He’s baaa-aaaack … on Capitol Hill, anyway. Investigators from the House Intelligence Committee will interview Steve Bannon in closed session today as part of their probe into Russian influence in the 2016 election. The committee will likely want to hear mostly about the assessment of Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner that Bannon shared with author Michael Wolff for his book Fire and Fury, which quoted Bannon as saying that “money laundering” was at the heart of the probe and that Don Jr would “crack like an egg on national TV.”
Bannon’s questioning will be behind closed doors, so he won’t get the same opportunity:
— Good Morning America (@GMA) January 16, 2018
For the most part, the committee’s interest in Bannon appears to be more about what he can deliver for them rather than as a target himself. The ranking Democrat on the panel told ABC that Bannon himself might become a target of their probe, but Adam Schiff doesn’t appear to have much:
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the panel has questions about Bannon’s comments in the book – including his suggestion that Trump Jr. brought the participants to meet with then-candidate Donald Trump.
“Specifically what’s the basis for his assertion that the president met with the participants in the Trump Tower meeting,” Schiff said in an interview with ABC News’ Pierre Thomas. “What [Bannon] knows about the president’s knowledge of that meeting, as well as his concerns over money laundering which has been a persistent concern of ours as well.”
The committee first reached out to Bannon with a request for documents and an interview before the release of “Fire and Fury.” Trump’s former political adviser is also expected to face questions about his knowledge of Russian contacts during the transition.
“We know from the Erik Prince testimony…that [Prince] had a meeting with Steve Bannon before he made that trip to the Seychelles traveling halfway around the world to have what he described essentially as a coincidental meeting with a Russian in a bar,” Schiff said. “Which just happened to be a head of one of the Russian Investment Banks, so we’d like to know whether Steve Bannon was involved in establishing any kind of a back channel of with the Russians.”
That’s a pretty thin reed for Schiff to grasp. Bannon had a meeting in December 2016 with the former head of Blackwater, a man who had numerous dealings with American intelligence services until he sold his company in 2010. Prince didn’t get a position in the administration, but meeting with someone experienced in intelligence work is probably not terribly unusual for a transition team looking for candidates to nominate for political appointments, including in intelligence. What Prince did after that almost certainly has nothing to do with Bannon, who can simply remind the committee that the administration offered Prince no role at all when they had the opportunity to do so. And besides, the election was over by January 2017, as it was by December 2016 too, so unless there was retroactive collusion by people who have mastered time travel, it has nothing to do with this probe. This sounds like a desperation move from Schiff.
The bigger question will be how much Bannon knows about the actions of others, and how motivated he is to share what he does know. Trump and his team ruthlessly buried Bannon after his quotes in the Wolff book came out, banishing not just from the White House but from Breitbart too, at least indirectly. If Bannon’s looking for revenge, today’s interviews would be a second Christmas … assuming there’s anything to tell.
If there is, Team Trump will get yet another opportunity to learn Lyndon Johnson’s wisdom about tents and the direction of urination. Most likely, though, this will be another exercise that generates a lot more headline heat than investigative light. We’ll know which from the side of the aisle that leaks Bannon’s testimony tonight and tomorrow.