WASHINGTON - Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former chief White House strategist, is being questioned Tuesday by lawmakers in their probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Bannon, who was a key Trump campaign aide and for seven months a top White House adviser before he was ousted, is appearing behind closed doors at the House Intelligence Committee, one of several ongoing investigations in Washington about the Trump campaign's links to Russia.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed Bannon last week to testify before a grand jury investigating Trump campaign contacts with Russia.
Bannon has continued to avow his support for Trump. But his relations with the president frayed badly after he was quoted extensively with critical remarks about the campaign and the first months of White House operations in author Michael Wolff's new book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House."
The former Trump adviser was quoted as calling it "treasonous" and "unpatriotic" that Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser, and then campaign manager Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer in the midst of the campaign in an effort to get "incriminating" evidence against Democratic Party Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
After the book was published, Trump started calling Bannon "Sloppy Steve," and said, "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind." Bannon also was removed last week as the top executive at Breitbart News, the alt-right news site that has championed Trump's brand of populism.
The House Intelligence panel is likely to question Bannon about the June 2016 meeting set up by the younger Trump, who has told investigators the Russian lawyer produced no damaging information about Clinton. Investigators are also looking into then candidate Trump's role in writing a misleading statement about the purpose of the meeting, an explanation that quickly fell apart.
Bannon is also likely to be asked about his contention in Wolff's book that special counsel Robert Mueller, head of the criminal investigation of Trump campaign links to Russia, is focusing on alleged money-laundering by campaign officials. Bannon could also be asked about his knowledge of former national security adviser Michael Flynn's talks with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump assumed power a year ago and whether Trump, despite his denials, has any intention of firing Mueller.
Trump has repeatedly said there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia, although none of the months-long congressional investigations or Mueller has reached any conclusions yet.
"Do you notice the Fake News Mainstream Media never likes covering the great and record setting economic news," Trump said on Twitter Tuesday, "but rather talks about anything negative or that can be turned into the negative. The Russian Collusion Hoax is dead, except as it pertains to the Dems. Public gets it!"
Do you notice the Fake News Mainstream Media never likes covering the great and record setting economic news, but rather talks about anything negative or that can be turned into the negative. The Russian Collusion Hoax is dead, except as it pertains to the Dems. Public gets it!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2018
Mueller has secured guilty pleas from Flynn and former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to federal agents about their contacts with Russia and has charged Manafort and another campaign aide, Rick Gates, with money laundering in connection with their lobbying efforts for Ukraine that predated the 2016 presidential election campaign.
Mueller is also investigating whether President Trump obstructed justice when he fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, who was heading the agency's Russia probe before Mueller was appointed, over Trump's objections, to take over the investigation.