Wednesday, January 17, 2018

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Yesterday former Trump strategist Steve Bannon blew off the House Intelligence Committee in his closed door meeting with them, prompting a subpoena which Bannon blew off again, citing executive privilege.  Today we know why: Bannon is already talking to Robert Mueller.

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 Trumphas 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 effect 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.

And Bannon is talking to Mueller because Mueller hit Bannon with a grand jury subpoena last week.

FBI agents showed up at Steve Bannon’s Washington home last week intent on serving him with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury investigating possible ties between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, according to a source familiar with the proceedings. 
The agents were unaware at the time that Bannon had retained Washington lawyer William Burck just hours earlier, according to two people familiar with the events that took place on Jan. 9. Once redirected, the agents sent the order to Burck, who is also representing two other witnesses in the probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller, a former director of the FBI. 
Bannon, who served as President Donald Trump’s chief strategist until he departed the White House in August, could end up being interviewed by Mueller’s team before the end of the month, according to one source who agreed to discuss the matter on the condition of anonymity.

Mueller is compelling Bannon to talk, period.  Bannon in turn is counting on three things:

  1. The info he has is valuable enough to Mueller to shop a deal.  Bannon is the closest member of Trump's inner circle yet to be hit by a grand jury subpoena.  Except that subpoena wasn't served, as Bannon decided to cooperate and agree to a Mueller interview instead.  It's possible that Bannon may try to screw Mueller, but I'm betting Mueller is holding some pretty powerful cards in order to compel Bannon to talk, and in turn, what Bannon knows is useful enough for Mueller not to just crush him immediately.
  2. He knows Devin Nunes won't hold him in contempt.  Dems may want to know what Bannon knows (and even some Republicans want to know that) but Devin Nunes isn't about to risk Trump's considerable wrath here.  Not only would that be political suicide, it would probably be legal suicide too, as Nunes has already recused himself from the Russian investigation and Bannon could have some very ugly revelations about Nunes's involvement.  Whether or not Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, can find a way to hold Bannon in contempt, I don't know.  Schiff I think will defer to Mueller and with good reason.
  3. He doesn't want his testimony leaked, so he said nothing.  There's nothing to leak in a closed-door session if you don't say anything.  See number one up there.  Any bombshells that Bannon delivered yesterday would have been in today's paper, damaging his chances to cut a deal with Mueller.  Besides, anything he said yesterday would have absolutely gotten back to Trump, again, compromising the potential value of his information to Mueller.  Bannon's a sleazeball racist happy to put neo-Nazis and white supremacist assholes on his dance card all day, but he doesn't want to go to prison, and he needs something powerful in order to stay out.
So yeah, if Bannon is talking to Mueller, Trump knows he's in dire trouble.  Trump can shift blame on the Flynn and Manafort indictments, but if Mueller's got Bannon, Trump is done.

And Trump knows it.

[UPDATE] BuzzFeed just dropped this little firecracker.

Officials investigating the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election are scrutinizing newly uncovered financial transactions between the Russian government and people or businesses inside the United States. 
Records exclusively reviewed by BuzzFeed News also show years of Russian financial activity within the US that bankers and federal law enforcement officials deemed suspicious, raising concerns about how the Kremlin’s diplomats operated here long before the 2016 election. 
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, charged with investigating Russian election interference and possible collusion by the Trump campaign, is examining these transactions and others by Russian diplomatic personnel, according to a US official with knowledge of the inquiry. The special counsel has broad authority to investigate “any matters” that “may arise” from his investigation, and the official said Mueller’s probe is following leads on suspicious Russian financial activity that may range far beyond the election.

 Stay tuned.

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