President Trump severed ties angrily with former adviser Steve Bannon on Wednesday in a stunningly public feud that erupted with the release of a book in which the self-styled populist criticizes the president’s son for a “treasonous” meeting with Russians during the 2016 campaign and predicts that the special counsel’s investigation will reach the president himself.
The president, described by staffers as “furious and disgusted,” said his former aide had “lost his mind.”
Mr. Bannon, a key campaign aide who served as White House strategist until last summer, is quoted by author Michael Wolff as describing an infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians as “unpatriotic.” He said the younger Mr. Trump and others on the campaign team, who were seeking dirt on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, should have alerted federal law enforcement about the Russian operatives.
NEW this am: Trump attorneys send cease-and-desist letter this morning to Wolff and book publisher @HenryHolt demanding they stop publication and issue an apology to @realDonaldTrump for defamatory statements made thus far.
— Carol Leonnig (@CarolLeonnig) January 4, 2018
“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. They didn’t have any lawyers,” Mr. Bannon said in the book. “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad sh–, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
The book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” is set to be released next week. New York Magazine published excerpts Wednesday depicting Mr. Trump as a candidate who didn’t want to win the presidency and was unprepared to govern.
The author is said to have interviewed about 200 people, including White House staffers and Trump confidantes.
Mr. Trump took aim at Mr. Bannon alone, lashing out at the Breitbart news chief in a lengthy statement.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Mr. Trump said. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself. 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 president said Mr. Bannon spent all his time at the White House leaking to the media — “the only thing he does well.”
As the political furor intensified on social media and at the White House, Mr. Bannon said on Twitter that at least part of his comments in the book had been taken out of context. But by then, the president had essentially banished him to the political wilderness.
It was the messy end to an uneasy alliance between Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon, who joined the campaign team in the summer of 2016 after Mr. Trump had vanquished 16 other candidates in the Republican primary field. Mr. Trump chafed at credit to Mr. Bannon as the “architect” of his victory over Mrs. Clinton, believing he deserved most of the plaudits for his winning campaign.
In the White House, Mr. Bannon assumed the role of defining the Trump “America First” agenda, emphasizing better trade deals for blue-collar workers, cutting regulations to boost the economy and forging stronger immigration policies.
But last summer, Mr. Bannon took much of the blame for encouraging a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one counterdemonstrator dead.
Soon after that, Mr. Bannon gave an interview to the liberal American Prospect magazine in which he undercut Mr. Trump’s aggressive posture toward North Korea by saying there was no military solution to the nuclear impasse.
By August, he was forced out after the arrival of John F. Kelly as White House chief of staff.
Mr. Bannon said he was taking on a new role to recruit and promote Trump-style candidates for Congress as allies for the president’s agenda. But his effort flamed out spectacularly in Alabama’s special Senate election last month, when Republican nominee Roy Moore lost the race after numerous reports of sexual misconduct with young women and girls.
“Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look,” Mr. Trump said. “Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans.”
Asked by a reporter why the president’s statement about Mr. Bannon was harsh, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited “a number of factors.”
“I would certainly think that going after the president’s son in an absolutely outrageous and unprecedented way is probably not the best way to curry favor with anybody,” she said.
In Mr. Wolff’s book, Mr. Bannon also angered the White House with ominous predictions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. He said the investigation into suspected collusion with Moscow will focus on money laundering and predicted: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
Mr. Bannon indicates that the White House is misguided in its hope that the special counsel’s investigation will end soon.
“You realize where this is going,” he is quoted as saying. “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to f—ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner. It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”
In a reference to the German financial institution that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to Mr. Kushner’s family real estate business, Mr. Bannon said in the book: “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner sh–. The Kushner sh– is greasy. They’re going to go right through that. They’re going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me.”
Noting the outpouring of reaction to the story on Breitbart’s website, Donald Trump Jr. commented on Twitter, “Wow, Just looked at the comments section on Breitbart. Wow. When Bannon has lost Breitbart, he’s left with umm, nothing.”
The president’s son tweeted, “Steve had the honor of working in the White House & serving the country. Unfortunately, he squandered that privilege & turned that opportunity into a nightmare of backstabbing, harassing, leaking, lying & undermining the President. Steve is not a strategist, he is an opportunist.”
Mr. Trump Jr. said that Breitbart founder Andrew Breitbart “would be ashamed of the division and lies Steve Bannon is spreading!”
Mrs. Sanders called the treason claim against Donald Trump Jr. ridiculous and noted that Mr. Bannon told “60 Minutes” in September that the Russia investigation was a farce and a waste of time.
The White House called the book, which depicts a campaign staff that fully expected to lose to Mrs. Clinton and first lady Melania Trump distraught at winning, as “trashy fiction.”
“This book is filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House,” Mrs. Sanders said. “Participating in a book that can only be described as trashy tabloid fiction exposes their sad, desperate attempts at relevancy.”
A spokeswoman for Mrs. Trump also rejected the book’s assertion that she didn’t want her husband to win the presidency.
“The book is clearly going to be sold in the bargain fiction section. Mrs. Trump supported her husband’s decision to run for president and, in fact, encouraged him to do so,” said her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham. “She was confident he would win and was very happy when he did.”
The author describes Mr. Trump as “horrified” that he won.
“The decisions that Trump and his top advisers made in those first few months — from the slapdash transition to the disarray in the West Wing — set the stage for the chaos and dysfunction that have persisted throughout his first year in office,” Mr. Wolff writes.
The book also depicts the nontraditional nature of Mr. Trump’s presidency as a businessman and Washington outsider in unflattering terms.
“Nothing contributed to the chaos and dysfunction of the White House as much as Trump’s own behavior,” Mr. Wolff writes. “The big deal of being president was just not apparent to him. Trump, in fact, found the White House to be vexing and even a little scary. He retreated to his own bedroom — the first time since the Kennedy White House that a presidential couple had maintained separate rooms.”
It characterizes the president as reprimanding the housekeeping staff, “If my shirt is on the floor, it’s because I want it on the floor.” “Then he imposed a set of new rules: Nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush. (He had a longtime fear of being poisoned, one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s — nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade.) Also, he would let housekeeping know when he wanted his sheets done, and he would strip his own bed,” the book states.
A former deputy chief of staff, Katie Walsh, who quit after a few months, is quoted describing working in the West Wing as trying to ascertain the wishes of a child. She denies having said that.
The president said that neither the book nor Mr. Bannon will deter his work.
“We have many great Republican members of Congress and candidates who are very supportive of the Make America Great Again agenda,” Mr. Trump said. “Like me, they love the United States of America and are helping to finally take our country back and build it up, rather than simply seeking to burn it all down.”
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