Bannon says Trump Jr. 2016 meeting with Russians was “treason”

Developments on Day 349 of the Trump Administration:

See also Podcasts: Bannon v. Trump

Trump Loses Key Ally as Russia Looms

Steve Bannon — the hard-right activist who was Donald Trump’s essential ally in the 2016 campaign and early months in the White House — dramatically turns against Trump, declaring that his son Donald Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and then campaign manager Paul Manafort committed treason in a June 2016 meeting with three Kremlin-linked envoys.

A “furious, disgusted” Trump responds with an angry statement, under the official imprimatur of the White House, saying Bannon “lost his mind” when he was dismissed as White House chief strategist in mid-August. The statement reduced Bannon — campaign manager in the final months of Trump’s surprise election win — to a self-promoter who had “very little to do with our historic victory” and was “only in it for himself”. It said Bannon never supported Trump’s agenda to “make America great again” but is “simply seeking to burn it all down.”

Trump, who continued to speak often with Bannon by phone after mid-August — despite the former strategist supposedly losing his mind — now insisted, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency.”

In a forthcoming book by Michael Wolff, Bannon continued his recent assault on Trump’s daughter Ivanka and Kushner. He said Ivanka Trump was “dumb as a brick”.

But the most damaging passage may be Bannon’s description of the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with the Kremlin-linked envoys, organized by Donald Trump Jr. through a broker for an Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire who worked with Trump Sr. on high-profile projects. The discussion was over Russian provision of material damaging Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Bannon says in the book:

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.

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.

Then Bannon suggests the direct link between Trump Sr. and the Russian offer that investigators have been pursuing, asserting that the chance that Trump Jr. did not introduce the Moscow envoys — lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya; lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin; and Irakly Kaveladze, the US-based financier for Trump’s billionaire partner Aras Agalarov — to his father “is zero”.

White House sources said Trump Sr. responded on Wednesday by going through at least three drafts of a statement with his communications director, Hope Hicks, and other aides:

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.

By the end of Wednesay, a Trump lawyer had sent Mr. Bannon a letter to demand that he cease and desist derogatory comments. It threatened, “Legal action is imminent” over defamation.

However, observers quickly pointed out the risk in any pursuit of the lawsuit. Trump Sr. and others could be deposed to make statements under oath, including about the Trump-Russia affair.

Bannon said in Wolff’s book that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will center on money laundering. He predicted it will reach Kushner and said, “They’re going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national TV.”

Bannon’s “#WAR” Reaches Trump

After leaving the White House in August, Bannon returned as executive officer of the hard-right attack site Breitbart. He declared “#WAR” on the Republican “establishment”, including top legislators and some of Trump’s staff and agency heads, saying it was in defense of Trump and his policies.

However, Bannon gave interviews throughout the autumn for lengthy articles in which he aimed at Trump’s family and closest advisors. In a profile in Vanity Fair, he derided “Javanka” — Kushner and Ivanka — and foreshadowed his assessment of the June 2016 meeting by saying of Kushner:

He’s taking meetings with Russians to get additional stuff. This tells you everything about Jared. They were looking for the picture of Hillary Clinton taking the bag of cash from Putin. That’s his maturity level.

See TrumpWatch, Day 340: Trump’s Xmas Present to UN — A Reduced Budget

Bannon also is likely to have irritated Trump Sr. by declaring the possibility of running for the White House in 2020 if the President did not or could not pursue a second term.