“They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
That’s one of the tamer things Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, had to say about the Russia investigation in a forthcoming book on the first year of a volatile presidency, according to The Guardian, a British newspaper that got its hands on a copy of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by Michael Wolff.
Bannon, who left the White House last year, unloaded on the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign staff who met with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton (an offer Trump Jr. responded to with “I love it.”), including that he thought the meeting was treasonous.
“The three senior guys in the campaign 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,” Bannon told Wolff, according to the Guardian. “They didn’t have any lawyers.
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad . . . and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
Bannon said that even if the meeting had been a good idea, it should have been “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people” according to the Guardian, and that any info gleaned from it should have been dumped to a friendly news organization, like Breitbart News, which Bannon is the chairman of.
“You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to . . . But that’s the brain trust that they had,” he said, according to the Guardian.
Also in the June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya were Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to news reports.
On Wednesday afternoon, when a lengthy excerpt of Wolff’s book was published in New York magazine, the White House issued a statement from Trump saying Bannon had “lost his mind.”
“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 in the statement. “It is the only thing he does well.”
As he has in the past, Trump also sought to minimize Bannon’s contributions on the campaign and in the White House, saying “Steve had very little to do with our historic victory” and “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.”
The Trump Tower meeting is reported to be of strong interest to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading an investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Mueller’s team has reportedly been speaking with participants in the meeting, according to multiple media reports.
The investigation has already led to a guilty plea on a perjury charge from Michael Flynn, who was briefly the national security adviser before he resigned amid revelations about his meetings with the Russian ambassador in December 2016. Manafort has been indicted on tax fraud and money-laundering charges from his business dealings before joining the campaign, and Kushner’s actions during the campaign are also reportedly being scrutinized by Mueller’s team.
Wolff’s book — which the Guardian said was “reportedly based on more than 200 interviews with the president, his inner circle and players in and around the administration” — heavily features Bannon, who also led Trump’s presidential campaign during the last months before the election.
The book “lifts the lid on a White House lurching from crisis to crisis amid internecine warfare, with even some of Trump’s closest allies expressing contempt for him,” the Guardian reported. Bannon is “a central figure in the nasty, cutthroat drama, quoted extensively, often in salty language.”
The Guardian said it obtained a copy of “Fire and Fury” from a New England bookseller. Michael Wolff, the author, is a prominent American journalist, essayist, and columnist with writing appearing across a range of magazines. The book is scheduled to be released on Tuesday.
Before he joined Trump’s campaign, Bannon led Breitbart News, the right-wing, consipiracy-fueled news outlet that Bannon called the “platform for the alt-right,” the self-described offshoot of conservatism that mixes racism, white nationalism, and populism.
After Trump’s election, Bannon was appointed as chief strategist in the White House, where he was a shadowy, abrasive presence. He especially clashed with the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Kushner. That tension is detailed in “Fire and Fury,” the Guardian reported: “Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, is quoted as saying: ‘It is a war between the Jews and the non-Jews.’ ” (Ivanka Trump and Kushner are Jewish.)
Inside the Trump campaign and White House, Bannon worked to stoke the president’s nationalist instincts. Bannon took the lead on the botched first attempt at a Muslim travel ban, and clashed with other White House officials on issues that included trade with China, airstrikes on Syria, and staffing in the State and Defense departments.
In ”Fire and Fury”, Bannon also offers his opinions on the scope of the Mueller investigation.
“You realize where this is going,” he is quoted as saying, according to the Guardian. “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to . . . Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner . . . It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”
Trump and his surrogates have dismissed the Russia investigation, branding it a “witch hunt” and “fake news,” with the president repeatedly insisting there was “no collusion.”
Bannon told Wolff that he thinks numerous reports of the White House’s hopes for a quick end to the investigation are overly optimistic, according to the Guardian:
“They’re sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five.”