December 23, 2020
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon was a vice-president and board member of now-defunct Cambridge Analytica. PHOTO: REUTERS
WASHINGTON – Steve Bannon, a former top aide to President Donald Trump, was ordered by a federal judge to appear before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for questioning in an investigation into Mr Bannon’s role in the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting scandal.
US District Judge Christopher Cooper on Tuesday (Dec 22) granted an FTC request to order Bannon to comply with a civil investigative demand, which is similar to a subpoena, and appear for an interview.
Bannon was a vice-president and board member of now-defunct Cambridge Analytica, which harvested personal information from tens of millions of Facebook Inc users and was accused by the FTC of engaging in deceptive practices in violation of consumer protection laws.
The episode led to a record US$5 billion penalty against Facebook last year.
Bannon’s lawyers argued that he has already provided information to the FTC and that he is willing to appear before the agency after his upcoming criminal trial in New York, where he is facing fraud charges for allegedly diverting money from a charity that had been established to raise funds for a wall along the US-Mexico border.
They said the FTC’s demand could jeopardise his right to a fair trial.
Mr Cooper said there is no substantive overlap between the FTC inquiry and the criminal case in New York and that delaying Bannon’s testimony would prevent the FTC from completing its investigation, which he said would not be in the public interest.
The judge said Bannon, who helped run Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign before becoming the president’s chief strategist in the White House, can assert his constitutional right not to answer the agency’s questions.