President Trump’s former chief strategist — who suffered a public falling-out with the White House last week after he was quoted as criticizing the president and his family in a new book — offered an apology of sorts Sunday, praising Trump in a public statement and trying to soften the earlier scathing comments.
In the controversial book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff, Stephen K. Bannon — Trump’s former top strategist, who now heads the conservative Breitbart News — describes a meeting that Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner had with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” The book also quotes Bannon as describing Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, as “dumb as a brick.”
In his statement Sunday, first provided to Axios, Bannon praises both Trump Jr. and his father.
“Donald Trump, Jr. is both a patriot and a good man,” Bannon says in the statement. “He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around. My support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda — as I have shown daily in my national radio broadcasts, on the pages of Breitbart News and in speeches and appearances from Tokyo and Hong Kong to Arizona and Alabama. President Trump was the only candidate that could have taken on and defeated the Clinton apparatus. I am the only person to date to conduct a global effort to preach the message of Trump and Trumpism; and remain ready to stand in the breach for this president’s efforts to make America great again.”
After excerpts from the book leaked early last week, the White House decried it as pure “fiction,” but the president reserved his fiercest anger for Bannon, who was pushed from the White House in August yet — over the objection of many aides — remained in Trump’s orbit, with the two men speaking by phone occasionally. Many in the president’s circle had been urging Trump for weeks to publicly distance himself from Bannon and used the fallout from the book to persuade the president to sever ties with him.
The president was furious with Bannon, and he and his team quickly issued a private ultimatum: Allies had to choose sides — they either support the president or they support Bannon. There could be no middle ground.
At Camp David this weekend, Trump “unloaded” on Bannon, a White House official said, and was greeted with praise by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, among others.
Bannon’s statement seemed aimed at trying to fix the rupture. Already isolated from the Republican Party establishment, the fight over the book has left Bannon further alienated, with one of his chief financial backers, Rebekah Mercer, issuing a rare public rebuke of him in which she promised to sever ties. At Breitbart, where Bannon is chairman, there was even debate among the company’s leaders over whether they could force Bannon from his top perch.
The statement, one person close to him said, was as much about stanching the defections of supporters and potential backers as it was about appeasing the president. Bannon continues to criticize Kushner and Ivanka Trump in private and calls Trump a “vessel,” an ally said, while casting himself as something of a revolutionary in the conservative movement.
In recent days, Bannon has tried to convince allies that all will be okay — even texting “Onward!” to one of them — but seems jolted and “even more manic than normal,” in the words of one person who has spoken to him. He has remained ensconced in his Capitol Hill townhouse, with a rope on the steps blocking people from coming. “STOP!” the large red sign reads, urging visitors to check in downstairs.
He has kept some of his security detail, even as Mercer has cut financial ties.
“He knows he is at his lowest point,” one ally said. “He won’t tell you that, but he knows it.”
Bannon claimed in his statement that the comments in the book were aimed not at Trump or his family but at Paul Manafort — Trump’s former campaign chairman, who resigned and is facing charges as part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation — who, Bannon said, should have known how the Russians — whom he called “duplicitous, cunning and not our friends” — operate.
“To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr.,” Bannon said. In the book, however, Bannon is quoted as saying that Mueller’s investigation would probably focus on money laundering and that “they’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
Bannon’s statement continued: “Everything I have to say about the ridiculous nature of the Russian ‘collusion’ investigation I said on my 60 Minutes interview. There was no collusion and the investigation is a witch hunt. I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”
As soon as excerpts from Wolff’s book leaked out in the media, many of Bannon’s friends and colleagues urged him to release a statement defending himself. But before he could do so, the White House released a personal statement from Trump, who claimed that his former adviser had “lost his mind.”
At first, Bannon did not want to apologize, people who have spoken to him said. But after meeting with allies and advisers, he reportedly grew convinced that things would only get worse unless he did.
Those close to Bannon said that as the controversy unfolded, he seemed eager to find a way to try to repair his relationship with the president. On Sunday, he finally released a mea culpa.
Others have said that Bannon has told them that Trump will eventually come back around when he needs him and that he plans to use his Breitbart platform to wage fights with the party establishment over spending and immigration this spring.
But whether Bannon will have the clout — or any allies — to launch such fights remains unclear. White House officials said Sunday that there was no immediate desire to accept his apology, though one added that Trump had harbored an inexplicable soft spot for Bannon for months, even as his allies told him to dump the former chief strategist.