Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon broke some bad news to House investigators Tuesday, announcing that the White House had invoked executive privilege to keep him from answering many of their questions.
But executive privilege—the president’s right to keep certain information from the public so he can have frank conversations with aides—will not keep Steve Bannon from sharing information with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, according to a person familiar with the situation.
“Mueller will hear everything Bannon has to say,” said the source, who is familiar with Bannon’s thinking.
During a closed-door hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Bannon reportedly told lawmakers that President Donald Trump has invoked broad executive privilege for the purposes of congressional inquiries. Because of that, Bannon refused to answer committee members’ questions about what happened during the presidential transition and in the White House.
This sweeping understanding of privilege will not affect what Bannon tells Mueller’s team, according to our source. (To be sure, Bannon isn’t known for being predictable, and it’s possible his team may still look for ways to dodge Mueller’s queries.)
But it means he isn’t answering many of Congress’s questions. A source familiar with Bannon’s interview told The Daily Beast that despite the subpoena—issued by Devin Nunes, the typically Trump-friendly chairman of the committee—Bannon refused to answer questions about events that happened after Election Day.
“He quickly informed, through his counsel, the committee he was not going to answer questions that pertained to meetings, conversations, events, etc., that took place either during the transition or while he was part of the administration. And what’s more, we would later learn that would be extended to even after he left the White House,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee’s top Democrat, told MSNBC.
“This was characterized as a result of his being there voluntary; he’s there of his own volition and could refuse to answer questions based on what the White House instructed him to do,” Schiff added. “We then were able to be promptly provide him with a subpoena and they went back to the White House and got the same instruction back again, basically: We don’t care whether it’s under compulsory process or voluntary basis, we’re instructing you to effectively put in place a gag rule.”
This situation has committee members concerned that other top White House officials will also refuse to answer their questions. Hope Hicks, the president’s communications director, is scheduled to testify before the committee this week. Given the White House’s current posture on executive privilege, it’s likely her responses to questions will be just as lacking as Bannon’s.