Stephen K. Bannon in Midland City, Ala. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)
Columnist

I'm pretty sure he meant "jamokes."

Stephen K. Bannon, former political strategist to President Trump, said many colorful things last year to author Michael Wolff. Among the most widely quoted is Bannon's speculation that Trump's son introduced his father to the Russian visitors he hosted at Trump Tower in June 2016. "The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father's office on the 26th floor is zero," Bannon blabbed.

Though it contributed to Bannon's exile from the Trumpiverse and likely caught the eye of federal investigators, this quote was music to those of us who love Damon Runyon, mob hits at Sparks Steak House, pump-and-dump stock traders and all things vintage New York. "Walk these jumos" — it's the spoken equivalent of a rat feasting brazenly atop a snow-coned garbage can.

We must find our consolations where we can, and one of mine this crazy past year has been hearing gangster slang slathered over the dry toast of conventional West Wing verbiage. Pope's advice to poets, "the sound must seem an echo to the sense," comes to life in the New Yawk patois of this New Yorker's White House.

Anthony Scaramucci's brief reign as White House communications director was the high point. He called himself "the Mooch" (of course!) and deployed the f-bomb like Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas." But Bannon has been tireless in carrying the wiseguy torch. Liberals, in his lexicon, view Trump supporters as "grundoons" (from the long-defunct comic strip "Pogo"). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a "shmendrick" (Yiddish for idiot). People who disagree with him are "mooks" (New York has many words for idiot). Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner wields a "shiv" (a deadly homemade knife).

Like "covfefe," however, "jumos" appears to be a fake word. Surely Bannon said, or meant to say, "jamokes," a venerable jewel of city slang that originally referred to coffee ("java" plus "mocha") but was adapted by tough guys to mean — you guessed it — idiots.

I don't know whether Don Jr. walked the jamokes to the 26th floor or not. And I suspect Bannon doesn't, either.

What I do know is that Bannon is the latest in a rich history of presidential aides spilling beans to hungry ears. Working at the White House confers instant glamour on people not normally considered glamorous: policy nerds and politics junkies.

When John Nicolay and John Hay, the young secretaries to President Abraham Lincoln, sat for their nightly suppers at Willard's Hotel, they were the center of attention in a room often filled with congressmen and generals. Hay especially enjoyed "holding court among the belles." Lincoln was savvy enough to use the two men as cat's paws to plant favorable tidbits with the ravenous press.

Truly Bannonesque leakage awaited two more recent developments, it seems to me. The first is a style of writing, pioneered by Theodore White in his smash bestseller "The Making of the President, 1960," which used background interviews, woven with other sources of information, plus personal observation, to create a fly-on-the-wall narrative of drama in the corridors of power. What White did for presidential campaigns, Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward has done for multiple West Wing administrations — in addition to the Supreme Court, the Pentagon, the CIA and the Federal Reserve.

Armies of omniscient narrators, channeling unnamed sources, have followed in their footsteps, often less scrupulously. Meanwhile, the presidential staff has grown from a pair of bachelors at a table in the Willard's dining room to number in the hundreds. There's at least a measure of anonymity in the crowd, as one president after another has learned when trying to ferret out the sources of various leaks.

Presidential aide-turned-broadcaster George Stephanopoulos once tried to explain the mixed motivations a staffer might have for engaging in conversation with the writer of such a book. Ego is a factor: Everyone in Washington enjoys feeling like a well-wired big shot. But so is self-defense. After all, Trump's administration is hardly the first to be riven by internal skirmishing, and no one wants to sit silently by as a rival faction feeds the press.

"[Woodward's] books invariably created embarrassing headlines for their subjects, but his sources were assumed to be the most important, connected and knowledgeable people in Washington," Stephanopoulos wrote. "I was wary of Woodward, but flattered and curious too."

As much as I like the jumos or jamokes, I can't vouch for Wolff's effort. But I've glimpsed what it takes to do this sort of work well. Years ago, I had a source in the George W. Bush administration, a fairly anonymous fellow at the time, midway down the pecking order. I knew his wife had had a baby, and I hurried to call with warm wishes.

"You guys at The Post are so nice," he said when I reached him at the bedside. "Bob Woodward was just here with flowers."

Read more from David Von Drehle's archive.