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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Trump's former aide Bannon agrees to speak to Russia investigators

According to US news sources, the former White House chief strategist will answer questions from federal investigators examining campaign ties to Russia

Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former chief strategist, has agreed to meet with Russia probe investigators, according to reports. Carolyn Kaster/ AP Photo
Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former chief strategist, has agreed to meet with Russia probe investigators, according to reports. Carolyn Kaster/ AP Photo

Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, has agreed to meet federal investigators examining campaign ties to Russia, according to sources quoted by US news sources.

The latest twist came a day after it emerged he had been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury investigating the issue.

It was believed to be the first time Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the investigation, had used a subpoena to compel a witness to appear and led to intense speculation about his motives.

Two sources told CNN that Mr Bannon had now agreed to be interviewed by prosecutors rather than face the grand jury.

They had a ringside seat for much of Mr Trump’s campaign and transition, a period when many of the key questions about Russian interference arose.

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said it was usually in the best interests of both parties to meet for a more informal interview.

“An interview helps Bannon because his attorney can be present and because it’s a more relaxed atmosphere where his words are not transcribed,” he posted on Twitter.

“An interview helps Mueller because it can be a freewheeling conversation with prosecutors and FBI agents on a variety of topics that might go beyond what would be discussed before the grand jury.”

However, he added that it was unusual for a subpoena to be issued if Mr Bannon had been open to an interview and may suggest a reluctant witness wanting to demonstrate his hand had been forced.

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Read more:

Trump's once favourite aide now central to Russia investigation

Bannon called before grand jury in Russia investigation

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It is not yet known when the interview will occur.

The developments move the rabble-rousing populist to the heart of the Russia investigation.

Mr Bannon was an early champion of Mr Trump’s populist agenda.

He took over Mr Trump’s faltering election campaign in August 2016.

That puts him in a key position at a time when Democratic emails stolen by Moscow-linked hackers were being published and when senior Trump advisers were subject to approaches by a number of Russians.

His post in the White House also gave him a close up view of the firing of James Comey, the FBI director. Mr Comey was heading the Russia investigation at the time and his dismissal raised allegations of obstruction of justice.

Investigators will also want to know more about why he branded a meeting between key campaign figures – including Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr and Paul Manafort – with a Russian lawyer as “treasonous”, according to a controversial new book by journalist Michael Wolff.

Mr Bannon later changed his story to walk back some of the criticism of Mr Trump’s son. But that was not enough to prevent a very deep, very public rift opening between the president and his former adviser.

He appeared before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday but declined to answer questions on a range of topics about his time in the White House citing “executive privilege” - the legally contentious idea that conversations with the president are protected.

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