Ethics watchdog: Trump contacts with Bannon could lead to obstruction of justice
President Trump’s contacts with former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon could raise potential conflicts of interest, according to three former White House ethics lawyers.
An op-ed in Politico Friday by former White House ethics attorneys Richard Painter, Norman Eisen and Virginia Canter warns that Trump’s contacts with Bannon, if they touched on Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, could violate the law.
“We are deeply troubled by the news reports that Bannon, with the evident support of his cohort at Brietbart News, is urging the president to take action against Robert Mueller,” the three attorneys write.
“Bannon may be taking on a representation role that would place him in conflict with his post-employment restrictions,” they add.
Former White House officials are barred from “contacting any part of the executive branch, including the president, with the intent to influence official decisions in any particular party matter in which the former official participated personally,” according to the attorneys.
That would include the Russia investigation, which Bannon had a hand in coordinating the administration’s response towards before he was ousted by Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly.
According to the lawyers, if Bannon is continuing to direct White House responses to Mueller’s team, he could be in violation of the law. Another possibility, they warn, is that Bannon could be attempting to “hamper” Mueller’s probe by delaying the White House’s responses.
“If Bannon urged Trump to hamper Mueller in order to prevent him from indicting misconduct by those involved in the Trump campaign (including Trump himself), that would present a possible obstruction issue,” they write.
The group concludes by calling for greater scrutiny of Bannon and his contacts with Trump since leaving the White House.
“We do not know whether any of this has occurred—but the contacts do raise multiple eyebrows,” the three attorneys write. “They merit closer scrutiny.”
The op-ed on Bannon’s possible attempts to influence the White House’s handling of the Mueller probe comes amid news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected an idea from campaign aide George Papadopoulos to set up a meeting with Russian officials during the campaign.
On Monday, the special counsel investigation entered a new phase when Mueller’s team issued its first indictments, targeting former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for tax fraud and money laundering.
A 12-count indictment handed down Monday also includes a number of counts against Manafort’s former business partner and protégé Richard Gates, who was ousted from the pro-Trump group America First Policies in April.
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