The communications between the White House and an attorney representing Steve Bannon during his House Intel interview Tuesday were about the scope of interview, and the attorney did not, as AP reported, relay “questions, in real time” to the White House, a White House official and a person familiar with the interview told TPM Wednesday.
Bannon’s attorney, Bill Burck, called the White House Counsel’s Office when the committee’s questioning went beyond the scope of Bannon’s time on the Trump campaign, and into the presidential transition and his time in the Trump administration, according to the sources. The White House maintains that congressional committees need to go through an accommodation process with the White House Counsel’s Office before asking about those periods.
Representatives from the offices of House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA), committee ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), who has led the probe, did not respond to TPM’s inquiry.
Bannon’s refusal to answer questions involving those time frames drew criticisms from committee members of both parties Tuesday, prompting the committee to serve Bannon with a subpoena during the interview.
Burck’s call was to see if the White House’s position had changed about whether Bannon was permitted to speak about those two topics. The White House told the attorney its position had not, according to the sources.
The White House has defended its move to instruct Bannon to avoid answering questions about the transition and the administration.
“I can tell you that this White House is following the same practice that many White Houses before us have that have gone back decades, that there is a process that you go through,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at Wednesday’s press briefing. “Any time you have congressional inquiries touching upon the White House, the Congress should consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material. This is part of a judicial-recognized process.”
Regardless, the committee’s move to serve Bannon a subpoena during the interview was perceived as a rare moment of bipartisanship from a committee that has been racked with partisan acrimony.
“There was a great deal of consternation on both sides of the aisle,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) said, according to CNN. “I am glad to say that members of both parties really pushed back hard against this unprecedented claim.”
House Intel Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA), who has previously come under fire for his handling to the investigation, explained the decision to issue the subpoena, as “how the rules work,” according to the Hill.
It’s not clear what steps lawmakers will take to force Bannon to answer their questions.
“We’re going to get answers from Mr. Bannon,” Conaway told reporters, according to Politico.
Sanders at the briefing Wednesday said that “we encourage the committees to work with us to find the appropriate accommodation in order to ensure Congress obtains all the information that they are looking for.”