannon continued to stick to the White House’s directions, frustrating both sides.

The committee adjourned in frustration, subpoenaing him to come back a second time. However, the subpoena deadline was postponed several times as the committee worked out the parameters of the discussion with White House lawyers.

Schiff held a press conference after Bannon’s testimony, saying the committee could begin contempt of Congress proceedings against Bannon.

“The only questions he would answer were questions that had been scripted, literally scripted for him by the White House,” Schiff said. “Whenever we sought to probe anything beyond the four corners of the specific wording of the question, he refused to answer. That’s not how executive privilege works.”

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), who is leading the committee’s probe, said he would work with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House lawyers to further probe the executive privilege claims and determine whether contempt proceedings were appropriate.

Meanwhile, NBC News reported that Bannon was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team multiple days this week totaling about 20 hours.

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