U.S. President Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon has refused to comply with a subpoena ordering him to answer questions from a congressional committee investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
After Bannon initially refused to answer questions at an hours-long private meeting with the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on January 16, legislators said the committee's chairman Devin Nunes authorized a subpoena during the meeting to force Bannon to respond.
Even then, Bannon refused to answer questions after his lawyer conferred with the White House and was told to refuse to answer questions about the transition period after Trump was elected in November 2016 and before he took office in January 2017, or about Bannon's time at the White House, according to Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee.
"This was effectively a gag order by the White House," Schiff said. A spokeswoman for Bannon did not respond to requests for comment.
Separately, the New York Times reported on January 16 that Bannon was subpoenaed last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury which is also investigating alleged ties between Russia and Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. It reportedly was the first time Mueller is known to have used a subpoena against a member of Trump's inner circle.
At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said "no one" had encouraged Bannon not to answer questions before the House committee, but she said there's a "process of what that looks like."
"As with all congressional inquiries touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material. This is part of a judicially recognized process that goes back decades," Sanders said.
A White House official told AP the president did not seek to formally exert executive privilege over Bannon — a move that would have barred him from answering certain questions.
Bannon was among Trump's closest aides, championing his "America First" agenda during the 2016 election campaign, and becoming a top adviser to the president in his first months in office.
But the pair had a bitter public falling out over comments Bannon made to author Michael Wolff for his recently published book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House."
In the book, Bannon is quoted as describing as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic" a June 2016 meeting with several Russians arranged by the president's son Donald Trump Jr. and attended by his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The president denounced and disavowed Bannon after release of the book, and questioned whether he had "lost his mind."
Bannon was fired by the White House in August, though he continued to speak with Trump and promoted the president's agenda after his ouster until their falling out this year.
During his meeting with the House Intelligence Committee, Schiff said Bannon refused to speak not only about his time at the White House, but also about any conversations he had with Trump after he left the administration "that might be for the purpose of the President seeking his advice on anything."
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters