Trump, claiming Bannon has ‘lost his mind’, sends ex-adviser cease-and-desist letter
President issues explosive rebuttal after former chief strategist says Don Jnr’s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower was ‘treasonous’ and ‘unpatriotic’
US President Donald Trump has hit back against his former trusted chief strategist, Steve Bannon, after the ex-adviser called the president’s son and his team “treasonous” for meeting a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Trump said in a statement that “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
A lawyer representing Trump also sent a cease-and-desist letter accusing Bannon of violating a non-disclosure agreement by speaking to the author of an upcoming book, US media reported Wednesday.
Excerpts from the book by Michael Wolff that were published on Wednesday sparked a firestorm in Washington.
Bannon was quoted as telling Wolff that a Trump Tower meeting between the president’s son, Don Jnr, and a group of Russians during the 2016 election campaign was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”.
Bannon also said that Don Jnr would “crack like an egg” under investigation and that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was involved in money laundering, according to Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.
The president was not pleased.
In his statement Trump downplayed his relationship with Bannon, despite the latter using his right-wing site, Breitbart News, to give him enormous support throughout the election.
“Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party,” Trump wrote.
“Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look.”
Instead he blamed Bannon for the loss of Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat to Democrat Doug Jones last month, after Bannon-backed candidate Roy Moore fell at the last hurdle following child abuse allegations.
He continued: “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. It is the only thing he does well.”
Trump also claimed that “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 phoney books.”
In a letter to Bannon quoted by US media, lawyer Charles Harder wrote: “You have breached the [non-disclosure] Agreement by, among other things, communicating with author Michael Wolff about Mr Trump, his family members” and his presidential campaign.
Additionally, the letter accused Bannon of “disclosing Confidential Information to Mr Wolff, and making disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements to Mr Wolff about Mr Trump, his family members.”
Bannon’s remarks in Wolff’s book, due for publication next week, emerged earlier on Wednesday.
Among the claims that Bannon made included a remark that the Mueller investigation would “crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
Fire and Fury, reportedly based on more than 200 interviews with the president, his inner circle and players in and around the administration, is one of the most eagerly awaited political books of the year.
In it, Wolff 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.
Bannon, who was chief executive of the Trump campaign in its final three months, then White House chief strategist for seven months before returning to the rightwing Breitbart News, is a central figure in the nasty, cutthroat drama, quoted extensively, often in salty language.
He is particularly scathing about a June 2016 meeting involving Trump’s son Donald Jnr, son-in-law Jared Kushner, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York.
A trusted intermediary had promised documents that would “incriminate” rival Hillary Clinton but instead of alerting the FBI to a potential assault on American democracy by a foreign power, Trump Jnr replied in an email: “I love it.”
The meeting was revealed by The New York Times in July last year, prompting Trump Jnr to say no consequential material was produced.
Watch: Manafort, Gates indicted in Mueller investigation
Soon after, Wolff writes, Bannon remarked mockingly: “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.
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s***, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
Bannon went on, Wolffe writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”.
Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.
Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brains trust that they had.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed last May, following Trump’s dismissal of FBI director James Comey, to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
This has led to the indictments of four members of Trump’s inner circle, including Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges; Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. In recent weeks Bannon’s Breitbart News and other conservative outlets have accused Mueller’s team of bias against the president.
Trump predicted in an interview with The New York Times last week that the special counsel was “going to be fair”, though he also said the investigation “makes the country look very bad”.
The president and his allies deny any collusion with Russia and the Kremlin has denied interfering.
Bannon has criticised Trump’s decision to fire Comey.
In Wolff’s book, obtained ahead of publication, he suggests White House hopes for a quick end to the Mueller investigation are gravely misplaced.
“You realise where this is going,” Bannon 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****** Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jnr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”
Last month it was reported that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, the German financial institution that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner property empire. Bannon continues: “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner s***. The Kushner s*** 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.”
Scorning apparent White House insouciance, Bannon reaches for a hurricane metaphor: “They’re sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five.”
He insists that he knows no Russians, will not be a witness, will not hire a lawyer and will not appear on national television answering questions.
In the wake of the news, Fire and Fury, which is published next week, was slammed by White House staff.
As well as Trump’s response to Bannon’s claims, White House staff have slammed the book.
“This book is filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said. “Participating in a book that can only be described as trashy tabloid fiction exposes their sad desperate attempts at relevancy.”
Wolff is a prominent media critic and columnist who has written for The Guardian and is a biographer of Rupert Murdoch.
He previously conducted interviews for the Hollywood Reporter with Trump in June 2016 and Bannon a few months later.
He told The Guardian in November that to research the book, he showed up at the White House with no agenda but wanting to “find out what the insiders were really thinking and feeling”.
He enjoyed extraordinary access to Trump and senior officials and advisers, he said, sometimes at critical moments of the fledgling presidency.
The rancour between Bannon and “Javanka” – Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump – is a recurring theme of the book. Kushner and Ivanka are Jewish.
Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, is quoted as saying: “It is a war between the Jews and the non-Jews.”
Trump is not spared. Wolff writes that Thomas Barrack Jnr, a billionaire who is one of the president’s oldest associates, allegedly told a friend: “He’s not only crazy, he’s stupid.”
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse