Special Counsel interviews Stephen Bannon, working on a plea deal with Rick Gates

After being fired by the White House and losing his “wingnut welfare” from his enablers Robert and Rebekah Mercer, as well as his white nationalist propaganda platform at Breitbart News, it appears that Stephen Bannon may have decided to take his revenge on his boy Donald Trump.

Bannon reportedly is cooperating by fully answering all of the Special Counsel’s questions in more than 20 hours of interviews this past week, while he is stonewalling Devin Nunes’s House Intelligence Committee so that Nunes cannot provide his testimony to the Trump White House.

Well played, sir. “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” likely in a tell-all book.

NBC News reports that Steve Bannon met with Mueller multiple times over the past week:

Steve Bannon, who served as President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller over multiple days this week, NBC News has learned from two sources familiar with the proceedings.

Bannon spent a total of some 20 hours in conversations with the team led by Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as well as other issues that have arisen around the probe.

Bannon left his job as a senior White House adviser in August and returned to a leadership role at Breitbart, the right-wing news site based out of Washington. But he fell out of favor with the site’s financial backers, the Mercer family, after criticizing the president and his family in “Fire and Fury,” a book about the Trump administration published earlier this year by author Michael Wolff.

Bannon returned to Capitol Hill on Thursday to resume his interview with the House Intelligence Committee, which was halted when he earlier refused to answer key questions in the Russia probe. He continued stonewalling the committee. Bannon limits answers to House after seeing Mueller:

During a closed-door meeting with the House Intelligence Committee that lasted nearly four hours, Bannon refused to answer any questions beyond 25 that had been pre-screened by the White House, senior Republican and Democratic committee members said. Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee’s top Democrat, suggested those questions were so narrowly drawn that they appeared intended to mislead lawmakers.

“There were questions along the lines of ‘Did you ever meet with X?’ And because the question had been written by the White House the answer was invariably ‘No,'” Schiff said. “When we asked the question, ‘Did you talk with ‘X?,’ the answer was yes.”

But when committee members asked for details, Bannon said the White House instructed him to invoke executive privilege on Trump’s behalf. Executive privilege is a legal claim the president can use to protect conversations from scrutiny by other branches of government.

That left even senior committee Republicans unhappy. Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, the Republican who leads the panel’s Russia investigation, said he would discuss with House Speaker Paul Ryan whether to seek contempt charges against Bannon, who was Trump’s chief strategist until he departed the White House last August.

* * *

Conaway described “a little frustration” among committee members and said he intends to review the mechanics of a contempt citation, including whether it will require the committee to vote or can simply be raised on the House floor.

“Contempt is a big deal and I don’t have unilateral control over that conversation,” he said.

Ryan’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Schiff raised what he described as another potential conflict: Bannon’s attorney William Burck also represents White House counsel Don McGahn, whose office advised the House on what questions Bannon would be able to answer. He said he has question about “counsel advising one witness based on instructions from another client.”

* * *

“I can only speculate because the attorney who represents Steve Bannon also represents White House counsel that this is being done in concert as part of a coordinated strategy to stonewall this committee,” Schiff said, calling the White House’s claims of privilege as “breathtaking” and at times “laughable.”

“I can only gather from that that their goal is to draw this out as long as possible,” he said.

Pro Tip: This is a disqualifying conflict of interest, and a serious breach of ethics. William Burck is likely looking at an ethics complaint.

In other news, it appears Special Counsel Robert Mueller is about to flip another witness. CNN reports, Exclusive: New signs Gates may be negotiating with Mueller’s team:

Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates has quietly added a prominent white-collar attorney, Tom Green, to his defense team, signaling that Gates’ approach to his not-guilty plea could be changing behind the scenes.

Green, a well-known Washington defense lawyer, was seen at special counsel Robert Mueller’s office twice last week. CNN is told by a source familiar with the matter that Green has joined Gates’ team.
Green isn’t listed in the court record as a lawyer in the case and works for a large law firm separate from Gates’ primary lawyers.

Green’s involvement suggests that there is an ongoing negotiation between the defendant’s team and the prosecutors. At this stage, with Gates’ charges filed and bail set, talks could concern the charges and Gates’ plea. The defense and prosecution are currently working together on discovery of evidence.

Gates pleaded not guilty in October to eight charges of money laundering and failing to register foreign lobbying and other business. His longtime business partner, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, pleaded not guilty to nine counts in the same case as Gates.

For months, court-watchers — including Gates’ own attorneys — have anticipated additional charges against the defendants. Superseding indictments, which would add or replace charges against both Gates and Manafort, have been prepared, according to a source close to the investigation. No additional charges have been filed so far. When there is a delay in filing charges after they’ve been prepared, it can indicate that negotiations of some nature are ongoing.

* * *

Manafort’s and Gates’ lawyers work separately and do not use a joint defense agreement, which leaves open the possibility that at some point the defendants could have diverging interests.

The judge overseeing the case finished a drawn-out process of changing Gates’ bail condition last week. The federal prosecutors didn’t stand in the way of Gates being released from house arrest, even after they and the judge found that his assets could barely back his $5 million bail.

At a hearing last week, the judge also acknowledged that the deadlines for legal work before a trial could be different for Gates and Manafort.

“We are the least prepared of anyone here and we want to do a good job and we need that time to be able to do it,” Gates’ lawyer Walter Mack told the judge as they discussed filing deadlines. A schedule hasn’t been finalized.

Should a deal be worked out, it would mean Mueller has the cooperation of another Trump campaign insider.

* * *

The charging documents against Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos revealed that Papadopoulos emailed Manafort about his contacts with government-connected Russians and that the Russians were “open for cooperation” and wanted an opportunity to meet Donald Trump. Manafort forwarded the message to Gates and said, “Let’s discuss. We need someone to communicate that (Trump) is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

Manafort and Gates were also in charge during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where a handful of Trump campaign advisers met with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and a group of campaign aides controversially changed the Republican Party platform regarding Ukraine.

Gates remained on the campaign after Manafort’s hasty resignation in August 2016, but his role was diminished and he stopped working out of the campaign headquarters in Trump Tower. Manafort resigned in the wake of damaging stories about his lobbying in Ukraine — the same work that got him and Gates indicted.

Gates later played a key role on Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee. His interactions with Trump and other prominent campaign officials could be of interest to Mueller’s prosecutors.

Hmmm, like what happened to all that money raised by Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee? Trump’s Inaugural Committee Paid $26 Million to Firm of First Lady’s Adviser: “Ms. Winston Wolkoff personally received $1.62 million for her work,” but the “event planning firm started by [Wolkoff], an adviser to the first lady Melania Trump … was paid nearly $26 million.”

Green declined to comment and declined to say he represented Gates. So did Gates’ primary lawyers, Shanlon Wu in Washington and Mack in New York, citing the judge’s gag order on their case. A spokesperson for Mueller’s office declined to comment.

If Stephen Bannon and Rick Gates are cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, he is farther along in his investigation than the common wisdom among the media seems to think.

Mueller is rolling up the lesser witnesses as he works his way up the ladder to the last three key witnesses: Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, Vice President Mike Pence, and President Donald Trump. Whether they will choose to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Mark Corallo, former spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s legal team, spoke with Special Counsel Bob Mueller earlier this week for over two hours, two people familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast. Mueller Has Interviewed Trump Legal Team’s Former Spokesman:

The New York Times reported last month that Corallo’s conversation with Mueller would likely involve topics related to potential obstruction of justice.

One moment that might be of particular interest to the special counsel: a now-infamous flight back from the G-20 summit, when Trump and his close aides –– including his daughter Ivanka, Jared Kushner, and Communications Director Hope Hicks –– drafted a deceptive statement regarding Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Kremlin-linked Russian nationals. According to theTimes, Corallo was in a position to tell Mueller that Hicks once claimed the president’s sons emails about that meeting would “never get out.”

Corallo departed the White House shortly after Trump lambasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an interview with the Times. Corallo vocally defended Sessions during his hard-fought confirmation process, and people close to him told The Daily Beast that he found it hard to stomach the president’s criticism of the attorney general.

“To people who know him, his choice to leave was unavoidable on a moral and professional level,” one of his longtime friends told The Daily Beast at the time.

Michael Wolff, the author of “Fire and Fury,” wrote in his book that Mark Corallo quit this summer because he believed a statement dictated by the president aboard Air Force One may have obstructed justice. Spokesman for Trump’s legal team left because he worried Trump obstructed justice, Wolff book claims. “Corallo, seeing no good outcome — and privately confiding that he believed the meeting on Air Force One represented a likely obstruction of justice — quit,” Michael Wolff writes in his explosive new book “Fire and Fury.”

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