Steve Bannon Subpoenaed In Connection With Mueller’s Russia Investigation

Former White House and Trump campaign adviser Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Steve Bannon

Donald Trump’s former top adviser Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed to testify before the Grand Jury that has been dealing with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government:

WASHINGTON — Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, was subpoenaed last week by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to testify before a grand jury as part of the investigation into possible links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

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 special counsel’s office has used subpoenas before to seek information on Mr. Trump’s associates and their possible ties to Russia or other foreign governments.

The subpoena could be a negotiating tactic. Mr. Mueller is likely to allow Mr. Bannon to forgo the grand jury appearance if he agrees to instead be questioned by investigators in the less formal setting of the special counsel’s offices about ties between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia and about the president’s conduct in office, according to the person, who would not be named discussing the case. But it was not clear why Mr. Mueller treated Mr. Bannon differently than the dozen administration officials who were interviewed in the final months of last year and were never served with a subpoena.

The subpoena is a sign that Mr. Bannon is not personally the focus of the investigation. Justice Department rules allow prosecutors to subpoena to the targets of investigations only in rare circumstances.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bannon testified behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mr. Bannon did not address reporters before entering the proceeding on Tuesday, and a spokesman for Mr. Mueller and a senior White House lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Mr. Mueller issued the subpoena after Mr. Bannon was quoted in a new book criticizing Mr. Trump, saying that Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 meeting with Russians was “treasonous” and predicting that the special counsel investigation would ultimately center on money laundering.

After excerpts from the book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” were published this month, Mr. Trump derided Mr. Bannon publicly and threatened to sue him for defamation. Mr. Bannon was soon ousted as the executive chairman of the hard-right website Breitbart News.

Some legal experts said the subpoena could be a sign that the investigation was intensifying, while others said it may simply have been a negotiating tactic to persuade Mr. Bannon to cooperate with the investigation. The experts also said it could be a signal to Mr. Bannon, who has tried to publicly patch up his falling-out with the president, that despite Mr. Trump’s legal threats, Mr. Bannon must be completely forthcoming with investigators.

Prosecutors generally prefer to interview witnesses before a grand jury when they believe they have information that the witnesses do not know or when they think they might catch the witnesses in a lie. It is much easier for a witness to stop the questioning or sidestep questions in an interview than during grand jury testimony, which is transcribed, and witnesses are required to answer every question.

“By forcing someone to testify through a subpoena, you are providing the witness with cover because they can say, ‘I had no choice — I had to go in and testify about everything I knew,'” said Solomon L. Wisenberg, a prosecutor for the independent counsel that investigated Bill Clinton when he was president.

Significant grand jury activity may undermine the case that White House officials have made for months: that they believe the inquiry is coming to an end and are convinced that the president will be cleared. Mr. Mueller has told Mr. Trump’s lawyers that he will probably want to question the president before the investigation concludes, but no interview has been scheduled.

Many of the events that have taken center stage in the ongoing investigation, including most notably the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian attorney purported to have ties to the Russian government and information detrimental to Hillary Clinton and her campaign. However, his close association with Trump between the time he joined the campaign in August 2016, his August 2017 dismissal from the White House, and his recent falling out with both the White House and his colleagues at Breitbart News suggests that he may have had access to information relevant to Mueller’s investigation as well as information regarding White House operations and the actions taken by the President and his staff in connection with the Russia investigation. This includes everything ranging from the dismissal of Lt. General Michael Flynn and whether or not President Trump knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI as well as Vice-President Pence, the discussions leading up to and subsequent to the firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey, and the drafting of the White House’s initial response to the reports about the aforementioned June 2016 meeting with the Russian lawyer which later proved to be entirely untrue. Additionally, Bannon is likely to have information regarding other players in the investigation including Trump Jr., Manafort, Kushner, Stephen Miller, and other close Trump associates that were part of Trump’s inner circle.

This announcement came on the same day that Bannon was on  Capitol Hill to speak with members of the House Intelligence Committee as well as committee staffers. While we don’t know the content of those discussions, it’s likely that questions focused on many of the same subject areas that I made note of above, as well as perhaps Bannon’s conversations with others in the White House such as former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and current Chief of Staff John Kelly. In the past, Bannon has said that he was not directly involved in anything having to do with Russia, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have conversations about the topic, or that he wasn’t involved in discussions about the political implications of the investigation for the Administration and the President as well as tactical and strategic discussions about how to respond to the investigation itself and to the media reports about Russian interference and alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Given all of that, Bannon could prove to be quite a useful witness for Mueller.


FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, 2016 Election, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    “While we don’t know the content of those discussions…”

    I look forward to hearing whatever leaks by the start of the cocktail hour today.

  2. Paul L. says:

    Hope Steve Bannon pleas the Fifth to anger the Lois Lerner apologists,

  3. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    He was there in August. The emails started being dripped from Wikileaks in July…so not so soon before. He probably would have caught wind of anything that might have happened.
    Certainly he could know about the targeting of Russian propaganda, which was happening right up until the election.
    But really, I think his area of expertise is White Supremacy and the Alt-Right…so Russia may have been off his radar.

  4. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Paul L.:
    Still hanging onto that tired old conspiracy theory?
    What about Fast and Furious and Benghazi?
    Certainly you haven’t forgotten about those???

  5. CSK says:

    The subpoena will compel Bannon to answer the questions Trump has specifically instructed him not to answer.

  6. Paul L. says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:
    No one took the fifth in Fast and Furious and Benghazi.
    Fast and Furious is such a tired old conspiracy theory that the DOJ IG report found wrongdoing.

    You could say it is a conspiracy theory that Obama and Holder knew about and approved it.

    Fifth amendment right can be taken away by a subpoena?

  7. michael reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    I don’t think anyone wants to take away Bannon’s 5th amendment rights. Rather the contrary. See if Bannon takes the 5th it’s essentially an admission of guilty knowledge, which puts Mueller in a position to justify going deep on Bannon. It means one more guy is part of this treason.

    But hey, it’s all Fake News anyway, right? I mean Trump has been told it’ll be over by. . . well, last month. And Trump has said he’s not under investigation, so there’s nothing to fear. Right?

  8. @michael reynolds:

    if Bannon takes the 5th it’s essentially an admission of guilty knowledge

    No it isn’t.

    See my comments here, here, and here.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds: WAPO has a story today on a recent Gallup poll that found 42% of Republicans believe accurate but negative stories are fake news. Our friend L apparently believes the reporting that there is no substance to the IRS “scandal” is all fake news. Even though true. And the destruction of Lois Lerner’s career over nothing is OK because – reasons.

  10. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @michael reynolds:
    @Doug Mataconis:
    Not that it means anything at all, but Trump:

    “The mob takes the Fifth…If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”

  11. Matt Bernius says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Thanks for pointing that out again Doug.

  12. Kathy says:

    If Trump colluded with the Russians, he’d brag about it. If not publicly, which he hasn’t, then privately. If he tried some kind of collusion and it didn’t work, he’d complain about it. Again privately if not publicly. So maybe Bannon knows something substantial.

  13. charon says:

    @Paul L.:

    Hope Steve Bannon pleas the Fifth to anger the Lois Lerner apologists,

    You think Bannon is on your side? Considering how shabbily he has been treated lately, that is no sure thing. Plus he has nothing to lose at this point.

  14. KM says:

    @Doug Mataconis :

    Except Bannon fancies himself a strategic genius and like all geniuses, they inherently need to have that acknowledged even if it screws up their plans. What’s the point of being clever if no one knows? This is the man who lead the charge for MAGA, was onstage all those times and spat fire on Breitbart when it would have been better overall to keep his mouth shut. No, Bannon won’t plead the 5th – he’ll try some verbal kung fu to try and frame things *his* way. He’s lost his voice to the populace but here’s how he gets it back. He’s the “misunderstood” hero of MAGA, trying his hardest but hey, mistakes happen right? He goes in, disses all the people Trump expects him to, steers the story to their preferred narrative and suddenly he’s not Sloppy Steve anymore to the Trump nation.

    …. it’s not going to happen like that but Bannon can dream, right?

    He’s aware of his rights and the legal implications of them. He’s also aware he’s not in control of his own narrative right now – Trump is. Trump WILL toss Bannon under any incoming traffic so he’d be stupid to still there and 5th his way through. He needs to get back on the MAGA train and this is his ticket.

  15. MarkedMan says:

    Just a total shot in the dark, but I suspect Mueller talking to Bannon signals the end of the first phase of the investigation. From everything reported to date, Bannon was either kept out of the Russian collusion because the idiot Trump family thought they were delivering a big fat cake and didn’t want to let Bannon get any credit, or had the brains to stay out on his own, or had the luck to not want to get involved because he hated Jared so much (I.e. his pettiness ended up saving him).

  16. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    It doesn’t mean anything to lawyers. To everyone else it’s an admission.

  17. CSK says:

    It’s a breaking story, so the details are fuzzy, but Nunes has also subpoenaed Bannon because Bannon refused, today, to answer questions about his time in the White House.

  18. Sleeping Dog says:

    Just imagine, Steve Bannon, the John Dean of Trumpgate. Nah won’t happen.

  19. CSK says:

    Fox News is reporting that Trump ordered Bannon not to talk.

    Must be fake news. Right? Right?

  20. Guarneri says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Only the rabid fools. But your disregard for the law is duly noted.

  21. @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    Fortunately, the answer to this question isn’t up to Trump.

  22. Monala says:

    @KM: So Bannon is Col. Jessup?

  23. MarkedMan says:

    @Guarneri: really? You don’t think that taking the fifth is more likely among the guilty than the innocent? I sure do.

  24. Gustopher says:

    Disgruntled former employee with access to all the dirt, and with an ego that makes him want to be the star of the show? Supeonaed to rat out his ex-boss who just mocked him on twitter and claimed he was in tears?

    Yeah. This will go smoothly.

  25. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    It’s not an admission of guilt, but it IS a testimonial statement to the effect that the potential for self-incrimination exists.

    In a practical sense, it’s essentially the same thing. By invoking the protection against self-incrimination, the witness is admitting the potential existence in fact of a tangible basis upon which to establish wrongdoing on his/her part, or else the protection itself is meaningless.

    That having been said, from the viewpoint of a former prosecutor, I was rather fond of individuals asserting the privilege – it told me where my investigators should dig harder, it let me know which witnesses / defendants were afraid of being convicted, and it helped to focus where and when grants of immunity (which invalidate the privilege entirely with respect to the proceedings in question, or possibly much further) as a tool to compel testimony on pain of contempt.

  26. I am Not a Lawyer says:

    So what can we assume about criminal suspects who exercise their Miranda rights to remain silent and have an Attorney present during police questioning?

    Are they all more likely to be guilty than innocent?

    The cases before us raise questions which go to the roots of our concepts of American jurisprudence: the restraints society must observe consistent with the Federal Constitution in prosecuting individuals for crime. More specifically, we deal with the admissibility of statements obtained from an individual who is subjected to custodial police interrogation and the necessity for procedures which assure that the individual is accorded his privilege under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution not to be compelled to incriminate himself.
    Opinion of the Court by Chief Justice Earl Warren in the Case of Miranda v. Arizona

  27. KM says:

    @I am Not a Lawyer :

    So what can we assume about criminal suspects who exercise their Miranda rights to remain silent and have an Attorney present during police questioning?

    Are they all more likely to be guilty than innocent?

    Nice try. Miranda rights are more then just protection against self-incrimination – they are protection against abuse by a governmental system you may or may not know the in-n-outs of. You invoke the 5th in specific instances, usually questioning, while Miranda is a summary for the public of what you need to know when busted. You need a lawyer because you are not a lawyer (I’m assuming) but to need the 5th means you really don’t want to answer that question and can’t think of a good non-answer to weasel around it.

    Look – it’s basic logic here. Now the relation the law has with basic logic can be complicated sometimes but essentially when you ask Question A and the reply is “I plead the 5th” you can logically infer that this legally acceptable non-answer means the person doesn’t want to give you information that may hurt them. You don’t invoke the 5th for fun but rather for a practical reason. Is that reason CYA, trolling, an attempt to thwart a legal investigation, sheer cussedness? What you can easily take away, though, is that they don’t want to confirm or verify what you just asked. That gives the questioner options they didn’t have before – as Harvard said, it’s a good jumping off point for where you need to look next.

    It’s like the new Trumpian argument for Arpiao – taking the pardon doesn’t mean he’s guilty. Innocent people don’t need pardons because they are not guilty, QED. To require a pardon means you are in a legal position where one is desirable aka not innocent. Accepting said pardon implicitly acknowledges you need one and thus are not squeaky clean.

  28. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Interesting that the WH instructed Bannon, in advance of the hearing, not to answer questions.
    They sure act guilty, for innocent people.

  29. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: I see this morning statements from the WH that they didn’t direct Bannon. Of course one may reasonably assume that everyone involved is lying.

    Bannon is not employed by the government, the campaign, Trump, or any Trump enterprise. Or Breitbart, bwhahaha. How exactly does the WH direct him to do or not do anything. Blackmail? The Mercers, on the other hand, may be holding the possibility of letting him back on the gravy train over his head. Or it may just be that Bannon is in negotiations for his tell all book and doesn’t want to give away the juicy stuff just yet.

  30. CSK says:


    Bannon might be trying to regain the favor of the Mercers. Or he might have a tell-all in mind.

    He also might have hopes of trying to worm his way back into Trump’s favor. If he’s back in Trump’s favor, the Mercers will follow.

  31. Tyrell says:

    There is this “Caliphate cyber group” that is breaking into the US military and security. It is an element of ISIS and this is apparently a new tactic of theirs: cyber terrorism. They will attack other countries including Russia and China. Could it be linked to the Hawaii alert? Imagine if they got control of the missile codes and other top secret technology. Mueller needs to turn his investigation toward that. He may already be doing that.

  32. JohnMcC says:

    Lot of electrons spent here on the subject of the 5thA. If I understand correctly (IANAL – of course) a person who answers any question must then answer all questions (at least in Congressional hearings); media reports seem to indicate that Mr Bannon answered some questions and then clammed up on the subjects of the White House’s choosing. I’d assumed that the issue at hand is something like: ‘Executive Privilege by Proxy’.

    Or is my reading comprehension lagging? Do I need a cognitive check-up?

  33. CSK says:

    Bannon’s agreed to be interviewed by Mueller in order to avoid the grand jury.

  34. MarkedMan says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    Interesting that the WH instructed Bannon, in advance of the hearing, not to answer questions.

    Just curious, is this an assumption or has it been verified?

  35. Franklin says:

    @Tyrell: You seem to have some misunderstanding of the roles of various agencies. Mueller is working for the DoJ, not the CIA or Pentagon.

  36. I am Not a Lawyer says:

    The Origin of Pleading the Fifth

    The right against self-incrimination is rooted in the Puritans’ refusal to cooperate with interrogators in 17th century England. They often were coerced or tortured into confessing their religious affiliation and were considered guilty if they remained silent. English law granted its citizens the right against self-incrimination in the mid-1600s, when a revolution established greater parliamentary power.

    Puritans who fled religious persecution brought this idea with them to America, where it would eventually become codified in the Bill of Rights. Today, courts have found the right against self-incrimination to include testimonial or communicative evidence at police interrogations and legal proceedings.

    When a defendant pleads the Fifth, jurors are not permitted to take the refusal to testify into consideration when deciding whether a defendant is guilty. In the 2001 case Ohio v. Reiner, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “a witness may have a reasonable fear of prosecution and yet be innocent of any wrongdoing. The [Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination] serves to protect the innocent who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.” This case beefed up an earlier ruling that prosecutors can’t ask a jury to draw an inference of guilt from a defendant’s refusal to testify in his own defense.

    The Puritans got jammed up hundreds of years ago in England.
    American Citizens don’t have to fear religious persecution today…

    The United States will have “absolutely no choice” but to close down some mosques where “some bad things are happening,” Donald Trump said in a recent interview, explaining his rationale for doing so.

    “Nobody wants to say this and nobody wants to shut down religious institutions or anything, but you know, you understand it. A lot of people understand it. We’re going to have no choice,” the Republican presidential (candidate) said in an interview from Trump Tower on Fox News’ “Hannity” on Tuesday night.

  37. Blue Galangal says:

    @MarkedMan: I’m not sure if this is what you’re referring to, but the Associated Press is reporting that Bannon’s lawyer was in communication with the WH during his testimony: “Steve Bannon’s attorney relayed questions, in real time, to the White House during a House Intelligence Committee interview of the former Trump chief strategist, people familiar with the closed-door session told The Associated Press.”

  38. Slugger says:

    I see reports that the subpoena has gone away and Bannon will talk to Mueller. What does this mean? I know that you can’t fib to the FBI, but can you refuse to answer questions? Does a grand jury have powers that an investigator doesn’t? Is there some deal made to talk in one venue or the other?

  39. Tyrell says:

    Well, there is always “I forgot” “I don’t know” “I can find out and I will get back to you later”

  40. MarkedMan says:

    @Blue Galangal: So it looks like Bannon’s lawyer was replaying questions to someone on the White House team. Trump seems to want to assert Executive Privilege by proxy. Congress needs to call people out on this, or risk undercutting their own authority. It may seem counterintuitive but this acceptance of executive authority may be more damaging than Nunes using his powers to help Trump out. As bad as it is, Nunes is the committee leader and even by abusing his power he is reaffirming Congressional turf. But by letting people not answer a question because the President MAY want to assert EP makes Congress subservient to the whims of the President.

    On top of that, it seems plain wrong for the Prez to assert EP about things that happened before he was Prez.

  41. KM says:


    On top of that, it seems plain wrong for the Prez to assert EP about things that happened before he was Prez.

    Precisely. The Constitution allows for only one Executive and that man who legally held that Office was Obama when this was going down. The President-Elect is still a private citizen until the Oath is administered and the Office officially transitions. To argue otherwise – that privileges reserved to the Office apply to private citizens before they take the Office – opens up a whole can of worms. For instance, how far should that extend? I mean, if I’m officially running for Office, I might theoretically win it and acquire those privileges. Do I get them as soon as I announce my candidacy or win the primary? What happens with conflicting EP directives or invocations; who gets priority – the legal guy who’s on his way out or the new guy who hasn’t started yet?

  42. CSK says:

    Michael Wolff has sold–for seven figures–the theatrical and tv rights to Fire and Fury to the production company Endeavor for a television series.

    It’s far too early to say who will be cast, but it’s interesting to speculate on what actors might play Trump, Bannon, Jared, Ivanka, Conway, Hicks, Priebus, etc.

  43. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @I am Not a Lawyer:

    When a defendant pleads the Fifth, jurors are not permitted to take the refusal to testify into consideration when deciding whether a defendant is guilty.

    And of course, the court knows that juries follow those instructions because of the ability of officers of the court to read minds and decipher motives when those juries announce their verdicts.

  44. JohnMcC says:

    @KM: I think you have stumbled on the key to understanding this administration. There was only one President from Nov 8th to Jan 20th but for Flynn, Bannon and etc that President was Donald Trump. Seems like the reason Mr Mueller in looking into it.

  45. gVOR08 says:

    @Blue Galangal: Yeah. I saw that this morning via Atrios. OK, he’s allowed a lawyer in the hearing. In Bannon’s case his lawyer, Bill Burck, is also representing WH counsel Don McGahn (and also Reince Priebus), who is supposed to be guiding Trump on the law, not representing him. Burck was calling the WH counsel’s office for guidance on individual questions. Since Bannon is not a part of the administration, how does the WH counsel get to tell him what to do? To a layperson this seems a blatant conflict of interest. Not to mention the questions about preemptive executive privilege, including about matters prior to Trump being said executive. Is calling out of a committee meeting for outside advice an accepted thing?

    WTF? Any comment, Doug?

    As Atrios pointed out, had this happened under Obama the Republicans and the supposedly liberal MSM would be screaming holy hell.

  46. MarkedMan says:


    how does the WH counsel get to tell him what to do

    Bannon is a slime ball, but I never thought of him as stupid. This seems really stupid though. The White House is going to need people to throw under the bus, and Bannon is a blindingly obvious candidate. But he’s essentially agreed to take marching orders from one of the guys who will help figure out the best place to push so he lands under the bus in the most fatal way possible.

  47. I am Not a Lawyer* says:

    Just read Ohio v. Reiner (2001) full text.
    Ohio v. Reiner synopsis
    Tragic case.
    I have no evidence that the Rehnquist court was composed of mind readers.
    Did they have to assume that Ms. Batt was being honest when she claimed her innocence to render their opinion?

    “The Supreme Court of Ohio here held that a witness who denies all culpability does not have a valid Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.”

    “…we have never held, as the Supreme Court of Ohio did, that the privilege is unavailable to those who claim innocence. To the contrary, we have emphasized that one of the Fifth Amendment’s “basic functions … is to protect innocent men … ‘who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.'” Grunewald v. United States, 353 U. S. 391, 421 (1957)

    *However my ex-wife was in law school when I met her.

  48. I am Not a Lawyer* says:

    @CSK:..It’s far too early to say who will be cast

    I thought SNL already covered this.

  49. MarkedMan says:

    @I am Not a Lawyer*: *However my ex-wife was in law school when I met her.

    Close enough for internet work…

  50. MarkedMan says:

    Totally off the subject department: For those of you who have icons attached to your comment, how did you get them there?

  51. Neil Hudelson says:


    It’s the profile pic from one’s word press account.

  52. I am Not a Lawyer* says: did you get them there?

    try this

  53. I am Not a Lawyer* says:

    Close enough for internet work…

    Met her in a Southern llinois Roadhouse on Christmas Eve.
    Should have known better.

  54. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Does a grand jury have powers that an investigator doesn’t?

    In some ways, yes. Testimony before a grand jury is sworn, and the penalties for perjury attach (along with a few other uglies contained in rule 6). Beyond that, a witness is not permitted to have counsel present in the grand jury chamber during testimony. It’s an exceptionally one-sided proceeding entirely for benefit of the government.

    (A witness can leave the room as often as necessary to confer with counsel, but inside the room itself, you’re on your own).

    If the conversation with Mueller is just that – a conversation – then it’s a different ballgame. If, on the other hand, they handle it as a deposition, it becomes indistinguishable (in a “Molly, you in danger girl …” sense) from being compelled to testify before a grand jury beyond being able to have your attorney with you when you’re deposed. It’s still adversarial; you just get to bring a friend to a deposition.

    I suspect the subpoena was more of a shot across the bow to encourage cooperation. How it plays out from there once they’ve spoken depends on whether or not they get what they want from him. It can be friendly, or it can be not friendly.