House Republicans are backing away from plans to potentially hold former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to fully comply with an Intelligence Committee subpoena, according to people in both parties familiar with the panel’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Republican leaders of the probe emerged from a second interview with Bannon last month promising to take “further steps,” potentially including a contempt citation, to force him to answer questions about the Trump administration’s transition period. But in the weeks since, people familiar with the matter say, there has been zero urgency to pursue further action against Bannon or even discuss the matter with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), whose buy-in is critical to issuing such a citation.
On Monday, K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), the top Republican on the House’s Russia probe, said he would “maybe” meet with Ryan to discuss contempt but offered no timeline about when that conversation might take place. But with committee Republicans pushing for a fast close to the Russia probe, many panel members doubt that Ryan and Conaway will actually deliver on a contempt citation for Bannon.
Republicans “made a number of very unequivocal statements about the need to ensure his compliance, but we have not been able to get a clear answer about when, which is concerning,” said top panel Democrat Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.). “As they were right to point out at the time, if you let witnesses come in and simply stonewall you, you can expect more of the same and indeed we have seen more of the same since Bannon came in.”
Schiff, who still hopes the panel will hold Bannon in contempt, has also pressed GOP members to subpoena additional testimony from witnesses such as outgoing White House communications director Hope Hicks and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who appeared before the panel but refused to answer certain questions. Lewandowski is expected to appear before the panel on Thursday, but members are still unsure about how much more forthcoming he will be.
There is also a time crunch that some believe is helping to dissuade Republicans from pursuing Bannon’s testimony further: Republicans on the panel are trying to roll out a final report on its Russia probe in the coming weeks, and Lewandowski is the last witness currently scheduled for an interview, according to multiple people familiar with the probe. Democrats are not expected to endorse the GOP’s conclusions, but issue a report of their own instead.