Stephen Bannon wrapped up more than 11 hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, where his refusal to answer questions repeatedly frustrated lawmakers. Bannon reportedly invoked executive privilege, telling the committee that he couldn't answer their questions about anything he was involved with after the election because he'd been advised not to by the White House.
As it turns out, Bannon and the White House were practically on a direct line. Bannon's lawyer, Bill Burck, advised his client on what questions he could or could not answer by speaking on the phone "in real time" with the White House counsel's office, The Associated Press reports, based on a conversation with someone who was not authorized to talk about the arrangement publicly. "We said to Bannon, 'Don't answer those questions because we haven't agreed to that scope under the process,'" a White House official told CNBC.
In a different version of events, a person close to Bannon told CBS News that "Bannon's lawyer related topics about the transition and administration to the White House, and they told him that he was not authorized to answer questions on those topics unless the committee reached an accommodation with the White House on the proper scope of questioning."
In addition to being slapped with a subpoena at the House Intelligence Committee hearing — which did not prevent Bannon from continuing to refuse to answer questions — The New York Times reports that Bannon was subpoenaed last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury. Bannon has since struck a deal with Mueller and "is expected to cooperate with the special counsel," people familiar with the arrangement told CNN. In doing so, Bannon is expected to avoid the grand jury in favor of an interview with prosecutors, although it isn't clear yet if the subpoena will be withdrawn. Jeva Lange
Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to be delving specifically into President Trump's "behavior in the White House," The New York Times reported Wednesday. Mueller has recently requested more information on "13 different areas" related to Trump's actions in office, as part of his ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling and the Trump team's potential ties to it:
One of the requests is about a meeting Mr. Trump had in May with Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, was fired. That day, Mr. Trump met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak, along with other Russian officials. The New York Times reported that in the meeting Mr. Trump had said that firing Mr. Comey relieved "great pressure" on him.
Mr. Mueller has also requested documents about the circumstances of the firing of Michael T. Flynn, who was Mr. Trump's first national security adviser. Additionally, the special counsel has asked for documents about how the White House responded to questions from The Times about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. That meeting was set up by Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, to get derogatory information from Russians about Hillary Clinton. [The New York Times]
Just before President Trump took office, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump chief strategist Stephen Bannon, and Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner had a "secret meeting" with Jordan's King Abdullah II, BuzzFeed News reported Friday. The Jan. 5 meeting — details of which were not disclosed by the Trump team — happened as Flynn continued to lobby for a controversial nuclear power project in the Middle East.
People close to the Trump advisers claim the deal was not discussed, but a federal official with access to a document about the meeting says it was. BuzzFeed noted that if this were the case, the meeting "had extremely high stakes: a discussion with the head of a key American ally that might have included plans about spreading nuclear power to one of the world's least stable regions, possibly with the help of one of America's main geopolitical enemies, Russia."
It emerged earlier this week that Flynn continued to lobby for the nuclear plant project during his brief tenure at the White House, and that he'd apparently failed to note in his security clearance forms a trip to the Middle East to explore this nuclear power project and his contacts with Israeli and Egyptian government officials. Becca Stanek
Michael Flynn was still lobbying for his controversial Middle East nuclear plant from the White House
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pushed a controversial nuclear plant project in the Middle East during his brief White House tenure, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The plan, which once involved Russian companies, proposed the construction and operation of "dozens of nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East."
Flynn had advised U.S. companies interested in the project while he was still in the private sector, but according to his White House disclosure forms, he cut off involvement in December 2016. In actuality, Flynn continued his work on the project, advocating for former senior U.S. military officers who were promoting the project on behalf of U.S. companies, and pushing his staff to meet with the companies involved in the project, the Journal reported.
Flynn's involvement with the nuclear project reportedly continued even when he was advised to step back. Former National Security Council staffers said that Flynn and the former military officers' communications happened "outside normal channels." One staffer told the Journal that Flynn's actions were "highly abnormal" and "not the way things were supposed to go."
The report comes on the heels of the revelation that Flynn failed to note in his security clearance forms his trip to the Middle East to explore this nuclear power project and his contacts with Israeli and Egyptian government officials.
Flynn resigned from the Trump administration in February after it emerged that he'd misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversation with a Russian ambassador.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has informed the White House that he may interview six of President Trump's closest current and former advisers in connection to the ongoing Russia investigation, The Washington Post reported Friday. Among the six are former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer; former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; current Trump communications official Hope Hicks; White House counsel Don McGahn; McGahn's deputy, James Burnham; and possibly White House spokesman Josh Raffel.
These advisers were witnesses to events of interest to Mueller, including Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey, as well as the White House's hesitant response to warnings that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had obfuscated details of his conversation with a Russian ambassador. The individuals are also reportedly tied to a "series of internal documents" that Mueller and his team have requested from the White House.
The Post reported that the White House is "expecting" Mueller to "seek additional interviews, possibly with family members, including [Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared] Kushner." Becca Stanek
Donald Trump Jr. told Senate investigators he met with the Russian lawyer to evaluate Hillary Clinton's 'fitness' to lead
In a closed-door interview Thursday, Donald Trump Jr. told Senate Judiciary Committee investigators that he met with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the presidential campaign because he felt "it was important to learn about [Hillary] Clinton's 'fitness' to be president," The New York Times reported. "To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character, or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out. Depending on what, if any, information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it further consideration," Trump Jr. said, per a copy of his statement obtained by the Times.
Trump Jr. told congressional investigators that he was at first unsure about accepting the meeting, and the Times noted that his intent to seek legal counsel afterwards suggests he "knew, or at least suspected" that the meeting "raised thorny legal issues." However, his account more so conveyed a meeting that was hastily arranged by a campaign that largely lacked experience and organization. The Times noted that Trump Jr. is the second person with ties to the Trump campaign to paint the campaign to investigators as "too unfamiliar with politics to pull off a master strategy — let alone coordinate with the Russian government," after senior adviser Jared Kushner did so in his own meeting with senators earlier this year.
Trump Jr. maintained Thursday that the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower did not end up being fruitful. "The meeting provided no meaningful information and turned out not to be about what had been represented," he said.
On Thursday, Wells Fargo revealed that an independent review of the company's records found that an additional 1.4 million potentially unauthorized accounts were created as the bank's employees scrambled to meet lofty sales goals. The bank had conducted an internal review of its accounts after revealing the fake account scandal last year.
The new, external estimate covered a wider window of time than the bank's review and increases the initial tally by 67 percent; nearly 3.5 million unauthorized accounts are now thought to have been opened between 2009 and 2016. The outside firm also found that 190,000 of those fake accounts incurred fees and damages, an increase from the bank's initial estimate of 130,000, and that 528,000 customers were signed up for online bill payment without their permission.
Wells Fargo will refund $2.8 million to customers affected by the charges, on top of the $3.3 million the bank has already agreed to pay. The bank will refund $910,000 in fees to customers affected by the unauthorized online bill payment enrollments. In addition to its refunds to affected customers, Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $142 million to settle a class-action suit and $185 million to regulators.
"Today's announcement is a reminder of the disappointment that we caused to our customers and stakeholders," Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan said Thursday. "We apologize to everyone who was harmed by unacceptable sales practices that occurred in our retail bank." Becca Stanek
New documents reveal Trump's lawyer emailed Putin's spokesperson during the presidential campaign to ask for help on a Moscow real estate project
President Trump's attorney Michael Cohen reached out to Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's personal spokesman, during the presidential campaign to ask for help moving forward a stalled Trump Tower project in Moscow, The Washington Post reported Monday, citing documents submitted to Congress. In the January 2016 email, Cohen explicitly requested Peskov's "assistance," as communications between the Trump team and the Russia-based company had at that point "stalled." "I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals," Cohen, who also serves as the Trump Organization's executive vice president, wrote to Peskov.
The Post noted that Cohen's email "marks the most direct interaction yet documented of a top Trump aide and a similarly senior member of Putin's government." Cohen said in a statement to congressional investigators that he reached out to Peskov at the recommendation of Felix Sater, the Russian-American businessman working on the Moscow project. Cohen claims he does not remember hearing back from Peskov, and the project was ultimately "abandoned" just two weeks after the email was sent, the Post reported.
Negotiations for the Trump Tower project in Moscow started back in September 2015, just months after Trump announced his presidential bid in June 2015. The New York Times also revealed Monday that during the presidential campaign, Sater pushed the Moscow project, telling Cohen that it would boost Trump's prospects of winning the presidency. "Our boy can become president of the U.S.A. and we can engineer it," Sater wrote to Cohen. "I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this."