Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee told the Justice Department last July they believed several people close to President Donald Trump, including his son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and former adviser Steve Bannon, may have misled them during testimony in the committee’s Russia investigation, the Washington Post reported.
The newly detailed July 2019 letter from the senators adds to a list of concerns members of Congress sent to special counsel Robert Mueller and other prosecutors about the Russia investigation and testimony related to it, raising the possibility the Justice Department may have considered additional criminal probes regarding possible lies to Congress than what was previously known.
But it’s unclear whether the Senate Intelligence Committee’s suspicions – that the testimony they heard conflicted with what others such as former deputy campaign chair Rick Gates said under oath – amounted to any further investigation by the Justice Department, let alone any ongoing investigations. Referrals, where members of Congress flag suspicions to federal prosecutors, were relatively common in the Russia investigation and not all lead to formal investigations.
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“I have no reason to believe there is any investigation of Bannon by any law enforcement authority. If the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a referral to DOJ, they never informed us. And DOJ has not contacted us about any referral by anyone,” Bannon’s attorney William Burck told CNN.
Lawyers for Jared Kushner and Hope Hicks, who the Washington Post said was also mentioned in the letter, declined to comment on Sunday. Other attorneys representing individuals named in the Senate Committee’s letter have not yet responded to CNN’s requests for comment.
The disclosure of the letter comes after Senate Committee chairmen announced this month they had adopted a fifth and final report they compiled on Russian interference in the 2016. The volume is not yet public.
The apparent referrals were first revealed on Friday by the Los Angeles Times in a story that zeroed in on Bannon’s testimony, and the Senate’s concerns he may have lied. The Los Angeles Times published a letter the Senate Intelligence Committee chairs – at that time Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner– sent to a DC US Attorney’s Office prosecutor, Deborah Curtis. Curtis no longer works at the Department of Justice. There’s no indication Bannon is under investigation.
The Senate Intelligence Committee referred several other Trump contacts’ testimony to the Justice Department, according to the Washington Post. They included campaign adviser Sam Clovis and conservative operative and businessman Erik Prince.
“Erik Prince’s testimony has been public for years, and was available at all times that Mr. Prince met with the Department of Justice during the Special Counsel’s investigation,” said Matthew L. Schwartz, a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner LLP and a lawyer for Prince. “Mr. Prince cooperated completely with the Special Counsel’s investigation, as its report demonstrates. When members of the House Intelligence committee made a criminal referral more than a year ago, it unsurprisingly went nowhere. If members of the Senate likewise made a referral — which we don’t know anything about — there would be nothing new for the Department of Justice to consider, nor is there any reason to question the Special Counsel’s decision to credit Mr. Prince and rely on him in drafting its report.”
Clovis’ defense lawyer, Victoria Toensing, told CNN on Monday that “there was never a DOJ investigation of Clovis,” responding to the report of the referral letter. She added that Clovis had testified to the grand jury used by the special counsel as a witness “and never heard from the special counsel again,” and noted that Burr, who sent the letter to Justice, is now under criminal investigation.
Mueller’s team before it wrapped in spring 2019 had asked several witnesses extensive questions about the dealings of Bannon, Clovis, Prince and others. Yet FBI memorandum documenting the interviews and released over the past year to CNN and BuzzFeed News haven’t indicated that those people remain under investigation.
Mueller also used agreements with some witnesses, including Bannon, that could shield the person from prosecution in exchange for his or her information. Bannon in late 2019 – after the Senate referral – became a key witness for prosecutors at the trial of former Trump adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress.
The Mueller investigation documented extensive contacts between Trump campaign advisers with or about Russia, and raised several questions about the interactions that investigators could not explain. Mueller referred or transferred nearly a dozen cases to other prosecutors when his investigation ended in March 2019, and many are still unidentified.
Yet it’s unknown how much attention the Justice Department continues to pay to the unidentified open cases. Attorney General William Barr, after Mueller’s departure, stepped in to two major cases of Mueller’s against Stone and Michael Flynn to soften them, brought in new leadership at the DC US Attorney’s Office and the Southern District of New York, which were handling some of the spin-offs, and has launched a post-Mueller probe to question intelligence used in the early Russia investigation.
This story has been updated with comments from attorney Victoria Toensing.