Staff Writer Jax Gay
President Trump on Wednesday ripped former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon for his incendiary criticism of the president and his family published in a new book.
In a blistering statement issued by the White House, Trump said Bannon has "lost his mind" and claimed he had “no influence” within the West Wing.
“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 sought to undercut the veracity of comments attributed to Bannon, once one of Trump's closest aides, that appear in the forthcoming book by Michael Wolff, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House."
"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," 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," the president added.
Earlier Wednesday, excerpts from the book leaked that quoted Bannon describing a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between a Russian lawyer and Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign chairman as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
Bannon also said he believed the Russians were taken to meet Trump following the meeting, something the president has denied.
"They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV," Bannon reportedly predicted, referring to the president’s eldest son.
The book, which supposedly draws on more than 200 interviews, is full of explosive claims about Trump, his family and his staff, and paints a picture of a campaign and administration wracked by chaos and infighting.
Bannon and his allies were caught off guard by the release of the book excerpts and were bracing for more excerpts with explosive quotes to drop in the coming days. Bannon, who was ousted from the White House last August, is quoted frequently as a central figure in Trump World.
The former White House strategist has not yet responded to Trump’s statement and it did not appear that a statement was forthcoming. Sources in Bannon’s immediate orbit did not respond to texts and phone calls.
The president’s statement came as part of a full-court press by the White House against the book.
“This book is filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a subsequent statement. “Participating in a book that can only be described as trashy tabloid fiction exposes their sad, desperate attempts at relevancy.”
Stephanie Grisham, the communications director for Melania Trump, denied vivid claims in Wolff's book that the first lady cried tears of sadness after Trump’s election victory.
“The book is clearly going to be sold in the bargain fiction section,” said Grisham. “Mrs. Trump supported her husband's decision to run for president and in fact, encouraged him to do so. She was confident he would win and was very happy when he did.”
Wolff said he had wide-ranging access to the White House during the earliest days of Trump’s presidency.
The author said he was able to take up “something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing” shortly after the inauguration at the urging of the president, according to a note published by New York magazine, which ran an excerpt from the book.
Reporters spotted Wolff entering the West Wing in February and April 2017. But the total number of visits is hard to verify because the White House keeps its visitor logs secret.
Earlier in the day, Breitbart News aggregated Bannon’s quote about Donald Trump Jr.’s actions as being “treasonous” — which seemed to be an implicit endorsement of the remarks.
The notion that Trump Jr. bumbled his way into the middle of the Russia controversy while doing the bidding of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is widely held among Bannon and his allies, where there is anger at Trump Jr. for creating a political mess for his father.
“I agree with Steve, why would Donald Trump Jr. take that meeting?,” said one source close to Bannon. “I don’t think he’s actively committing treason but it is just so idiotic. Look, I’m a huge fan of Don Jr., I just feel bad for the guy because this is Jared’s game and he’s just caught up in this mess now."
In interviews with Bannon’s allies conducted before Trump’s statement, there was some optimism that the president would look past Bannon’s remarks and chalk them up as “fake news."
“I’ve seen some people complaining about their quotes so [it] wouldn’t surprise me if some of Steve’s stuff was victim of that too,” said one person close to Bannon.
But Bannon’s remarks about Trump Jr. caught on with help from influential conservative aggregator Matt Drudge, who led his website with the story.
“Drudge is tight with Jared, so it’s no surprise that he’d drive that storyline,” said one former White House adviser. In a tweet, Drudge called Bannon "schizophrenic."
The book added to the swirl of controversy that has enveloped the White House shortly after Trump’s return to Washington this week from his holiday vacation in Florida.
Trump came under heavy fire from his critics late Tuesday for goading North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over his nuclear arsenal.
Now, Trump finds himself at war with one of his closest political allies.
After exiting the White House last summer, Bannon returned to his perch as chairman of Breitbart News, the far-right publication that has billed itself as the voice of Trump’s base.
Bannon has also tried to position himself as a kingmaker in Republican primary races ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
But Trump blasted Bannon’s political instincts, saying he had “everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans.”
“Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself,” Trump said in his statement.
Trump also endorsed the GOP nominee, Roy Moore, who lost the election amid multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.
“Thanks Steve. Keep up the great work,” Trump Jr. tweeted in response to a reporter who noted Democrat Doug Jones swearing in as senator.
The political operation of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a fierce Bannon critic, piled on. Its Twitter account posted a short video clip of McConnell grinning after Trump’s statement was released.
Trump’s tone on Wednesday stood in stark contrast to his reaction after Bannon’s departure from the White House.
"I want to thank Steve Bannon for his service. He came to the campaign during my run against Crooked Hillary Clinton - it was great! Thanks S” he tweeted at the time.
Bannon remained in Trump’s orbit. The president and his former top strategist spoke over the phone several times about the Senate races and the Russia investigation.