Steve Bannon ‘lost his mind’ with Russia treason claim, says Trump

President responds to leaks of new book which claims Rupert Murdoch called Trump ‘idiot’

During a press conference in August 2017, US president Donald Trump responds to questions from the media regarding his chief strategist Steve Bannon. Video: The White House

 

US president Donald Trump on Wednesday blasted former White House adviser Steve Bannon as having “lost his mind” in the fallout over damaging comments Mr Bannon made about Mr Trump’s son, Donald Trump jnr, in excerpts from a new book.

Mr Trump, who had continued to speak privately with Mr Bannon in the months after firing him as the White House chief strategist last August, essentially cut ties with Mr Bannon in a blistering statement issued after the latter’s comments about Mr Trump jnr came to light.

“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,” Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump said Mr Bannon had little to do with his presidential victory in 2016 but was to blame for the loss of a Republican-held US Senate seat in Alabama in December when accused child molester Roy Moore, who both Mr Bannon and Mr Trump had backed, lost to Democrat Doug Jones.

“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 30 years by Republicans,” Mr Trump said.

‘Leaking false information’

“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,” Mr Trump added.

Mr Bannon expressed derision and astonishment over the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in New York in which a Russian lawyer was said to be offering damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, according to the book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff.

The same book claims that media tycoon Rupert Murdoch described the US president as “a f***ing idiot” over his contradictory views on immigration policy.

In the book, Mr Bannon called the meeting that Mr Trump’s son arranged and that Mr Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, also attended, “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”. Mr Bannon also was quoted as saying he was sure Mr Trump jnr would have taken the Russians who took part in the meeting to meet his father in Trump Tower.

Values loyalty

The explosive comments from a former close aide and far-right architect of Mr Trump’s November 2016 election victory roiled the White House and the Republican president, who famously values loyalty in associates and employees.

“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,” Mr Bannon said in the book in excerpts seen by Reuters.

“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.”

When an intermediary proposed the meeting, saying the Russians were offering damaging information about Ms Clinton, Mr Trump jnr responded in an email, “I love it”.

Mr Bannon was incredulous about the meeting shortly after it was revealed, according to the book, concluding sarcastically, “That’s the brain trust they had.”

Mr Bannon, speaking to Wolff, said the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin would focus on money laundering and predicted: “They’re going to crack Don Junior [Mr Trump jnr] like an egg on national TV.”

Wolff further describes a Trump Tower meeting on December 14th, 2016 – during the presidential transition – involving Mr Trump and executives from Silicon Valley companies including Alphabet (parent of Google), Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Among the issues at stake was a potential crackdown by the incoming president on H-1B visas, the main visa used to hire foreign talent to tech companies.

Later that afternoon, Wolff writes, Mr Trump called Mr Murdoch, who asked how the meeting had gone.

‘Really need my help’

“Oh, great, just great,” the president-elect said, according to Wolff’s account. “Really, really good. These guys really need my help. Obama was not very favourable to them, too much regulation. This is really an opportunity for me to help them.”

The book records Mr Murdoch’s reply: “Donald, for eight years these guys had Obama in their pocket. They practically ran the administration. They don’t need your help.”

Mr Trump is quoted as saying the companies “really need these H-1B visas”.

Wolff writes that Mr Murdoch suggested a more liberal stance on H-1B visas would sit oddly with Mr Trump’s hardline stance on immigration, to which the president-elect replied: “We’ll figure it out.”

Wolff writes that Mr Murdoch shrugged as he got off the phone, and said: “What a f***ing idiot.”

H-1B visas admit 65,000 workers plus 20,000 graduate student workers each year. Most are awarded to outsourcing firms, which critics say exploit loopholes to fill lower-level IT jobs with foreign workers, often at lower pay.

Powerful cheerleader

Mr Murdoch’s remark is a rare, revealing moment of discord in his lockstep alliance with the president. According to New York Times reports last year, the two men speak “on the phone every week” or “almost every day”.

Mr Murdoch’s conservative Fox News has been a powerful cheerleader for Mr Trump, who has frequently returned the compliment, urging his supporters to watch it.

The White House confirmed last month that Mr Trump had spoken with Mr Murdoch (86) to congratulate him on the proposed sale of a significant chunk of 21st Century Fox to Disney for $52.4 billion (€43.63 billion).

According to Vanity Fair magazine, Mr Trump spoke with Mr Murdoch prior to the deal “to make sure Mr Murdoch wasn’t selling Fox News”.

Wolff, a media columnist, is the author of the Murdoch biography The Man Who Owns the News. - Reuters/Guardian News and Media