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An isolated Steve Bannon scrambles to make amends with Trump

Steve Bannon has backed away from comments he made about President Trump’s family.Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News/File 2017

WASHINGTON — Isolated from his political allies and cut off from his financial patrons, Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, issued a striking mea culpa on Sunday for comments he had made that were critical of the president’s eldest son.

Bannon, who is quoted in a new book calling Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians in 2016 “treasonous,” tried to reverse his statements, saying that the younger Trump was “both a patriot and a good man.”

He said his reference to “treason” had not been aimed at the president’s son but at another campaign official who attended the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Paul Manafort.


“My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate,” Bannon said, in a statement first reported by Axios. “He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr.”

On Sunday, the administration continued its assault on Bannon, with Trump’s senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, saying in a heated interview on CNN that comments by Bannon in the new book were “out of touch with reality,” “vindictive,” and “grotesque.”

In the book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by Michael Wolff, Bannon said Trump had “lost his stuff,” and he described the meeting with Russians attended by Donald Trump Jr. and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as potentially treasonous.

Miller, in his defense of the president, called him a “political genius” who could rattle off complete paragraphs on the fly in response to news events and then deliver them “flawlessly” to a campaign audience. On Saturday, the president, responding to the book’s depiction of his actions in office as erratic, had called himself a “very stable genius.”

The president had returned Sunday to the White House from Camp David, where he met with Republican leaders in Congress, Cabinet officials, and senior staff members to set priorities for the year. After an initial message on Twitter that focused on policy matters, Trump joined the offensive against the book and the media coverage of it.


“I’ve had to put up with the Fake News from the first day I announced that I would be running for President,” he wrote on Twitter. “Now I have to put up with a Fake Book, written by a totally discredited author.”

Bannon has been the target of derision by the president, who has labeled him “Sloppy Steve” and has said he played a far lesser role in Trump’s political rise than he has been given credit for.

Even out of favor, Bannon has said he remains a champion of the president’s agenda.

Miller had become a Bannon protégé of sorts during the time Miller worked for Attorney General Jeff Sessions when Sessions was in the Senate. He became one of the leading voices on the right calling for tighter controls on legal and illegal immigration.

The two men shared not just a nationalist-tinged conservative view on policy but a desire for political provocation. Bannon and Trump were delighted by and cheered on some of Miller’s more infamous and combative episodes with the media, such as when he chastised a CNN reporter for displaying “cosmopolitan bias” in his understanding of the White House’s immigration positions.

Miller, however, bristled at the suggestion that he was a Bannon creation, a perception Bannon often encouraged.


Bannon’s allies understood the White House’s moves this past week to be an act of ruthless political war much like Bannon himself might have waged during his time in the administration.

They said they believed that the president and senior aides such as Kellyanne Conway, who is close to Rebekah Mercer, the billionaire who issued a rare statement last week disavowing Bannon, were sending activists and donors a clear message: He is persona non grata in conservative politics. Mercer is a partial owner of Breitbart News, the hard-right website where Bannon is executive chairman but where his future is now in doubt.

‘‘Bannon’s apology had nothing to do with repairing the relationship with Trump,’’ said Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax and a Trump confidante. ‘‘It had everything to do with repairing his relationship with Trump supporters who read Breitbart and big donors he depends on.’’

On Sunday, Miller had the political leverage. He cast as false the perception that Bannon had ever played a Svengali-like role in the presidential campaign and the White House.

He said Bannon’s role had been “greatly exaggerated,” even as Tapper ticked off a long list of policies he said Bannon had played a key role in formulating.

The interview, on the program “State of the Union,” quickly grew heated as Tapper accused Miller of being “obsequious” and speaking to an “audience of one.” Before it ended, Tapper told Miller that he was wasting his audience’s time.


Tapper then turned to the camera, as Miller was speaking, and cut to a commercial.

A short time later, the president praised his aide on Twitter.

“Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration,” Trump wrote. “Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!”

In addition to assailing Bannon, Miller sharply criticized Wolff and his book, saying it “is best understood as a work of very poorly written fiction.”

Wolff, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” stood by the accuracy of his book and contradicted the White House account of how often he had talked to the president.

White House officials said their records showed that Wolff had last talked to the president in February, but the author said he had talked to the president several times after that. In all, Wolff said, he talked to the president for about three hours, which also included interviews during the campaign.

Wolff also repeated an assertion in the book that many in the White House had talked about the possible invocation of the 25th Amendment, a constitutional provision that permits a president’s powers to be transferred to the vice president when the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet or a body created by Congress conclude that the president is incapable of performing his duties.

“This is alarming in every way,” Wolff said, adding, “This is worse than everybody thought.”

Appearing on Sunday talk shows, others in Trump’s inner circle dismissed any such worries.


Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, said that he had no concerns about Trump’s ability to receive and process the kind of intelligence typically presented to presidents, and that Wolff’s descriptions of Trump’s mental state were “pure fantasy.”