Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, is pitching a plan to the White House to cripple Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Bannon has remained in touch with West Wing aides and congressional allies despite his ouster last summer, according to four individuals with knowledge of the discussions.
The first step, according to Bannon, is for Trump to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the work of the special counsel and who this week signed off on a search warrant of Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
CNN reported earlier this week that Trump is considering firing Rosenstein. A source familiar with the discussions told the news outlet that Trump is “still upset” over the FBI’s raid of Cohen’s office, and that “he hasn’t had time to study the details of the raid or listen to his advisers, including his legal team,” which is currently working to address the conflict in Syria.
The source said Trump could still sit down for an interview with Mueller, but that “both sides need to keep their powder dry.”
Bannon recommends that the White House cease cooperating with Mueller and for Trump to invoke executive privilege. In doing so, Trump would attempt to render interviews with Mueller’s team with White House officials “null and void.”
“The president wasn’t fully briefed by his lawyers on the implications” of not invoking executive privilege, Bannon told The Washington Post. “It was a strategic mistake to turn over everything without due process, and executive privilege should be exerted immediately and retroactively.”
But would invoking executive privilege actually protect Trump from Mueller’s investigation? As The Post points out, likely not:
Legal experts are dubious about Bannon’s idea that the White House could suddenly claim executive privilege on interviews that were given voluntarily by officials and be able to exclude them from an investigation that is partly reliant on those interviews. They also wonder if this action would even be allowed under the law and are certain it would be challenged in court.
Bannon, however, believes the president can argue his attorneys provided him with “poor counsel” on Russia. He also expressed his disdain for Trump lawyer Ty Cobb, who believes the president should remain cooperative with Mueller and his team: “Ty Cobb should be fired immediately.”
Bannon, who once advocated for a “hands-off” approach to the Russia probe, believes the investigation has already encroached upon its initial mandate:
I have the utmost respect for Bob Mueller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but the developments over the past two weeks make it the right time to shift the center of gravity of this back to Capitol Hill. Make the Republican Party own this, force them to have his back.