President Donald Trump on Wednesday offered a fiery response to bombshell reports that Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, had accused the president of meeting with Russian operatives after Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with them at Trump Tower in June 2016.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency,” Trump said Wednesday in a statement. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
The statement continued: “Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look.”
Bannon was quoted by author Michael Wolff ― whose tell-all book about the White House is set for release on Jan. 9 ― as saying there was “zero” chance Trump didn’t know about his eldest son and son-in-law Jared Kushner meeting with Russian operatives. Bannon also called the meeting “treasonous” and “bad shit.”
A preview of the new book published in New York magazine on Wednesday offered stunning details about the chaos that has reigned at the White House since Trump took office. In the piece, Wolff claims that many people in Trump’s inner circle did not think he would win the 2016 election ― and that, indeed, few even wanted him to.
Bannon returned to the far-right news outlet Breitbart as executive chairman in August after he was fired as White House chief strategist. Still, he has been credited with having significant influence over Trump and his administration’s agenda, even after his own departure from the West Wing.
Responding to the Bannon bombshell on Wednesday, Trump accused him of only pretending to have influence in the White House. Trump claimed that Bannon, a former member of his inner circle, was “rarely in one-on-one meetings” with him.
Trump’s comments Wednesday were a stark contrast with the well wishes he tweeted at the time of Bannon’s departure from the White House in August. In his tweets, Trump thanked Bannon for his “great” involvement in his 2016 presidential campaign and predicted he would be a “smart new voice” when he returned to Breitbart.
Wolff’s reporting was met with pushback from elsewhere in the White House. Stephanie Grisham, communications director for first lady Melania Trump, disputed Wolff’s assertions.
“The book is clearly going to be sold in the bargain fiction section,” Grisham told reporters in the White House pool. “Mrs. Trump supported her husband’s decision to run for president and in fact, encouraged him to do so. She was confident he would win and was very happy when he did.”
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that Wolff’s book is merely “trashy tabloid fiction.”
“This book is filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House,” Sanders told reporters Wednesday.
During a news briefing Wednesday afternoon, Sanders claimed that Trump and Bannon last spoke in early December.
Trump Jr. accused Bannon of spreading “division and lies,” and appeared to suggest that Breitbart’s readers want Bannon removed from the outlet.
At least one prominent Republican appeared to be enjoying Wednesday’s war of words between Trump and Bannon. An official Twitter account connected to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose relationship with the president has been especially tumultuous, posted an uncaptioned GIF of the senator shortly after the Bannon bombshell dropped.
Breitbart, for its part, seemed to take Trump’s fiery dig at its executive chairman in stride.