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Judge Orders Steve Bannon Submit to an Interview Under Oath in FTC’s Investigation Into Cambridge Analytica

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 20: Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court on August 20, 2020 in the Manhattan borough of New York City. Bannon and three other defendants have been indicted for allegedly defrauding donors in a $25 million border wall fundraising campaign.

A federal judge this week ordered former presidential advisor and Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon to submit to questioning as part of the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation into a data breach at Cambridge Analytica, according to the National Law Journal.

According to the report, U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper sided with the agency, ruling that Bannon complying with the FTC’s civil investigative demand would not prejudice the former Breitbart executive chairman in his upcoming trial in New York. (In that case, Bannon is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.)

Issuing a ruling from the bench on Tuesday, Cooper said that delaying Bannon’s testimony “even six months under the optimistic assumption that he will be tried in May” would preclude the agency from concluding its investigation into the data firm.

The now-shuttered Cambridge Analytica is accused of engaging in deceptive practices to harvest personal information from tens of millions of Facebook users which it then is said to have used to profile and target individual voters. Bannon previously served as the data firm’s vice president and was a member of its board of directors. An administrative complaint issued last year alleged that the company’s then-CEO Alexander Nix and app developer Aleksandr Kogan deceived consumers, enabling the company to collect Facebook data from more than 50 million Facebook users and their friends, despite telling consumers that no identifiable information would be retained.

Both Kogan and Nix settled with the FTC. Facebook was fined $5 billion for its failure to protect users’ data privacy.

The agency said it wanted to question Bannon in connection with the investigation to determine whether he may be personally liable for his involvement with the unlawful breach and whether any of that data still exists or was shared with other entities.

“Cooper found there was no ‘substantive overlap’ between the FTC’s investigation and Bannon’s criminal case, in which he is accused of using funds raised for a privately-funded initiative to build a wall on U.S. border with Mexico called We Build the Wall (WBTW) for personal expenditures,” the report stated.

Cooper also pointed out that Bannon would still be within his rights to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

“As Mr. [William] Burck surely knows, requiring a deponent to assert [the Fifth] on a question-by-question basis is a common practice in government investigations,” Cooper said.

Burck previously represented Bannon in the WBTW criminal proceedings, but he resigned after Bannon mused about beheading FBI Director Christopher Wray and Dr. Anthony Fauci. Burck is still Bannon’s counsel in the FTC proceedings.

“Hopefully, you folks won’t need my help in coming up with a date soon after the holidays to schedule this,” Cooper said in reference to the impending investigational hearing. “I will leave it to you all to do this. If you need my help, you know where to find me.”

Bannon and Brian Kolfage, his co-defendant in the WBTW case, have both pleaded not guilty.

[Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.