Bannon's main argument is that his “treasonous” comments about that Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer have been misconstrued. Donald Trump Jr. wasn't the target of them, Bannon insists, but rather it was another person in the room: Paul Manafort.
“My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate,” Bannon said of the former Trump campaign chairman, who is under indictment for issues unrelated to the campaign. “He should have known [the Russians] are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr.”
Bannon added: “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.”
This is a familiar tack. Those close to Trump have regularly infantilized the now-40-year-old presidential son in an effort to suggest he was simply out of his element when he arranged the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-tied lawyer who Trump Jr. had been told brought dirt about Hillary Clinton with her. The president repeatedly referred to his son as a “young man” and a “kid” in the days after news of the meeting broke. Other sources have described him as an “honest kid” who really just wanted to go hunting. Here, Bannon is basically saying Trump Jr. couldn't be expected to know that the meeting was treasonous, but that Manafort should have. (For what it's worth, treason is a crime that requires intent.)
But in his comments about how the meeting was “treasonous,” Bannon alluded to Trump Jr. — apparently twice. He did not appear to mention Manafort by name.
Here's how Wolff reported the comments:
“The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the 26th floor is zero,” said an astonished and derisive Bannon, not long after the meeting was revealed. “The three senior guys in the campaign,” an incredulous Bannon went on, “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. They didn’t have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s--t, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
“The three senior guys in the campaign” appears to be a reference to Trump Jr., Manafort and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior White House adviser. They, after all, were the only members of the campaign who were actually in that meeting with Veselnitskaya and four others.
So Bannon intended his criticism only for Manafort, but he lumped Trump Jr. and Kushner in with Manafort before making the treasonous comment? And he named Trump Jr. personally, but not Manafort? That doesn't pass the smell test. If Bannon meant this only for Manafort, you would think he'd call him out by name. But he doesn't; in fact, he seems to think everyone involved was at fault.
And Trump Jr., it bears noting, played the biggest role in actually setting up the meeting. So to the extent you criticize the meeting, it's difficult not to read that as a criticism of the guy who actually coordinated the whole thing.
All of this, of course, assumes that the quote is accurate. Wolff's record for factual accuracy is taking a beating, and others have disputed his quotes of them. But Bannon has never said the quotes are wrong, and the way in which it's written sure makes it sound like he thinks Trump Jr. played a significant role in that “treasonous” meeting and bore plenty of blame. It's clear why he'd want President Trump to think he only intended to go after Manafort, given that's their common enemy. But that's a pretty big stretch, assuming the quotes are genuine.