Steve Bannon, Charlie Rose spar in "60 Minutes" interview

Steve Bannon vows to defend Trump's populist agenda from his Breitbart media platform, and more from his interview

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published September 11, 2017 7:57AM (EDT)

Steve Bannon   (Getty/Mike Theiler)
Steve Bannon (Getty/Mike Theiler)

President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, engaged in a hard-hitting interview with Charlie Rose of "60 Minutes," one that finally aired in full on Sunday evening.

The conversation was wide-ranging, covering the full spectrum of obstacles that have plagued Trump since he took office in January.

1. Bannon proclaimed that Republican leaders in Congress want to "nullify" the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

As Bannon put it to Rose, "The Republican establishment is trying to nullify the 2016 election. That's a brutal fact we have to face." After he cited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan as two examples of prominent Republicans who were unwilling to do this, Bannon gave a specific example about McConnell.

"I don't wanna hear any more of this 'Drain the Swamp' talk," Bannon recalled McConnell saying after one of their first meetings at Trump Tower. "He says, 'I can't — I can't hire any smart people,' because everybody's all over him for reporting requirements and — and the pay, et cetera, and the scrutiny. You know, 'You gotta back off that.' The 'Drain the Swamp' thing was -- is Mitch McConnell was day one did not wanna — did not wanna go there. Wanted us to back off."

2. Bannon downplays his role in Breitbart and the media landscape.

As he explained why Trump committed his administration's "original sin" of hiring members of "the establishment," Bannon characterized himself and other members of the 1 percent-filled Trump team in humble terms.

"I'm a former investment banker who's a media guy, running a little website," Bannon told Rose. "We were — our whole campaign was a little bit the island of misfit toys. So he looks around and I'm wearing my combat jacket, I haven't shaved, I got, you know, my hair's down to here, and he says he's thinking. 'Hey, I've gotta put together a government. I've gotta really staff up something. I need to embrace the establishment.'"

3. Bannon placed the blame for failure to repeal and replace Obamacare squarely on the shoulders of the Republican congress.

According to Bannon, House Speaker Paul Ryan assured the Trump White House that Congress would send a repeal bill to his desk by Easter, tax reform by August and infrastructure by Labor Day. Yet when push came to shove, Bannon claimed that Ryan couldn't deliver on even the first step of that plan.

"When left to even repeal it in June in the Senate, they put it up for a vote; they only had 41 votes," Bannon complained to Rose. "There is wide discrepancy in the Republican Party, as we know today, now that we're in it. But I will tell you, leadership didn't know it at the time. They didn't know it till the very end."

4. Bannon was concerned that Trump's delay on DACA will result in a Republican "civil war" that could cost them the 2018 midterm elections.

While many pundits anticipate that Trump's harsh anti-immigrant policies could hurt the party's long-term prospects by further alienating Hispanic voters, Bannon had a different concern.

"My fear is that with this six months down range, if we have another huge -- if this goes all the way down to its logical conclusion, in February and March it will be a civil war inside the Republican party that will be every bit as vitriolic as 2013," Bannon told Rose. "And to me, doing that in the springboard of primary season for 2018 is extremely unwise."

5. A testy exchange over immigrants.

When Rose told Bannon that people used to respect America as a nation where "people have been able to come here, find a place, contribute to the economy," Bannon quickly took umbrage.

"This is the thing of the leftists. Charlie, that's beneath you," Bannon shot back. After waxing poetic about America's infrastructure since the 19th century, Bannon insisted that "We look after our citizens, we look after our manufacturing base, and guess what? This country's gonna be greater, more united, more powerful than it's ever been."

6. Bannon dismissed the Russia investigation.

"There's nothing to the Russia investigation. It's a waste of time," Bannon told Rose. When pressed on the subject, Bannon insisted that "it's a total and complete farce. Russian collusion is a farce." Bannon demurred, though, when asked if he had intelligence information that would prove his claim. "I think it's far from conclusive that the Russians had any impact on this election," he replied.

7. Bannon tried to reframe Rose's characterization of him as wanting a "trade war" with China.

When Rose pointed out Bannon's seeming hostility toward China, the former chief strategist responded that "I want China to stop appropriating our technology. China is, through forced technology transfer and through stealing our technology, but really forced technology transfer, is cutting out the beating heart of American innovation."

8. Bannon described the firing of former FBI Director James Comey as the biggest mistake in "modern political history."

Rose pointed out that Bannon had been quoted as describing the decision to fire Comey as "the biggest mistake in political history." Bannon clarified it as the biggest mistake in "modern political history." As Bannon put it, the FBI was going to pursue its investigation regardless of who was at its head, but if Trump had kept Comey, there would not have been a special counsel.

"I don't think there's any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired, we would not have a special counsel," Bannon said, referring to Robert Mueller III.

See more from the interview — what wasn't aired — here.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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