Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s former top strategist Steve Bannon called to testify in Russia probe

The president’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski also expected to front the panel

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 December, 2017, 5:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 February, 2018, 4:09am

President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon and his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski have been asked to testify to lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Both men were sent letters this week by the House Intelligence Committee asking them to testify in early in January, according to an official familiar with the panel’s schedule.

The committee has not yet received a response from either Bannon or Lewandowski. The invitation, which did not come in the form of a subpoena forcing them to testify, was for a “voluntary interview” in the committee’s offices, which means it would be held behind closed doors, the official said.

The letter does not lay out specific reasons the committee wants to interview them, or the questions the panel wants to pose, but it makes clear that the interviews are part of the Russia investigation.

Bannon, who worked as Trump’s top strategist during the campaign and for several months in the White House, has not been publicly accused of any wrongdoing.

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Bannon was a key member of Trump’s team when the president fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI director James Comey.

During the campaign, Bannon was also a liaison to its data-analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica.

Alexander Nix, the chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica, met the House Intelligence probe earlier this month. Nix faced questions about whether he sought material from WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange that was stolen from computers of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, who managed Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Lewandowski was fired as campaign manager on June 20, 2016, and replaced by Paul Manafort, who has been indicted for money laundering charges by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. 

Before Lewandowski left, he was among several senior Trump campaign officials who received communications from foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos about his outreach to the Russian government, according to published news accounts.

The Washington Post reported last month that court filings show Papadopoulos wrote to Lewandowski several times to let him know that the Russians were interested in forging a relationship with the campaign.

The Post said that included one message in May 2016, in which Papadopoulos forwarded to Lewandowski an offer of “cooperation” from a Russian with links to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Is this something we want to move forward with?” he asked. There was no indication of how Lewandowski responded, the newspaper wrote. Lewandowski has said publicly he does not recall whether he received emails from Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty in early October to lying to federal agents about his outreach to Russia.

Separately, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Bannon for the loss of the Alabama senate seat, which saw controversial candidate Roy Moore defeated despite having the support of President Trump.

Republicans will hold just 51 seats in the 100-member Senate when the winner of this month’s Alabama special election, Democrat Doug Jones, arrives in early January. That will make winning bipartisan support more critical for major legislation.