Trump Blasts Bannon, Saying, “He Lost His Mind”
President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that Stephen Bannon had “lost his mind,” publicly attacking his former chief strategist and a key engineer of his 2016 election victory.
The scathing statement from President Trump came in response to comments Bannon made about a June 2016 meeting between top aides to the Trump campaign and a Russian attorney who they believed had potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Bannon reportedly called the Trump Tower meeting, which was attended by Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
Bannon’s remarks, first reported by The Guardian, were made during an interview for a forthcoming book by journalist Michael Wolff, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”
“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor — with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers,” an excerpt from the book quotes Bannon as saying. The June meeting has become a focus of the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the election.
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” Bannon said, according to Wolff’s account.
Bannon is quoted suggesting that Trump himself may have been informed of the meeting: “The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero.”
Trump Jr. has testified that he did not inform his father about the meeting at the time it took place.
President Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing or collusion, calling the investigations into Russian meddling a “witch hunt.” His reaction to Bannon’s comments was swift.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said in a statement issued by the White House. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
Bannon left his White House post in August after less than eight months on the job. In his role as chief strategist to the president, he helped craft some of the administration’s most controversial policies, including the January 2017 proposal to ban travelers from several Muslim-majority countries.
During the 2016 race for the White House, Bannon served as chief executive of the Trump campaign, and was instrumental in helping the candidate hone his “America First” message into policy.
“When I first started covering Trump at the start of his campaign, he was a candidate of gut instincts,” said Robert Costa of The Washington Post in an interview for the FRONTLINE documentary Bannon’s War. “It wasn’t until Bannon came on in August of 2016 that you really saw Trump … start to put policy to his gut instincts. But by the end of his campaign, he had in many respects adopted Bannonism.”
On the campaign trail and then in the White House, Bannon helped infuse Trump’s policies with what he called “populist nationalism.” Channeling the anger of Trump’s base, Bannon set out to disrupt the Washington establishment, saying the Trump presidency was dedicated to the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
“Nobody else speaks to [Trump’s] base as powerfully as Steve Bannon does. And that’s not something Jared Kushner can do. That’s not something Ivanka Trump can do,” said Peter Baker of The New York Times in Bannon’s War.
On Wednesday, Trump sought to downplay Bannon’s influence.
“Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself.” The president said Bannon “pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was.”
The president went on to say that Bannon “only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue.”