U.S. President Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon says he thinks it was "treasonous" and "unpatriotic" for Trump's eldest son, son-in-law and campaign manager to meet in the midst of the 2016 election campaign with Russians promising incriminating information about Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to a new book about the Trump White House.
Bannon assailed Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a key White House adviser, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, according to the book, for attending the June 2016 meeting at campaign headquarters inside Trump Tower in New York. It was set up by the younger Trump after he was told by a European intermediary that the information was part of "Russia and its government's support" for his father's election campaign against Clinton.
The younger Trump said he would "love it" to get the damaging material, although he subsequently has said that the Russian lawyer at the meeting had no such incriminating evidence.
“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," Bannon is quoted as saying in author Michael Wolff's book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. "They didn’t have any lawyers."
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s---, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” Bannon said, referring to the top U.S. criminal investigative agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Britain's Guardian newspaper on Wednesday extensively quoted Bannon's views from the soon-to-be-published book, which the newspaper said it had seen. Bannon was chief executive of Trump's campaign in the last three months before the November 2016 election, then chief White House strategist for seven months before returning to head the right-wing Breitbart News website. Bannon remains a staunch Trump supporter, but has failed so far in his political efforts to help insurgent Republican candidates win seats in Congress to support Trump's populist agenda.
Bannon, according to the book, says that special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators, now in the midst of a months-long criminal investigation of alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia during the election, are focusing on money laundering.
“They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV," Bannon said of the investigators.
"You realize where this is going,” Bannon is quoted as saying. “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to f------ Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner …It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”
Bannon said the White House has been too dismissive of the coming storm from the Mueller investigation, comparing it to facing down the strongest hurricane.
“They’re sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five,” Bannon said.
Mueller has already indicted Manafort and another Trump campaign aide, Rick Gates, on money laundering charges linked to their lobbying efforts for Ukraine prior to the 2016 election, and secured guilty pleas from former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to federal agents about their Russia contacts. Aside from probing Trump campaign links with Russia, Mueller is also investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI director James Comey, who was heading the agency's Russia investigation before Mueller was appointed to take over the probe.
Trump has often denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Russia, contending that Mueller's probe and congressional investigations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election were excuses by Democrats to explain his upset victory over Clinton.
Trump last week told The New York Times that he thinks Mueller is "going to be fair" in his investigation, but also that his probe "makes the country look very bad."