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'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members

Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon on Tuesday rocketed to the center of the public controversy surrounding the Trump campaign and Russia.

The onetime Breitbart mogul now faces multiple subpoenas — from Capitol Hill and special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE — stemming from investigations of Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election.

The House Intelligence Committee issued a pair of subpoenas, for both documents and testimony, when Bannon declined to answer some questions during an all-day interview on Tuesday, according to multiple sources. 

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Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayLawmakers fail to pass annual intel bill after key Dem objects House Intel votes to release Russia transcripts Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems MORE (R-Texas) later told reporters that there was only a subpoena to compel testimony.

Earlier in the day, The New York Times reported that Mueller last week served Bannon a separate grand jury subpoena. News of that subpoena broke just hours after Bannon walked into the Intelligence Committee’s secure spaces. 

Multiple sources told The Hill that Bannon indicated to lawmakers that he would answer questions about the Trump campaign, but not about his work on the transition team or in the White House. Bannon, alongside his lawyer, said he would only answer those questions when he speaks to Mueller.

That stance infuriated lawmakers. Sources described the meeting as a “total free-for-all” and “brutal.”

“He doesn’t have any friends in that room,” one source said.

The subpoenas come following a breakdown in the relationship between Bannon and President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE, spurred by comments made to author Michael Wolff for a controversial new book about the White House. Trump tweeted that “Sloppy Steve” has “been dumped like a dog by almost everyone.” 

The grand jury subpoena is one of the few known instances of Mueller using a subpoena to compel information from a member of Trump’s inner circle. 

Mueller previously obtained subpoenas targeting former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortFormer FBI agent sentenced to 4 years in jail for leaking to reporter The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan Mueller assembles team of cooperators in Russian probe MORE, who has since been charged with a slate of federal crimes.

But while the special counsel interviewed dozens of Trump associates in the closing months of 2017, those individuals were not served with a subpoena, according to the Times. 

One source who would not be identified told the Times that Mueller would likely allow Bannon to forgo the grand jury appearance and instead be interviewed by investigators in a less formal setting — suggesting that the subpoena could be a negotiating tactic. 

The House Intelligence Committee’s decision to issue a subpoena during the middle of Bannon’s interview, meanwhile, was unusual, breaking from the panel’s past handling of witnesses. 

Rep. Tom RooneyThomas (Tom) Joseph RooneyCongress falls flat on election security as midterms near Senate panel postpones election security bill markup over lack of GOP support Hillicon Valley: FBI fires Strzok after anti-Trump tweets | Trump signs defense bill with cyber war policy | Google under scrutiny over location data | Sinclair's troubles may just be beginning | Tech to ease health data access | Netflix CFO to step down MORE (Fla.), who is one of a handful of GOP members running the investigation, declined to confirm the subpoenas but described the interview as having been complicated by Bannon’s efforts to exert some form of executive privilege to avoid answering certain questions.

“I certainly think that when the committee expects an executive privilege, when does that attach is the question that is sort of dominating the day. You know, at what time does it attach? During the transition or during the actual swearing in?” Rooney said. 

“If you are part of the White House in any way and you’re talking about things that were during the campaign, but it happens to be in the White House, then what? What’s the answer? So that’s the quandary.” 

According to a report in Politico, also citing a single source, Bannon refused to discuss anything about his time in the White House or during the transition after the election — but did not formally invoke executive privilege. 

Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesJuan Williams: Trump, the Great Destroyer The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — Latest on Hurricane Michael | Trump, Kanye West to have lunch at White House | GOP divided over potential 2020 high court vacancy Senate Dem: Trump's 'fake, hyperbolic rantings' an insult to real Medal of Honor recipients MORE (R-Calif.) confirmed to reporters that he authorized the congressional subpoenas, saying, “That’s how the rules work.” 

According to multiple sources, Bannon did not immediately comply with the subpoenas, which were for both testimony and documents. The interview was still ongoing as of early Tuesday evening. 

The White House in a statement said it is “fully cooperative” with the ongoing investigation without addressing directly whether it had instructed Bannon not to answer certain questions. 

“As with all congressional inquiries touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.  

“This is part of a judicially recognized process that goes back decades. We have been fully cooperative with these ongoing investigations and encourage the committees to work with us to find an appropriate accommodation in order to ensure Congress obtains information necessary to its legitimate interests.” 

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

In the Wolff account, Bannon said that a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer believed to have political dirt on then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWatchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US Republicans cancel airtime in swing Vegas district The Democratic Donald Trump is coming MORE was “treasonous.”

“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor—with no lawyers,” Bannon said, according to Wolff’s account. “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic ... you should have called the FBI immediately.”

Furthermore, Bannon added, “the chance that [Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpElection Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B Eric Trump: Trump Org has 'zero investments' in Russia or Saudi Arabia West Virginia sports stars back Manchin in new ad MORE] did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero.”

Lawmakers were expected to press Bannon Tuesday on what the president knew about that meeting, long a flashpoint in the controversy surrounding the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia, as well as any financial crimes that may have been committed.

“Specifically, what’s the basis for his assertion that the president met with the participants in the Trump Tower meeting?” the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGOP targets likely Dem committee chairmen in midterm push GOP Rep to top-ranking Dem who accused him of bigotry: 'Apologize to my children' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia MORE (Calif.), told ABC News’s Pierre Thomas prior to the interview. “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’s interest in Bannon predates the release of Wolff’s book, and he was expected to face questions about his knowledge of any other contacts that Trump transition team members may have had with Russian officials. 

Bannon was not a participant in a number of key incidents believed to be focal points of the Mueller investigation, including the Trump Tower meeting and the dismissal of FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFormer FBI lawyer speaks with House lawmakers on Rosenstein, 2016 Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure McGahn departs as White House counsel 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 Mueller probe. 

Jordan Fabian contributed.

This story was updated at 9:25 a.m.