Bannon, Lewandowski to Testify in Russia Probe Behind Closed DoorsBy
Top Democrat fears Republicans racing to end investigation
Three congressional panels working on election meddling probes
Stephen Bannon and Corey Lewandowski are scheduled to testify in the coming week as the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of possible Russian interference in the 2016 election reaches a crescendo.
President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist and former campaign manager, respectively, are part of a hectic schedule that Democrats fear is being engineered by Republicans keen to end the probe as soon as possible. Their appearances are voluntary, and they’ll meet with the panel in private, said officials from both parties familiar with the committee’s schedule.
Congressional interviews also were being sought for next week with U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation officials and a former top Department of Justice official. Some of those are expected to occur before the Intelligence committee, while others as part of a separate House probe into FBI handling of the Hillary Clinton email case in 2016.
Representative Adam Schiff of California, top Democrat on the intelligence panel, told reporters on Jan. 11 that he fears Republicans are hustling to wrap up the Kremlin election interference probe after 10 months -- in his opinion, prematurely.
“Republicans want to conduct just enough interviews to give the impression of a serious investigation,” Schiff said. He didn’t rule out Democrats compiling a separate minority report of the committee’s work if Republicans shut things down, rather than join in the writing of a unified, bipartisan one.
Committee Chairman Devin Nunes of California and Representative Michael Conaway of Texas, whom Nunes has assigned to lead the panel’s Russia investigation, haven’t given a precise timeline for wrapping up. But Conaway has indicated they don’t want to prolong the probe much deeper into the 2018 mid-term election year.
“While Mr. Schiff tries to distract from the serious, bipartisan review that’s been under way for nearly a year, we will stay focused on following the facts and working to safeguard the upcoming election,” AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul Ryan, said in a statement.
Lewandowski and Bannon received letters in December asking them to testify in early January, said an official familiar with the panel’s schedule. The letter didn’t lay out specific reasons the committee wants to interview them, or the questions the panel wants to pose, but makes clear that the interviews are part of the Russia investigation, the official said.
‘Fire and Fury’
Bannon hasn’t previously testified to any of the three congressional panels looking into Russia election meddling.
Committee members say the timing of a Bannon interview wasn’t intended to be tied to his recent falling out with Trump, exacerbated by comments attributed to him in the book, “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff.
Trump tore into Bannon -- nicknaming him “Sloppy Steve” -- after excerpts emerged that said the strategist labeled as “treasonous” a 2016 meeting attended by Donald Trump Jr. and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner with Russian nationals. Stung by Trump, Bannon on Jan. 9 left his job as executive chairman of the conservative news site Breitbart News.
During Trump’s 2016 campaign Bannon was also a liaison to its data-analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica.
Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive officer, met with the House Intelligence probe in December, facing questions about whether he sought material from WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange that was stolen from computers of the Democratic National Committee and from John Podesta, who managed Democrat Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Lewandowski was fired as campaign manager in June 2016 and replaced by Paul Manafort, who’s been indicted on money-laundering charges by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
While still with the campaign, Lewandowski was among the senior 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 in December about court filings showing Papadopoulos wrote to Lewandowski several times to let him know that the Russians were interested in forging a relationship with the campaign.
The officials familiar with the Intelligence Committee’s plans have said Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, is expected to testify soon.
Schiff said it would also be “valuable” to hear from Trump’s daughter Ivanka, an adviser to the president, “but there are a number of other witnesses we ought to have before then.” There’s been no indication that Republicans agree with the need to call on her.
Meanwhile, a separate investigation launched jointly three months ago by the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform panels -- into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email case -- has led to some crossed paths with the Intelligence Committee.
Republicans in both efforts say they’re lining up interviews before the end of this month with some of the same prominent FBI and Justice Department officials.
The focus on those officials comes as Republicans explore potential FBI and DOJ anti-Trump bias and corruption they suggest could undermine the foundations of Mueller’s own probe into potential Trump-campaign collusion with Russians.