Login ID:
Partner Login
Contact Us : 7066511911

Bannon Expresses Regret for Role in Book Critical of White House -- 2nd Update

8 Jan 2018 12:37 am
By Rebecca Ballhaus and Harriet Torry 

Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon on Sunday sought to mend fences with the White House after nearly a week of bitter exchanges over comments he made in a new book about the president and his closest advisers.

The retreat by Mr. Bannon came as the Republican Party sought to unite around key legislative priorities ahead of the midterm campaign season.

In a statement, Mr. Bannon, who was ousted from his White House role over the summer but has continued to occasionally advise President Donald Trump, said his support for the president is "unwavering." The statement followed last week's release of scathing comments by Mr. Bannon about some top presidential advisers, including family members, in Michael Wolff's, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House."

The quotes attributed to Mr. Bannon in the book, which he didn't dispute, spurred four days of attacks by the president, who said his ex-adviser -- whom he dubbed "Sloppy Steve" -- had "lost his mind" and "cried when he got fired."

The simmering feud came as Mr. Trump gathered with GOP legislative leaders at Camp David Friday and Saturday to discuss how to push the party's agenda in Congress in the short window before campaigning begins for November. They focused on issues including national security, immigration, infrastructure and health care, according to a White House official.

A news conference Saturday at the end of the retreat put on display the tensions between Republican lawmakers' desire to focus on the legislative agenda and the president's attention on the controversy. In brief remarks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) expressed hope for "a year of more bipartisan cooperation." House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) said Republicans had a "very bold agenda for 2018." Lawmakers also have a pressing deadline: The government's funding expires at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 20.

When Mr. Trump stepped up to answer questions, his focus turned again to the book, in which other advisers are said to be concerned about Mr. Trump's mental stability, citing his frequent "alarming repetitions."

Mr. Trump called the Wolff book a "disgrace" and lamented what he called the nation's "weak" libel laws that allowed it to be published. He also defended his academic credentials, saying he "went to the best colleges, or college." In tweets earlier that day, he described himself as a "very stable genius," adding, "throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart."

On Sunday, Mr. Trump said on Twitter the Camp David policy talks had gone well but again assailed the book.

Mr. Wolff, who has said Mr. Trump personally granted him access to the White House, which Mr. Trump disputes, defended the book on Sunday. "If I left out anything, it's probably stuff that was even more damning," Mr. Wolff said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Veterans of past administrations and political consultants said Mr. Trump's continued focus on the book threatens to complicate the GOP agenda in the coming year.

"You need more discipline, not less discipline, and you seem to have little discipline still," said Craig Fuller, who served as assistant to former President Ronald Reagan for cabinet affairs. "That does have consequences, especially in a midterm election cycle, where it's hard to pass things anyway."

Mr. Bannon's comments were his first since the publication of the book, whose release was pushed ahead to last Friday after a Trump lawyer threatened legal action. In his statement, Mr. Bannon praised Donald Trump Jr. -- the president's eldest son whose June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer he had described as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic" in the book -- as "both a patriot and a good man." He said his comments in the book were "aimed" at former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The meeting has become a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump campaign aides worked with the Kremlin. Mr. Trump has said his campaign didn't collude with Russia, and Moscow has denied interfering in the U.S. election. The White House didn't respond to a request for comment on Mr. Bannon's statement.

Mr. Bannon also called the special counsel investigation of Trump associates' ties to Russia a "witch hunt," a term Mr. Trump himself has used repeatedly.

Mr. Wolff quotes Mr. Bannon as speculating whether the younger Mr. Trump may have introduced his father to those who attended the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. "The chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos up to his father's office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero," the book quoted Mr. Bannon as saying. The president has said he wasn't aware of the meeting during the campaign.

Donald Trump Jr. has said he did nothing wrong in agreeing to the meeting at Trump Tower, in which the campaign had been promised negative information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Mr. Bannon in the book also sharply criticized Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner.

A Democratic aide said Mr. Trump's comments in recent days demonstrate how difficult he is to work with, but didn't expose any hurdle that hadn't already existed. GOP lawmakers and aides said they were eager to return the spotlight to the tax bill they passed in December.

The president's focus on the book has also ensnared members of his administration and other advisers, who have been asked to answer questions about some of the book's more incendiary claims. White House adviser Stephen Miller, Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley were among the administration officials who were asked in television interviews Sunday about Mr. Trump's mental health.

Ms. Haley, in an interview on ABC's "This Week," said, "I'm not there seven days a week, but I'm there once a week....No one questions the stability of the president."

Democrats were also asked about concerns the book raised about the president's capacity to do the job.

"I don't think there's anyone in Congress frankly of either party who does not concur at least privately with those observations and concerns, " Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN's "State of the Union."

The feud with Mr. Trump has threatened Mr. Bannon's leadership at the conservative website Breitbart News, which he led before joining the Trump campaign. People close to that company said Mr. Bannon's statement was likely aimed at helping him stay in his post as chairman, as its board has debated in recent days whether to oust him from that role.

Kurt Bardella, a former spokesman for Breitbart, said Mr. Trump's reaction to Mr. Bannon's expression of regret would likely determine whether the former White House adviser can keep his role at the company. "If Trump signals his forgiveness, Bannon will likely get a stay of execution," Mr. Bardella said. "If Trump demands his scalp, hard to imagine he wouldn't get it."

A Bannon spokeswoman didn't respond to a question about whether he would stay in his role at Breitbart.

--Kristina Peterson contributed to this article.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com and Harriet Torry at harriet.torry@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 07, 2018 19:37 ET (00:37 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Top 5 Special Reports
USD/INR (May 20) Consolidating in a Multi-Week Range...
Cotton Yarn Prices Set To Slide About 9%; Buying Oppor...
Indian COTTON Market intelligence and Price Outlook: F...
veg oil Complex Fundamental Analysis Report
Weekly: Pulses Drop On Listless Demand In Dals, Crop Ar...