By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday blasted former White House adviser Steve Bannon as having “lost his mind” in the fallout over damaging comments Bannon made about Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., in excerpts of a new book.
Trump, who had continued to speak privately with Bannon in the months after firing him as the White House chief strategist last August, essentially cut ties with Bannon in a blistering statement issued after Bannon’s comments about Don Jr. came to light.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” Trump said.
Trump said Bannon had little to do with his presidential victory in 2016 but was to blame for the loss of a Republican-held U.S. Senate seat in Alabama in December when accused child molester Roy Moore, who both Bannon and Trump had backed, lost to Democrat Doug Jones.
“Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans,” Trump said.
“Steve 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. It is the only thing he does well,” Trump added.
Bannon expressed derision and astonishment over the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in New York in which a Russian lawyer was said to be offering damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, according to the book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff.
In the book, Bannon called the meeting that his son arranged and that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, also attended “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” Bannon also was quoted as saying he was sure Trump Jr. would have taken the Russians who took part in the meeting to meet his father in Trump Tower.
The explosive comments from a former close aide and far-right architect of Trump’s November 2016 election victory roiled the White House and the Republican president, who famously values loyalty in associates and employees.
“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,” Bannon said in the book in excerpts seen by Reuters.
“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.”
When an intermediary proposed the meeting, saying the Russians were offering damaging information about Clinton, Trump Jr. responded in an email, “I love it.”
Bannon was incredulous about the meeting shortly after it was revealed, according to the book, concluding sarcastically, “That’s the brain trust they had.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Jim Oliphant; Editing by Will Dunham)