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Steve Bannon, who was inside the White House when FBI Director James Comey was fired and has strong opinions about what happened, "intends to fully cooperate with Mueller," according to a source familiar with Bannon's thinking. The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff scooped Bannon’s legal strategy last night.
The source said that the White House has placed zero restrictions on Bannon talking to special counsel Bob Mueller: "He can say whatever the hell he wants to say to him about whatever topic that he wants."
- By contrast, Bannon is holding back from Congress.
- Last week, according to the source, Bannon's counsel informed the staff of the House Intelligence Committee, where the former top aide to President Trump appeared yesterday, that the White House was unlikely to permit him to talk about his work in the transition and the West Wing.
- The grounds: executive privilege. However, White House lawyers say that executive privilege would not be waived by talking to Mueller, since he is within the executive branch.
- Mueller subpoenaed Bannon last week to testify before a grand jury, per the N.Y. Times: "The move marked the first time Mr. Mueller is known to have used a grand jury subpoena to seek information from a member of Mr. Trump’s inner circle."
The House Intelligence Committee refused to accept Bannon's objection, and served him with a subpoena on the spot:
- Bannon spent 11 hours on Capitol Hill yesterday, NBC reports.
- The source said that White House lawyers continued to instruct Bannon not to answer questions, until they have an agreement with the committee about the scope of questions.
- The source, using a colorful metaphor to emphasize Bannon will cooperate with Mueller, said: "So the idea that Bannon is trying to hide anything: You're scared of throwing meat to the kitten, but you're fine with throwing it to the tiger?"
- Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the committee's top Democrat, said on Capitol Hill last evening, in a clip aired by MSNBC: "This was effectively a gag order by the White House."
- The committee asked Bannon's lawyer, Bill Burck, to confer right then with the White House about its assertion of executive privilege. Burck is dealing with the White House lawyer who is negotiating with congressional committees, Uttam Dhillon.
- The committee has called Bannon back, but the source doesn't expect White House lawyers to change their minds: "It would be hard for them to sustain publicly if they were just hiding this information. But they're giving it to Mueller."
A source with direct knowledge told Axios:
- The one thing that has united Democrats and Republicans on the committee has been their outrage that Mueller gets to hear information that they don't.
- Burck spent long periods explaining executive privilege to the committee and staff.
- Bannon was at the committee until after 8 p.m.
- Burck, following White House instructions, would only allow Bannon to talk about the campaign. Bannon answered every question about the campaign, the source said.
- There were lots of mentions of the Michael Wolff book, and lots of loathing of Bannon in the room: "Everybody seemed to hate him — both sides. He had no friends in that room. ... [H]e was in a room full of enemies."