WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday fired back at Steve Bannon after book excerpts said the former White House chief strategist called the Trump Tower meeting by Trump’s son and top campaign aides with Russians “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
Trump said Bannon has “lost his mind,” belittled his White House role and blamed him for the loss of an Alabama Senate seat to a Democrat in response to Bannon’s caustic comments in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” to be published Jan. 9.
“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 in a statement. “Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.”
In the book, Bannon questioned the judgment of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. for meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 after being promised dirt on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, according to an advance copy of the book provided to Newsday.
“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,” Bannon said, according to Wolff.
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic and bad . . . and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” Bannon said.
The book said Bannon believes there is “zero” chance that Trump Jr. did not take the Russians up to meet Trump himself on the 26th floor. Both Trump and Veselnitskaya have denied it. So did White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday.
Bannon served as the Trump campaign’s chief executive in its final three months, then as White House chief strategist for seven months before returning to the right-wing Breitbart News website.
New York magazine on Wednesday published an excerpt of the book and The Guardian first reported on Bannon’s comments about the Trump Jr. meeting.
Meanwhile, in a New York Times op-ed piece Wednesday, the founders of Fusion GPS, which produced the controversial Steele Dossier about Trump’s dealings with Russians, urged congressional committees that questioned them to release transcripts of their testimony.
Glenn R. Simpson and Peter Fritsch, who run Fusion GPS, said Republicans in Congress are trying to disparage credible evidence. They said that the dossier did not trigger the FBI probe into Russian meddling, but that the FBI took it seriously because it corroborated other reports it had.
They said evidence showed Trump and his organization worked with “a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering.”
Bannon also said special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is “all about money laundering,” and his path to Trump goes through Manafort, Trump Jr. and Kushner. Bannon added, “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
In an excerpt from his book that New York magazine published, Wolff wrote that Trump and his inner circle believed he would lose the election, but publicity from it would deliver “untold opportunities.” When Trump won, Trump Jr. told a friend his father looked “as if he had seen a ghost” and “Melania was in tears — and not of joy,” the book said.
A White House spokeswoman for the first lady denied the account.
Huckabee Sanders called the book “trashy tabloid fiction.” She said Bannon’s comments about Trump Jr. were “absolutely outrageous and unprecedented” and that they made Trump “furious, disgusted.”
She said Wolff spoke to the president only for five to seven minutes, and that Bannon requested most of the more than a dozen interactions that Wolff had with White House officials. Trump and Bannon have severed ties, she said, and last spoke in early December.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), a vocal critic of Bannon, tweeted kudos to Trump for “pulverizing loud month self promoter Bannon,” who should “find work in a circus.” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), whose fundraiser last month featured Bannon, was on a long flight and unable to respond, his press aide said in an email.
With Emily Ngo