President Donald Trump is distorting the relationship between his administration and his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, after the latter described a meeting between Trump campaign members and a Kremlin-connected lawyer as "treasonous."
"Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency," the White House said in a statement that sounds like it came from the mouth of Trump himself. "When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."
After pointing out that Bannon was brought onto Trump's campaign after the former reality TV star had already won the Republican nomination, Trump reiterated, "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. Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself."
The president also attacked Bannon's bona fides as an anti-establishment crusader.
"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," the White House wrote. "It is the only thing he does well. 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."
Trump's comments come after excerpts from Michael Wolff's book about the Trump White House, called "Fire and Fury," were released. In the excerpts, Wolff reported that Bannon criticized Trump and predicted that the team led by special counsel Robert Mueller was "going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV."
But, Bannon, the Breitbart executive, has long been a power player within Trump world, as reflected in a tweet that Trump posted when Bannon resigned as chief strategist.
During the campaign, Bannon managed to help Trump regain his political footing amidst a number of gaffes and scandals by aggressively attacking Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Bannon also used his knowledge of Breitbart's readership to hone Trump's appeal to young, white, male voters. Although Bannon's influence was diminished somewhat as Trump grew to resent the popular impression that Bannon was the power behind the throne, it increased as the Russia scandal began to tarnish other members of Trump's team (Bannon joined the Trump campaign after many of the more controversial connections with Russian officials).
Bannon had also been perceived as one of the ideological true believers in the Trump White House, a man whose populist, nationalist convictions provided a philosophical anchor for a president who was inclined toward vacillations. Yet Bannon's penchant for stating his mind regardless of the political consequences eventually led to the undoing of his career as a White House staffer. After he was widely perceived as influencing Trump into controversially blaming "both sides" for the Charlottesville riots, and shortly thereafter claimed Trump's economic advisers were "wetting themselves" over Trump's views on trade policy, he was pressured into resigning as chief strategist.
One longstanding critic of Bannon was Anthony Scaramucci, who served as White House communications director for 10 days in July. During that time, he controversially insulted Bannon by proclaiming, "I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock . . . I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country."
Scaramucci took to Twitter on Wednesday to remind Trump of his earlier assessment of Bannon's motives.