Previews of reporter Michael Wolff’s forthcoming book, “Fire and Fury,” have sparked a war of words between the Trump administration and Steve Bannon.
According to the Guardian, Wolff quotes Bannon saying that Donald Trump, Jr. probably broke the law when he met with Russians at Trump Tower in June of 2016. He predicts that “they’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
“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. 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 reportedly said. “But that’s the brain trust that they had.”
Bannon is quite dismissive of his onetime rivals for power. In an excerpt at New York Magazine, he refers to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump as “Jarvanka,” and was allegedly “horrified” that Ivanka talked openly of running for president herself. “Stop. Oh, come on. They didn’t actually say that? Please don’t tell me that. Oh my God,” Wolff reports Bannon reacting.
Perhaps the most damaging statements are about the special counsel investigation. As Trump’s chief strategist, Bannon opposed the firing of James Comey — a decision that Kushner championed, but which resulted in the appointment of Robert Mueller.
Even after he was eventually pushed out, Bannon has continued to leverage news about the investigation against his administration rivals.
“The chance that Don Jr did not walk these [Russians] up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero,” Bannon says of the Tower meeting. He even hints that money laundering was the primary motivation throughout the scandal: “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy. They’re going to go right through that. They’re going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me.”
Of the Mueller team, Bannon says “Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner.”
Of course, these casual, profane assessments of Donald Trump and his family — what Jonathan Swan of Axios calls “the third rail of Trumpworld” — drew a swift rebuke.
Issuing a long, angry statement, Trump accused his onetime campaign CEO and chief strategist of “leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was.”
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency,” Trump said, ignoring the reality that Bannon and Breitbart played a central role in creating and elevating his candidacy. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
JUST IN: President Trump responds to Steve Bannon’s criticisms in new book, says the former chief strategist “not only lost his job, he lost his mind” https://t.co/aZK8liNSfG pic.twitter.com/V0wIGdFvxt
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 3, 2018
Notably, the president said absolutely nothing in defense of his son Don Jr. or son in law Kushner. Instead, Don Jr. took to Twitter, where he slammed Bannon as having “lost Breitbart” and echoed his father’s criticism of Bannon for supporting Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race. (Conveniently, father and son leave out the part where the alleged president gave Moore his full-throated endorsement and held a rally to support him in the closing days of the race.)
Trump began to minimize Bannon’s role in the 2016 election after Bloomberg reporter Joshua Green published “Devil’s Bargain,” a book which describes the Breitbart CEO as the decisive figure in Trump’s election. Trump was also reportedly jealous that Saturday Night Live and other outlets portrayed Bannon as the sinister power behind his throne.
But Wolff’s reporting, which is based on more than 200 White House interviews with unprecedented access, describes Bannon as a ruthless opportunist rather than an evil genius, an ambitious man who saw opportunity in a chaotic White House that operated on shifting power dynamics rather than a clear chain of command.
It was a perfect environment for Bannon to push hard-right policy priorities, such as the Muslim ban, that he had developed for years in advance of the Donald Trump candidacy. Once there was actual power to be divided, this put him at odds with Kushner and Trump’s children, whose approach was moderate by comparison and focused on growing the family brand.
Steve Bannon has “claimed repeatedly that Trump represents something bigger than himself,” Ed Kilgore writes. “To Trump, there is nothing bigger than himself.” Their public spat will have a divisive effect on the ‘Trump base’ that Bannon built.
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