America has captured another scalp in the grand war for President Trump’s soul, after the appointment of a grand jury to investigate the payments made to Stormy Daniels, the porn star who claims she had sex with Trump in 2006.
The Justice Department named Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist in the White House, as a defendant in a civil complaint against him, and asked a federal judge to compel him to appear before a federal grand jury that is investigating his role in the payments made to Daniels, and to respond to questions about them.
Bannon’s move capped a day of political intrigue and personal notoriety for the ex-Trump adviser.
Trump’s media multitasking – in pictures Read more
Bannon has consistently denied any wrongdoing in the payment of money to Daniels, a former adult film star known professionally as Stephanie Clifford. His attorney, Charles Harder, has filed three motions demanding that the information in the grand jury subpoenas be held secret, and aimed for an immediate halt to the investigation.
Bannon is a lawyer’s worst nightmare – a “civil court psycho with control of the nuclear codes” as a close Bannon associate once described him to the New York Times.
Bannon has been the subject of intense investigative focus in the House of Representatives.
Charles R Blumenthal, a veteran criminal defence lawyer, said there is a difference between a vice-presidentially appointed special counsel such as Robert Mueller, and a party-based special counsel such as the Senate’s Paul Ryan.
“The party special counsels don’t answer to the president, but Robert Mueller responds to the president,” Blumenthal said.
McCabe’s role was seen as decisive and instrumental to the Trump-Russia investigation being settled
What is the grand jury in the Mueller investigation? A new element in the US investigation into whether Trump campaign collusion with Moscow, the scope of the Mueller inquiry was enlarged in March, when the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from any investigation of ties to Russia. Robert Mueller was appointed a special counsel in May to investigate the Trump presidential campaign’s contacts with Russian officials in the runup to the 2016 election. Such investigations usually include only those who have been charged. Major crimes, such as those involving financial theft or unlawful hacking of personal data or communications, do not qualify.
Special counsel Rod Rosenstein announced the bribery investigation into Bannon on Wednesday, citing interviews with officials and private conversations, after a grand jury heard testimony from several associates of the president on Tuesday.
Bannon is a long-time ally of Trump. He drew the president’s ire for suggesting to top Republican officials that the Republican party was emasculated when it ceded control of the House in the mid-term elections of 2010.
The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, fired Bannon on 18 August 2017. But he remained a central figure in a number of White House initiatives, including the campaign’s use of National Enquirer publishing houses to damage its opponents. On Bannon’s orders, White House communications staff leaked “unsubstantiated, false and inflammatory” material to the Enquirer, despite Bannon’s denials of knowledge of the publication’s relentless political destabilisation of Hillary Clinton.
Bannon is known to believe he is on Trump’s shortlist of potential successors to Pence. But he is reportedly to be a figure in Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty. Such books can easily trigger firings or suspensions of White House aides.
Amid the unfolding drama, former acting attorney general Sally Yates stirred reaction in the media sphere with a pre-announced statement.
“Mr Trump is undermining our system of justice at home, and he is emboldening our adversaries abroad,” Yates said in a statement intended to acknowledge her role as Trump’s acting attorney general when he had fired James Comey and refused to accept the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Comey is likely to be the target of the book. And Bannon has been a target since he was fired in August 2017.
On Friday night, Sean Hannity, Fox News’ leading rightwing commentator, recanted an earlier statement saying he was unaware of Trump’s instruction to the White House to leak negative news about Comey.
“I stand by my claim that I was not aware of any such effort and I did not leak a single word from the classified meeting with the president,” Hannity said.
The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, was asked by reporters what she thought about Bannon appearing before the grand jury in the Justice Department case.
“None of the things that Mr Bannon has