Trump strategist Steve Bannon hit by grand jury subpoena
FORMER White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has reportedly been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The move marked a new tenor to the investigation - the first time a grand jury subpoena was used to compel a top member of the Trump team to testify - even as Mr Trump's lawyers insisted the special counsel's probe was winding down.
The New York Times said Mr Mueller had summoned Mr Bannon last week, citing a person with direct knowledge of the matter. It was unclear, however, whether Mr Bannon will be forced to testify.
The subpoena may have been a negotiating tactic to convince Mr Bannon to sit down with Mr Mueller for a less-formal interview in the special counsel's offices, legal experts said. A grand jury testimony is usually more taxing for the witness, as the entire proceedings are transcribed and the witness is required to answer every question.
Mr Bannon's attorney was not immediately available for comment.
News of the subpeona came as Mr Bannon, who served as the Trump campaign director before his seven-month stint as chief strategist, testified before the House Intelligence Committee, which is also probing the campaign's ties to Russia.
It also comes on the heels of a public rift between Mr Bannon and the President, after the former strategist criticised the Trump administration to the author of a tell-all book on the White House. Mr Bannon was quoted in the book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, as calling a meeting between Trump campaign staff and a Russian lawyer "treasonous".
Mr Bannon was not present at the meeting, nor during the drafting of the President's misleading statement on this issue - both of which are reportedly of interest to Mr Mueller. He was also not present for the controversial firing of Mr Trump's former FBI director, James Comey.
Mr Trump responded to the book by distancing himself from Mr Bannon, claiming his former top adviser had little to do with the administration or the campaign's victory. Mr Bannon stepped down from his role as chief executive of Breitbart News shortly thereafter.
Mr Bannon was present for several controversial moments in the Trump administration, including the firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn after he misled the Vice President about his dealings with Russia. The special counsel previously issued a grand jury subpoena for documents related to Mr Flynn's business dealings. Mr Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Other than Mr Bannon, no member of Mr Trump's inner circle has been called to testify before the grand jury, which was impanelled in August.
Mr Mueller's team has already interviewed Mr Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, his former chief of staff, Reince Preibus, and his former press secretary, Sean Spicer. The special counsel is reportedly preparing to interview Mr Trump as well.
Asked last week if he would sit down for an interview with Mr Mueller, the President replied simply: "We'll see what happens."