- Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump unleashed on his former chief strategist and campaign chairman Wednesday, issuing a long and unusual statement questioning Stephen Bannon's mental stability, honesty and political influence.
"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."
Trump continued, "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."
The statement from Trump came after Bannon criticized Trump and his family in recent interviews, mocking the president's intellect, criticizing the operations of the White House and torching Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. His most recent comments — published in excerpts from a book by journalist Michael Wolff published online Wednesday — came two weeks after a Bannon profile in Vanity Fair that infuriated the president and his senior aides.
The move is likely to hearten congressional Republicans and Trump's advisers, who have wanted the president to distance himself from Bannon. But it remains unclear if Trump will kick Bannon out forever; he often likes to cast characters out — and bring them back in — like a reality show, frequently maintaining contact with those he has fired.
For months, Trump's top aides — from lawyer Ty Cobb to senior adviser Jared Kushner to communications director Hope Hicks to friends like Chris Ruddy and Gov. Chris Christie — have tried to convince him to cut ties with Bannon.
Trump was infuriated at Bannon's comments, even telling senior aides and advisers that Bannon was "not well," according to someone familiar with the president's frustrations. He complained that Bannon again was trying to take credit for his election win. He huddled with Hicks and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to unleash a fiery statement after calling friends for much of the morning.
Trump aides called people close to Bannon Wednesday morning and told them the White House was displeased with the former chief strategist, according to people familiar with the conversation.
Advisers have also tried to tell Trump that Bannon is not responsible for his win, that Bannon leaks damaging information to the news media, that he says things about the president that are not true and that Bannon is more interested in Bannon than Trump. He has few close allies inside the White House. For example, Stephen Miller, the hard-line immigration guru, has distanced himself from Bannon, even though he was also spotted at the Capitol Hill rowhouse known as "the Breitbart embassy" munching on desserts at a recent party.
Trump and his senior team was incensed with a Vanity Fair article, where Bannon attacked a number of senior Trump advisers and seemed to mock the president. Trump personally wanted his White House to attack Bannon after the story, people familiar with the president's thinking said.
Advisers had told reporters for weeks that Bannon was instrumental in the book, and that it was going to look "absolutely terrible" for the White House," according to one senior official.
"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," Trump's statement said.