Russia Probe: Rep. Schiff On Bannon's Testimony Before House Panel
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon appeared before the House Intelligence Committee yesterday. But there were no bombshells. There were no big revelations about possible interactions between the Trump campaign and Russia because Steve Bannon refused to answer questions. He cited a request from White House attorneys not to talk to the committee, something that White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended later in the day.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, we've been completely cooperative throughout this entire process. We're going to continue to be cooperative, but we're also going to maintain some of the executive privileges here at the White House that have been practiced for decades and that need to be maintained.
MARTIN: Congressman Adam Schiff was among those asking questions of Steve Bannon - or at least trying to - during 10 hours of testimony yesterday. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.
ADAM SCHIFF: It's great to be with you.
MARTIN: What happened for 10 hours if Steve Bannon wasn't answering questions?
SCHIFF: Well, he was largely consulting with the White House - at least his lawyer was - to give us shifting rationales for why they couldn't answer questions. And I have to say, I'm very amused by Sarah Huckabee Sanders' response that they're fully cooperative. That's true if you consider fully cooperative instructing key witnesses not to answer questions before Congress. Otherwise, they're not cooperative at all.
There's no broad privilege that prevents Steve Bannon or anyone else from having to answer questions before Congress. This wasn't asserted merely with respect to a specific conversation with the president but rather for any meetings, any conversations with anyone during the transition or during his time in administration. And that simply is unsustainable.
MARTIN: And that's what the White House has argued - that executive privilege somehow extends to the transition OF when the Trump administration wasn't actually yet the Trump administration.
What did you want to know from Steve Bannon?
SCHIFF: Well, first of all, that claim of executive privilege really doesn't apply here because they didn't claim executive privilege. No privilege has been asserted. So that really doesn't square either. But there are a great many things we wanted to know from Steve Bannon, and we're going to have to bring him back in and take it to court if necessary.
We want to know, for example, about the formation of the misleading statement following revelations that there was a Trump Tower meeting between the president's son, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a delegation of Russians. What was the president's role? Were there any acts of obstruction of justice? Were there any instructions given to Mr. Bannon or others to take any steps to hinder the Russian investigation?
MARTIN: This was a meeting that Steve Bannon had called, quote, "treasonous" in this book by Michael Wolff that was out a couple weeks ago.
SCHIFF: Exactly. But as well, whatever light can be shed on interactions between the Trump campaign and the Russians that Steve Bannon came to learn about while he was part of the transition, while he was part of administration - for example, any of the communications between Mike Flynn and the Russians that were designed to undermine the bipartisan policy of the administration at the time, during the transition, which was to sanction Russia over their interference in the election on Mr. Trump's behalf.
MARTIN: So had you - had the committee not been pursuing Steve Bannon for testimony before the Michael Wolff book?
SCHIFF: Well, we had requested Mr. Bannon come before the committee for a long time. But as is the case with a great many other witnesses, the majority had sat on that request until very recently. Now, we're not sure why they suddenly were willing to bring him in. And it certainly wasn't known to us, although it was known to one of the majority staff who'd made the arrangements with the counsel for Mr. Bannon. It wasn't known to us that he was going to come and refuse to answer questions about these two very significant periods of time.
MARTIN: So your committee has - subpoenaed him yesterday for not answering questions. So you're hoping to bring him back to compel him to answer those questions. Meanwhile, there was another subpoena last week. Steve Bannon was subpoenaed by the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. He is the first in the inner Trump circle to be subpoenaed to testify in front of a grand jury. What's the significance of that?
SCHIFF: Well, the significance is, if this is necessary to get him to cooperate before special counsel - that he's not willing to do so voluntarily and the special counsel needs to subpoena him, that says something about Mr. Bannon - and the White House potentially - their willingness to cooperate with special counsel but also is meaningful to us in Congress because there's no way he can maintain a different position in the special counsel than he can in Congress. If the executive privilege is going to be asserted, it needs to be asserted uniformly. It can't be selectively asserted. So this, I think, may help us get answers. I don't think the administration can maintain the position that they'll accept it with one but not the other.
MARTIN: We understand there are other current and former administration officials expected to testify to your committee this week. I understand that you can't confirm who those people are. But do you expect them to be governed by the same restrictions from the White House?
SCHIFF: I expect the White House to try. But again, we don't have to allow this. What will be the limit in terms of congressional ability to get testimony from these witnesses is only our will because we can insist by taking this to court if necessary. And we can also insist by using funding prohibitions with the administration as probably the biggest lever that we have.
MARTIN: Just quickly - funding prohibitions on what?
SCHIFF: Well, in other words, if you don't make these witnesses available to Congress, Congress isn't going to fund priorities of the administration.
MARTIN: Got it.
SCHIFF: So we have considerable leverage if we're willing to use it.
MARTIN: Representative Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, thanks for your time.
SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.