Steve Bannon's testimony only raised more questions about what the White House is trying to hide and why.
Former Watergate prosecutor Nick Ackerman said Thursday that Steve Bannon’s attempt to invoke executive privilege during his congressional testimony this week made it look like he’s hiding something.
“I’m extremely skeptical here,” Ackerman told MSNBC’s Ari Melber. “To me, it all looks like a cover-up.”
Bannon, who served as Trump’s campaign manager and chief strategist, testified Wednesday before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its ongoing Russia probe.
While he claimed beforehand that he was prepared to answer all questions that were asked of him, Bannon repeatedly invoked executive privilege during his questioning, apparently at the behest of the White House.
According to multiple reports, Bannon’s lawyer was on the phone with the White House counsel during his testimony, relaying questions and asking what Bannon was allowed to answer. In response, the White House reportedly told Bannon not to discuss anything that had to do with his work during the presidential transition period or anytime after that.
But as Ackerman noted, executive privilege only applies to the president after he has been sworn into office it doesn’t include the transition period or any other point before inauguration day.
“[E]xecutive privilege does not apply to Donald Trump until January 21st, 2017, when he was sworn in as president,” Ackerman told Melber. “There’s no such thing as president-elect privilege. It’s like saying there’s attorney-client privilege, when somebody’s in law school and they’re not an attorney.”
Importantly, Ackerman also noted that avoiding questions pertaining to the transition period would mean avoiding testifying about highly relevant events like when Michael Flynn discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador (and later lied about it to the FBI).
“It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “So, yeah, I’m extremely skeptical here. To me, it all looks like a cover-up.”
According to the Associated Press, Bannon’s attempt to invoke executive privilege at the behest of the Trump administration was “the broadest example yet of the White House using executive privilege to limit a witness testimony without making a formal invocation of that presidential power.”
The attempt to apply executive privilege so broadly also raises questions about how far the White House will go to try to control the testimony of current and former members of Trump’s inner circle and even more importantly, why they would go so far if they have nothing to hide.