By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
© 2018 New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — Stephen Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, was subpoenaed last week by special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury as part of the investigation into possible links between Trump’s associates and Russia, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.
The subpoena could be a negotiating tactic. Mueller is likely to 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 ties between 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 Mueller treated 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 Bannon is not personally the focus of the investigation. Justice Department rules allow prosecutors to subpoena the targets of investigations only in rare circumstances.
On Tuesday, 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. Bannon did not address reporters before entering the proceeding Tuesday, and a spokesman for Mueller and a senior White House lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Mueller issued the subpoena after Bannon was quoted in a new book criticizing 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.
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 Bannon to cooperate with the investigation. The experts also said it could be a signal to Bannon, who has tried to publicly patch up his falling-out with the president, that despite Trump’s legal threats, Bannon must be completely forthcoming with investigators.