Despite Takedown And Legal Threat, Bannon Says He Still Backs Trump
Updated at 11:40 p.m. ET
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon says that he still believes President Trump is "a great man" and that he supports Trump "day in and day out."
He made the comments despite the fact that Trump eviscerated Bannon on Wednesday in a cutting public statement.
"Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency," Trump said. "When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."
Trump's takedown came after Bannon was quoted in a new book — Fire And Fury: Inside Trump's White House by Michael Wolff — calling the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. and other top Trump campaign advisers took with Russian intermediaries in June 2016 "treasonous" and "unpatriotic."
The White House, however, continued to take a hard line against Bannon on Thursday. During the daily press briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders claimed that she wasn't aware that Bannon and Trump were "ever particularly close." There's plenty of evidence to the contrary though, given that Bannon was among Trump's highest-ranking campaign and White House staffers, and reportedly had walk-in privileges to the Oval Office.
And when asked whether the pro-Trump Breitbart News, which Bannon returned to after leaving the White House, should consider parting ways with its chairman given his criticisms of Trump, Sanders said "I certainly think it's something they should look at."
Taking to Twitter the president fired off a late-night salvo — he'd never granted Wolff access to the White House, Trump tweeted, saying the book was "full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don't exist," and referring to Bannon as "Sloppy Steve."
Wolff says his book is based on more than 200 interviews with Bannon and other top Trump advisers. But Sanders also disputed the reported wide-ranging access Wolff was granted, saying that at least 30 requests for access were denied, including two dozen requests for a one-on-one interview with Trump, which he was never granted.
Trump's public and blunt distancing from his onetime top campaign and White House aide was followed by a legal threat. On Wednesday night, Beverly Hills-based lawyer Charles J. Harder sent Bannon a letter claiming his interviews with Wolff violated a nondisclosure agreement he had signed with the Trump campaign.
The cease-and-desist letter threatened a lawsuit. However, throughout his business and political career, Trump has consistently threatened adversaries with litigation and often never followed up with actual lawsuits.
Still, Bannon insists he continues to support Trump. He made the brief statement on a late-night Breitbart News radio show broadcast on SiriusXM — a program that, by and large, ignored the Trump-Bannon blowup that had dominated the news cycle everywhere else.
Bannon and other panelists discussed immigration and the coming debate over whether to provide permanent protections for enrollees in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Bannon only addressed the feud when a caller specifically mentioned it.
Trump took notice of the compliment. At the beginning of a meeting with Republican lawmakers about immigration policy, Trump told reporters, "I don't know, he called me a great man last night, so, you know, he obviously changed his tune pretty quick." Trump went on to say that he and Bannon do not speak on the phone anymore.
President Trump on Steve Bannon: "He called me a great man last night, so he obviously changed his tune pretty quick ... I don't talk to him" pic.twitter.com/gMffRI0tmx— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 4, 2018
On Thursday morning, Wolff published a column on The Hollywood Reporter's website explaining how the new book came about. Wolff said that shortly after Trump's 2016 win, he asked the president-elect for access to write about the incoming administration. Trump didn't say yes, but didn't say no, Wolff writes:
"Since the new White House was often uncertain about what the president meant or did not mean in any given utterance, his non-disapproval became a kind of passport for me to hang around — checking in each week at the Hay-Adams hotel, making appointments with various senior staffers who put my name in the 'system,' and then wandering across the street to the White House and plunking myself down, day after day, on a West Wing couch."
Wolff describes a White House staff that became increasingly alarmed at Trump's disinterest in governing, chaotic management style and seething rage.
"For Rex Tillerson, he was a moron," he writes. "For Gary Cohn, he was dumb as [s***]. For H.R. McMaster, he was a hopeless idiot. For Steve Bannon, he had lost his mind."
Many of the staffers quoted in the book are denying its details, and the White House is dismissing it as "trashy tabloid fiction." Trump's lawyer, Harder, followed up on his Bannon cease-and-desist letter with a similar note to Wolff and his publisher, warning that "your publication of the false/baseless statements about Mr. Trump gives rises to, among other claims, defamation by libel."
But Trump's high-profile incendiary response to Bannon only heightened the attention being focused on the book. Shortly after Trump's statement was distributed to the press Wednesday, Fire And Fury had shot to the top slot of Amazon's best-seller list.
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