Special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible links between Donald Trump’s associates and Russia appears to have penetrated the president’s inner circle for the first time. According to The NYT, Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon was subpoenaed last week by Mueller and will be required to testify in front of a grand jury.
While the subpoena is seen as a sign that Bannon is not a personal focus of the investigation, it does represent a looming negotiating tactic for Mueller’s investigation. Speaking with The NYT, a person with direct knowledge stated that Mueller could allow 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 tie between Trump’s associates and Russia, and about the president’s conduct in office.”
The decision to subpoena Bannon could also be a sign that Mueller’s investigation is growing more intense. It was revealed last week that Mueller told Trump’s lawyers of his desire to question the president as part of his investigation at some point. No interview has been scheduled yet.
The subpoena comes shortly after comments made by Bannon surfaced in Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury. Bannon stated that Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 meeting with Russians was “treasonous.” He also predicted the special counsel investigation would center on money laundering.
Bannon was also directly involved in the decision-making around the firing of former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
President Trump has recently attempted to distance himself from Bannon, downplaying his role in his campaign, presidential transition and first eight months in office.
Bannon testified in front of the House Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and ties to the Trump campaign, in a private hearing earlier today. Bannon did not speak to reporters before entering the meeting and Mueller has yet to comment.