By Mary Clare Jalonick / Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Under threat of subpoena, former White House adviser Steve Bannon arrived on Capitol Hill Thursday to take questions from the House intelligence committee behind closed doors. But it was unclear whether his answers to the panel’s questions about Russian election meddling would satisfy lawmakers.
Republicans and Democrats subpoenaed Bannon last month as he declined to answer several questions before the committee as part of its probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign was involved. Bannon’s return has been put off several times, as Congress and the White House disagreed over the terms of the interview. Lawmakers headed into the meeting ahead of Bannon’s entrance appeared unsure if he would arrive.
At issue is whether Bannon can talk about the presidential transition, his time at the White House and communications with President Donald Trump since he left last summer. The White House has tried to put limits on what Bannon will say, telling the committee that Bannon would only answer several “yes” or “no” questions. That wasn’t enough for either party, with Republicans maintaining a subpoena and threatening to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress.
According to one Democrat in the room, Bannon was sticking to a list of 25 questions and would only say “no” or that he wasn’t authorized to answer questions that came from Democrats. Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley said the environment in the room is “surreal” and that Bannon should be held in contempt.
Republicans were set around noon to begin their own questions. South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, a senior Republican on the panel and one of the Republicans who supported subpoenaing Bannon, indicated as he walked into the meeting that he wouldn’t be satisfied with yes or no answers. But he wouldn’t say whether Republicans would move to hold Bannon in contempt, saying that was a question for House Speaker Paul Ryan.
The negotiated terms of Thursday’s interview were unclear. Walking past the cameras, Bannon declined to say whether he would answer all of the committee’s questions. He was expected to face questions about key events during his time in the White House, including Trump’s firings of former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey.
Bannon is one of the committee’s few remaining witnesses in its Russia probe, which Republicans on the panel have said they want to wrap up early this year.
The Senate intelligence committee is running a separate investigation into the Russian meddling. The Senate panel hasn’t yet spoken to Bannon, according to a source familiar with the probe. The person declined to be named because the interview schedule isn’t public.