White House says phone call with Bannon's lawyer during testimony was 'standard procedure'

Key Points
  • The White House confirmed that it spoke with Steve Bannon's lawyers in the middle of his 10-plus-hour testimony to the House Intelligence Committee.
  • Press secretary Sarah Sanders did not specify if the move constitutes "executive privilege."
  • Asked if the White House was afraid of what Bannon might say, Sanders replied, "not that I'm aware of."
White House halts Bannon's testimony

The White House on Wednesday confirmed that staff spoke with Steve Bannon's lawyers in the middle of his 10-plus-hour testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, but maintained that it was "following standard procedure."

"That's the same process that is typically followed," press secretary Sarah Sanders said at a White House press briefing on Wednesday.

"Sometimes they actually have a White House attorney present in the room. This time it was something that was relayed via phone, and again was following standard procedure for an instance like this," Sanders said.

The questions at the briefing followed a week of significant interaction between Bannon and various investigations into possible contacts between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Last week, special counsel Robert Mueller's team served Bannon a grand jury subpoena, according to The New York Times and NBC News.

Later reports revealed that Bannon's legal team had since negotiated a way out of the court order. Bannon is now expected to talk to Mueller's team voluntarily, and in a setting less formal than a grand jury proceeding.

The former top White House strategist's marathon testimony to the House Intelligence Committee reportedly included a mid-interview phone call with the White House, who advised Bannon through his lawyers not to answer any questions beyond those related to the presidential campaign.

Sanders did not elaborate on the content of the calls between the White House and Bannon's legal team, and refused to say whether the action constituted "executive privilege."

"I'm talking about the process, I can't go any further than that," Sanders said. The White House, likewise, has said it is being "fully cooperative with the special counsel." Last week, however, Sanders said that the White House was "going to maintain some of the executive privileges" when asked about its involvement in Bannon's testimony.

In a follow-up question, Sanders was asked whether that involvement implies that the White House is afraid of what Bannon might say.

"Not that I'm aware of," Sanders responded. "I think we've been pretty clear what our position is with regard to this entire process — that there was absolutely no collusion.

"But in terms of what he might say, I can't answer that, I can't speculate on that."

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