As much of the political world knows, in June 2016, top members of Donald Trump's inner circle -- Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort -- met with a group of Russians in the hopes of obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton. The meeting is but one piece of compelling evidence that the Republican campaign sought and received assistance from Vladimir Putin's government during the American presidential race.
And while it's common for the president's critics to raise the alarm about the meeting, it's something else when Trump's former chief strategist uses words like "treasonous." NBC News reports today on Michael Wolff's new book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," which includes some striking quotes from Steve Bannon.
In a new book, Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, calls a meeting of Trump campaign officials with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower during the presidential campaign "treasonous" and "unpatriotic." [...]"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," Bannon said, according to a copy of the book obtained by NBC News."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.
We now know, of course, that no one from Team Trump called the FBI. On the contrary, Trump and his aides instead lied repeatedly about their campaign's communications with Russians.
Not surprisingly, Bannon's provocative rhetoric did not go unnoticed among his former colleagues at the White House.
Trump issued a written statement, which he obviously didn't write himself, but which pushed back against Bannon with considerable vigor:
"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. 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."Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn't as easy as I make it look. 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."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. 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."
It's likely this is going to cause some ripples in Republican politics, but here are a few angles to keep an eye on in the coming weeks:
1. Is Trump, who reportedly kept in touch with Bannon even after he left the White House, really breaking up with his former strategist, or is this all for show?
2. Will Bannon, who's been planning a "war" against the GOP establishment, prepared to include his former boss in the conflict?
3. When Bannon testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on the Russia scandal, will Trump's public repudiation affect his testimony?
4. How will donors and activists who are still allied with Bannon respond to the president's condemnation?
5. How happy are GOP leaders, who loathe Bannon, to see the White House's statement? (Answer: very.)
Watch this space.