Former White House strategist Steve Bannon is battling with the Federal Trade Commission over its demand that he testify about defunct political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
Bannon recently argued in court papers that he shouldn't be required to meet with the FTC until after the conclusion of an unrelated criminal fraud case, which centers on money raised for a Mexican border wall. Bannon pleaded not guilty in the matter, and is scheduled to go to trial in May.
But the FTC argues it shouldn't have to wait that long to question Bannon, formerly an officer of Cambridge Analytica.
“Further delay will impair the Commission’s and the public interest,” lawyers for the FTC write in papers filed Friday with U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper in Washington, D.C.
The agency adds that Bannon can refuse to answer specific questions, if doing so would be incriminating.
“Bannon will suffer no undue burden if he has to appear at an investigational hearing and assert his Fifth Amendment rights,” the agency argues. “The Commission insists only that Bannon invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in response to specific questions; he cannot simply assert the privilege on a blanket basis to avoid sitting for the investigational hearing.”
The FTC said last month that it needs Bannon's testimony as part of an investigation into his potential personal liability, as well as to learn whether the data gathered by Cambridge Analytica was shared with anyone else.
The agency found last year that Cambridge Analytica -- a consultancy used by President Trump and other prominent conservatives -- illegally harvested personal information of millions of Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica gleaned the data from Global Science Research's Alexsandr Kogan, who collected it in 2014 via his personality-quiz app "thisisyourdigitallife."
That app was only downloaded by 270,000 Facebook users, but Kogan was able to gather information about up to 87 million of those users' friends, according to Facebook. The FTC said Cambridge Analytica deceived users, because Kogan's app promised not to download names and other identifiable information.
The FTC's investigation also resulted in a $5 billion settlement with Facebook, which allegedly violated a prior consent decree by allowing Cambridge Analytica (and other developers) to access users' data.