President Trump bashed Steve Bannon in an extraordinary and scathing statement on Wednesday, insisting his former chief strategist "lost his mind" after he was ousted from his White House job.
"Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency," Trump said. "When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."
The four-paragraph official White House statement from the president came just hours after the publication of excerpts of a new book, in which Bannon reportedly characterized a June 2016 meeting between top Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer in 2016 as "treasonous."
Late Wednesday, an attorney on Trump's behalf sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bannon saying his comments in the book were a breach of confidentiality and "outright defamatory," ABC News and The Washington Post reported. The letter reportedly threatened "imminent" legal action.
Trump went on to discredit Bannon — who took over as CEO of Trump's campaign in the summer of 2016 — saying that he had "very little to do" with Trump's presidential victory but could be blamed for Republican Roy Moore's Senate loss in deep red Alabama.
Bannon, the advocate of hard-line immigration and trade policies that dominated Trump's campaign message, was pushed out of the administration in August. Bannon, who has vowed to fight for Trump's populist message from outside the White House, now runs Breitbart News, the alt-right news website that is a leading source of information for Trump's base of voters – raising questions about whether Bannon will use his platform to counterpunch Trump's jabs.
In his statement, Trump said Bannon 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," he continued. "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."
In the forthcoming book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Bannon was quoted as calling his former colleagues "unpatriotic" for taking the now-infamous meeting meeting in Trump Tower to discuss an alleged Russian offer to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Not long after the meeting was first disclosed in July of last year, Bannon told the book's author Michael Wolff: “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. 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," he continued.
The meeting, which took place two months before Bannon joined the campaign, included Trump's oldest son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The campaign officials met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and other Russians.
Trump Jr. released emails last year showing he took the meeting in the hopes of getting information from the Russian government that would potentially damage Clinton's campaign. Instead of alerting the FBI, Trump Jr. replied in an email, "I love it."
It's now one focal point in a sweeping investigations by three congressional committees and special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia's interference in the presidential election and possible collusion with Trump associates, which the president has dismissed as a witch hunt and a hoax.
The excerpts from Wolff's book were published Wednesday by The Guardian, which obtained a copy. The book, reportedly based on more than 200 interviews, is set to be released next week by publisher Henry Holt and Co.
Trump Jr., responding to the excerpts, said Bannon was spreading "division and lies." He added that Andrew Breitbart, the late founder of Breitbart, would be "ashamed."
In the book, Bannon also said that he expects Mueller's investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to focus on money laundering. “They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV,” Bannon told Wolff.
In distancing himself from Bannon, the president also seemed to back the Republican establishment, a far cry from his 2016 rallying cry of "drain the swamp."
"We have many great Republican members of Congress and candidates who are very supportive of the Make America Great Again agenda," Trump said. "Like me, they love the United States of America and are helping to finally take our country back and build it up, rather than simply seeking to burn it all down."
Chris Pack, a spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said the president's statement was in line with its own stance that Bannon was a "nobody."
"This just affirms what we have been saying all along – that Steve Bannon is a nobody," he said. "Bannon is a legend only within his own mind and the minds of his minions working in the Breitbart clubhouse."
The White House appeared to rebuff some of the other revelations expected to be disclosed in the book.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the book was "filled with false and misleading accounts" from people who don't have access or influence. "Participating in a book that can only be described as trashy tabloid fiction exposes their sad desperate attempts at relevancy," she said.
Per Wolff's publisher, the book will also dive into the firing of former FBI director James Comey, what Trump's staff "really thinks of him" and why Bannon and Kushner couldn't be in the same room.
According to New York magazine, which also published an excerpt of his book, Wolff was allowed significant access to the West Wing, via "something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch." Wolff is a journalist and columnist who has contributed to USA TODAY and other publications. President Trump's full statement:
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.
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.
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.
We have many great Republican members of Congress and candidates who are very supportive of the Make America Great Again agenda. Like me, they love the United States of America and are helping to finally take our country back and build it up, rather than simply seeking to burn it all down."
Contributing: Heidi Przybyla and Fredreka Schouten.