Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former White House chief strategist, said that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a group of Russians during the 2016 election was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”, according to an explosive new book transcript seen by The Guardian. The admission stands in stark contrast to previous comments Bannon’s own website, Breitbart, has made regarding the meeting.
Bannon was speaking to author Michael Wolff, whose upcoming book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, is based on more than 200 interviews with the president and other high-ranking members of the administration. In it, Bannon mocks the decision of Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner to meet Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower for documents that would “incriminate” Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
“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,” Bannon said to Wolff. “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.” He added that he thought it likely that Robert Mueller’s probe would hone in on money laundering and said, “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
On Wednesday, NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander also reported that, according to excerpts from the book, Bannon believed Trump Jr. had “taken the [meeting] participants to see his father.” He quoted Bannon as saying, “The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these Jumos up to his father’s office of the 26th floor is zero.”
As the BBC’s Jon Sopel noted on Wednesday, in his recent New York Times interview, Trump ridiculed the idea of collusion 23 times — an idea which this latest Bannon statement completely undercuts.
Bannon returned as executive chairman of Breitbart News last September after taking a year-long leave of absence to work for Trump’s campaign — and later, the White House. During that time, his publication wrote scathing takedowns, criticizing reports that claimed Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting was any sort of “smoking gun.”
On July 10 — the same day The New York Times published its story about the meeting — Breitbart wrote a piece that claimed the report was “only the latest effort by the Times to bring down President Donald Trump that relies on documents it has not seen and verified.” The next day, Breitbart described a rally outside the White House, spurred by the Times’ revelations, as “Soros-funded.” On July 14, Breitbart editor-at-large Joel Pollak described the story as “just the latest example of the solipsistic hysteria of Trump’s critics, still desperate to undo the 2016 election.”
According to Axios, Bannon’s latest comments have shocked sources close to the president. Since leaving the White House, the Breitbart chairman has doubled-down on his right-wing populist agenda, campaigning for Roy Moore while continuing to attack White House insiders, particularly Jared Kushner. As Vanity Fair reported in December, Bannon blamed Kushner for giving the appearance that the Trump campaign was taking meetings with foreign governments for dirt on Clinton.
“They were looking for the picture of Hillary Clinton taking the bag of cash from Putin,” Bannon said. “That’s his [Jared’s] maturity level.”
Bannon has openly criticized the Russia meeting before, telling Charlie Rose in an interview after leaving his position at the White House in September, “You know, I don’t know why people had to have meetings with other countries. I thought there was more than enough there.”