Bannon Issues Apology for Attack on Trump’s Son
Posted January 7, 2018 12:39 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON — Isolated from his political allies and cut off from his financial patrons, Stephen K. Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, issued a striking mea culpa on Sunday for comments he had made that were critical of the president’s eldest son.
Bannon, who is quoted in a new book calling Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russians in 2016 “treasonous,” tried to reverse his statements completely, saying that the younger Trump was “both a patriot and a good man.” Bannon spoke out after five days of silence.
He said his reference to “treason” had not been aimed at the president’s son, but at another campaign official who attended the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Paul Manafort.
“My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate,” Bannon said. “He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr.”
Earlier on Sunday, the administration continued its assault on Bannon, with Donald Trump’s senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, saying in a heated interview on CNN that comments by Bannon in the new book were “out of touch with reality,” “vindictive” and “grotesque.” Miller also pushed back against the perception that Bannon, whose harsh criticism of Trump and his family in the book has caused a sharp falling-out with the president, had ever played a Svengali-like role as chief strategist in the White House and on the presidential campaign.
He said Bannon’s role had been “greatly exaggerated,” even as CNN host Jake Tapper ticked off a long list of policies he said Bannon had played a key role in formulating.
In the book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by Michael Wolff, Bannon said Trump had “lost his stuff,” and he described the meeting with Russians attended by Donald Trump Jr. and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as potentially treasonous.
Miller, in his defense of the president, called him a “political genius” who could rattle off complete paragraphs on the fly in response to news events and then deliver them “flawlessly” to a campaign audience. On Saturday, the president, responding to the book’s depiction of his actions in office as erratic, had called himself a “very stable genius.”
The interview, on the CNN program “State of the Union,” quickly grew heated as Tapper accused Miller of being “obsequious” and speaking to an “audience of one.” Before it ended, Tapper told Miller, who is known for his hard-edge attacks on political opponents and the media, that he was wasting his audience’s time.
Tapper then turned to the camera, even as Miller was still speaking, and cut to a commercial.
On Twitter, Donald Trump said Miller had “destroyed” Tapper in the interview.
“Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!”
In addition to assailing Bannon, Miller sharply criticized Wolff and his book, saying it “is best understood as a work of very poorly written fiction.”
The president, who was returning from Camp David, where he had met with Republican congressional leaders and Cabinet officials about the 2018 legislative agenda, weighed in with his own criticism.
“I’ve had to put up with the Fake News from the first day I announced that I would be running for President,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Now I have to put up with a Fake Book, written by a totally discredited author. Ronald Reagan had the same problem and handled it well. So will I!”
Wolff, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” defended the accuracy of his book and contradicted the White House account of how often he had talked to the president.
White House officials said their records showed that Wolff had last talked to the president in February, but Wolff said he had talked to the president several times after that. In all, Wolff said, he talked to the president for about three hours, including interviews during the campaign.
He said that Trump had initially flattered him about the project, and that he had told interview subjects that “the president said he likes this idea” of a book.
Wolff also repeated an assertion in the book that many in the White House had talked about the possible invocation of the 25th Amendment, a constitutional provision that permits a president’s powers to be transferred to the vice president when the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet or a body created by Congress conclude that the president is incapable of performing his duties. “This is alarming in every way,” Wolff said, adding, “This is worse than everybody thought.”
Appearing on Sunday talk shows, others in Trump’s inner circle dismissed any such worries.
Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, said that he had no concerns about Trump’s ability to receive and process the kind of intelligence typically presented to presidents, and that Wolff’s descriptions of Trump’s mental state were “pure fantasy.”
“I’m with him almost every day,” Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We talk about some of the most serious matters facing America and the world, complex issues. The president is engaged. He understands the complexity. He asks really difficult questions of our team at CIA.” Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, said Bannon had clearly crossed a line.
“I can’t justify what Steve said,” Lewandowski said on “Fox News Sunday.” “To accuse someone of treason is so out of line.”