Trump Lashes Out At Bannon, Who Criticized President And His Family
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
President Trump is lashing out at his former chief strategist in the White House, Steve Bannon. In a written statement, Trump said, among other things, that Bannon has, in his words, lost his mind.
What prompted this is the publication of excerpts of a soon-to-be released book by Michael Wolff called "Fire And Fury." NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now to talk more about this. Hello, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: And I want to begin with a reading from part of this extraordinary statement released by the president. Are you ready for this?
KEITH: Oh, yeah.
SIEGEL: Trump said, (reading) 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 17 candidates often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican Party.
It goes on. (Reading) 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. Steve doesn't represent my base. He's only in it for himself. Steve who, huh?
KEITH: And Robert, it doesn't stop there. It goes on for another two paragraphs, including - I just want to read this one little bit more. (Reading) 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.
SIEGEL: Tam, what's in this new book (laughter) that Michael Wolff has written that has prompted this eruption at the White House?
KEITH: So Steve Bannon is all over the excerpts of this book that are out today. And probably the most explosive thing that he said was about that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting arranged by Donald Trump Jr. with campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. Bannon described it as treasonous and unpatriotic.
And beyond that, the book gets into all kinds of claims, like that Trump and those around him didn't think he would win and that they didn't want him to win, that the campaign was a mess, that his eyes glazed over when an aide tried to explain the Constitution to the candidate. And it even talks about how Ivanka Trump describes her father's hair in an unflattering way.
SIEGEL: This would seem to be a pretty remarkable falling-out given that it's been reported that Brannon and Trump still spoke regularly even after Bannon was fired in August.
KEITH: That's right. And they were pulling for the same candidate in the Alabama Senate race. That would be Roy Moore, who lost. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed today that the two men last spoke in early December. But she also insisted that those conversations were initiated by Bannon and not the president - sort of like, you broke up with me; no, I broke up with you.
One former campaign aide who knows both of the men - I checked in with him today, and he said that he thinks this falling out was inevitable because these are two very strong iconoclastic personalities.
SIEGEL: So let's say that the Trump-Bannon alliance is completely finished. What does that mean politically, if anything, at this point?
KEITH: Bannon has portrayed himself as the true keeper of the Trump flame, that he represents the base and the populism that got Trump elected. And he's been in the process of recruiting and vetting candidates for Senate races around the country in 2018, some who would even be challengers for incumbent Republicans.
And there was always a question of whether Trump would side with Bannon or whether he would side with Senate Majority Mitch - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who views such challenges as a terrible mistake. You could say that today is one that goes into McConnell's column.
SIEGEL: Just very briefly, the book is having such influence. Do we know what kind of access the author, Michael Wolff, had in the Trump administration?
KEITH: In his author's note, Wolff says he conducted some 200 interviews, had cooperation from White House aides and even interviewed the president. Sarah Sanders says the book is full of fiction, but she does admit that Wolff had access to the White House and visited at least a dozen times. But she also says Bannon was the reason for that access and that those who cooperated with Wolff did so at Bannon's direction. And she says the president only spoke with Wolff for about five to seven minutes.
SIEGEL: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thanks.
KEITH: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: And ALL THINGS CONSIDERED will air an interview with Wolff early next week, so be sure to listen for that. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.