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House Intel postpones Bannon interview in dispute over questioning

House Intel postpones Bannon interview in dispute over questioning
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Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee has been postponed for the third time amidst fierce wrangling over what lawmakers will be able to question him about.

Bannon was scheduled to make a return trip to Capitol Hill at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, as lawmakers seek answers about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump campaign officials had improper contacts with Moscow.

Bannon frustrated lawmakers in both parties at a previous interview in which he refused to answer questions about his time in the Trump transition or administration, prompting the committee to issue a subpoena that remains in force.

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Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayOvernight Cybersecurity: Tillerson proposes new cyber bureau at State | Senate bill would clarify cross-border data rules | Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up breach House Intel postpones Bannon interview in dispute over questioning Despite subpoena, Bannon won’t appear before House Intelligence Committee: reports MORE (R-Texas), who is leading the Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe, said talks are ongoing and in a statement confirmed that committee negotiators had called off this week’s appearance.

But he declined to signal when — or if — the committee will move to enforce the subpoena. The first step would be a committee vote to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress.

“When I get to that point, we’ll have that conversation,” Conaway told The Hill on Tuesday. “I know that he’s not answering the questions that we’d like answered.”

A spokesman for Conaway said the interview has been postponed until next week.

During his initial voluntary appearance before the committee in January, Bannon answered questions about his time on the campaign, but not about his time on the transition team or in the White House. According to ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump likely to approve release of Dem memo: report Trump called for unity — he didn’t even last a week Trump to be briefed on Democratic memo MORE (D-Calif.), Bannon is acting at the instruction of the White House, something the administration has disputed.

The White House “continues to prohibit Mr. Bannon from testifying to the Committee beyond a set of fourteen yes-or-no questions the White House had pre-approved,” Schiff said in a statement Tuesday.

The president has not formally invoked executive privilege, Schiff said, but is still attempting to bar Bannon’s testimony, including his conversations with the president since leaving the administration in August.

Committee Republicans are also deeply frustrated that the one-time Breitbart mogul is trying to claim an effective form of executive privilege that, as a private citizen, they say he is not entitled to claim.

“You gotta come. You gotta answer questions. And we’ll enforce the subpoena and I’d say we’ll hold you in contempt,” a GOP committee source said. “It diminishes our authority if we allow this to continue. It’s close for a lot of us.”

The White House has previously said that it is being “fully cooperative” with the congressional investigation. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in January that, “as with all congressional inquiries touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material.”

Chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE has previously denied that Bannon was instructed to invoke executive privilege, something lawmakers say is a specious distinction.

“I understand there’s a balance here ... if you have a private conversation with the president, there’s a legitimate concern of executive privilege here,” the GOP source said Tuesday. “A lot of the stuff we want to talk about has nothing to do with that and you can’t ignore Congress.”

Frustration with Bannon’s stance has produced a rare moment of bipartisan unity on the House Intelligence Committee, which has otherwise been wracked with infighting over the Russia probe.

Schiff noted in his Tuesday statement that the committee “remains united” on this matter, although privately some Democrats have begun to raise questions about when committee leaders will move to initiate contempt proceedings — and whether their reticence is a way of avoiding controversy with the White House.

“For an administration and a majority in our committee to say they want this investigation to go on expeditiously, they’re moving very slowly when it comes to getting necessary information and evidence,” Schiff said Monday.

Lawmakers found out late Monday night about the latest setback.

Bannon joined the Trump campaign in August of 2016, stayed on through the transition and left the White House in August of 2017.

He was not a participant in a number of key incidents believed to be focal points of the federal investigation into Russian election interference, including a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpTrump Jr. denies father is racist: Black leaders who criticize all 'have pictures with him' Bannon likely to meet next week with Mueller: report Meghan McCain: Melania is 'my favorite Trump, by far' MORE and a Russian government lawyer and the dismissal of FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGrassley to Sessions: Policy for employees does not comply with the law Protecting the special counsel is an American duty Bannon likely to meet next week with Mueller: report MORE.

He was, however, reportedly involved in the decision-making behind firing former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators as part of the federal Russia probe.

He has, in recent months, become persona non grata in Republican circles, including a public breakdown in his relationship with the president, spurred by comments made to author Michael Wolff for a controversial new book about the Trump White House.

Trump tweeted that “Sloppy Steve” has “been dumped like a dog by almost everyone.”

Updated at 12:42 p.m.