Trump says Steve Bannon 'lost his mind' in dramatic breakup
President Donald Trump denounced his former top strategist, Steve Bannon, on Wednesday in a dramatic break from the man considered an architect of Trump’s populist campaign.
"When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind," Trump said in a statement issued after the publication of excerpts of a new book in which Bannon criticizes the president and his family. "Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look."
Bannon has lost the access to the president that he’s enjoyed since leaving the White House in August, one person familiar with the matter said. Trump’s lawyers sent Bannon a cease-and-desist letter, threatening legal action and accusing him of violating a non-disclosure agreement, ABC News reported.
Earlier on Wednesday, The Guardian published excerpts of a forthcoming book by author Michael Wolff in which Bannon predicts that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will "crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV" over the president’s son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016. Bannon also called Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with the lawyer, in which he expected to receive damaging information on Trump’s election opponent Hillary Clinton, "treasonous" and "unpatriotic," according to the Guardian. Bloomberg News later obtained a copy of the book.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at a briefing that Trump was "furious, disgusted" by Bannon’s remarks about his son, calling the claims "outrageous" and "completely false."
Bannon, reached by Bloomberg News, declined to comment on the remarks published by the Guardian. Two people close to him said he wasn’t bothered by the president’s statement. They asked not to be identified discussing Bannon’s reaction.
New York Magazine also published an article by Wolff on Wednesday, based on the book, that recounts a conversation between Bannon and former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes in which the two men debated whether Trump understood the importance of his election.
"'Does he get it?' asked Ailes suddenly, looking intently at Bannon. Did Trump get where history had put him?" Wolff wrote. "Bannon took a sip of water. 'He gets it,' he said, after hesitating for perhaps a beat too long. 'Or he gets what he gets.'"
In his 265-word statement, Trump went on to indict Bannon for some of his activities at the White House and afterward. He blamed him for the loss of a Republican Senate seat in Alabama in a special election last month and accused him of leaking to news reporters while he served as the White House chief strategist.
"Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country," Trump said. "Yet Steve 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."
Bannon backed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore over Trump’s preferred candidate, incumbent Senator Luther Strange, in a primary election for the Alabama seat. Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones in the special election after several women accused him of sexual misconduct while they were teenagers.
Trump Jr. also declined to comment, but re-tweeted a Bloomberg News reporter’s tweet about the outcome of the Alabama election with the comment: "Thanks Steve. Keep up the great work."
"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," Trump said. "It is the only thing he does well. 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."
In addition to Wolff’s book, titled "Fire and Fury: Inside Trump’s White House," Bannon was the subject of a best-selling book published last year by Bloomberg Businessweek writer Joshua Green, "Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency."
Green’s book has been optioned by Blumhouse Television, which has hired screenwriter Christopher Wilkinson to turn the biography into a two-part, four-hour drama.
Trump complimented Bannon when he left the White House in August, saying he "would be a tough and smart new voice at" his website, Breitbart News. "Maybe even better than before. Fake News needs the competition!"
And Bannon boasted at a private luncheon in Hong Kong in September that he spoke with Trump by phone every two to three days, according to two people who attended.
After Trump issued his statement on Bannon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign staff tweeted a GIF image of the Kentucky Republican sitting at his desk, grinning. Bannon, a populist and nationalist who considers much of the Republican establishment corrupt, has said Senate Republicans should replace McConnell and has sought to recruit people to run against McConnell’s favored candidates in Republican primaries, including in Alabama.
Wolff, who New York Magazine said conducted more than 200 interviews for his book including with the president and most of his senior staff, also reported that Trump never expected to win the election and had promised his wife, Melania, that he wouldn’t be president. She "was in tears -- and not of joy" on election night as it became clear Trump would beat Clinton, Wolff reported.
"The book is clearly going to be sold in the bargain fiction section," Melania Trump’s spokesman, Stephanie Grisham, said in a statement. "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 reported that friends Trump phoned at night after leaving the Oval Office for the day would leak details of the conversations to reporters and that many of them consider him ignorant. Rupert Murdoch, co-chairman of Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. and a close Trump confidante, called him an "idiot" – preceded by an expletive – after one such call, Wolff wrote.
Trump’s longtime friend Thomas Barrack called the president "not only crazy" but "stupid," Wolff reported. Barrack issued a statement denying that he made the comments on Wednesday, and said he had not been interviewed by Wolff.
Wolff portrays Trump’s top three advisers at the beginning of his presidency – Bannon, senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former chief of staff Reince Priebus – as consumed by infighting and frequently unable to coordinate strategy.
He wrote that a former deputy chief of staff who also left last year, Katie Walsh, was frustrated by the chaos of Trump’s White House and by the president himself, and quoted her saying that working for him was "like trying to figure out what a child wants."
Other revelations may prove more damaging to the White House in the long-term. Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, allegedly justified a pre-election speaking engagement paid for by Russians by saying it would only present a conflict of interest "if we won."
"This book is filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House," Sanders said in a statement. "Participating in a book that can only be described as trashy tabloid fiction exposes their sad desperate attempts at relevancy."
Sanders told reporters at a briefing that Wolff never "sat down" with the president for his book and has only spoken with Trump for about five to seven minutes since he took office. She described Wolff’s access to the White House and its staff as engineered by Bannon, and said that the White House believes most other officials who spoke with Wolff "did so at the request of Mr. Bannon."