Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
The White House moved on Thursday to oust President Trump's former top aide, Steve Bannon, from his executive position at the far-right leaning website Breitbart, one day after the conservative agitator was quoted in an explosive new book blasting the president and his children.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Breitbart, which Bannon returned to running after leaving the Trump administration, should consider cutting ties.
“I certainly think that it's something they should look at and consider,” she said. On Wednesday, Trump said Bannon had “lost his mind” in response to his comments in the book.
Breitbart News Network LLC board members are reportedly doing just that. The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, citing a person familiar with the exchanges, reported that some on the board were supportive of ousting Bannon as chairman.
And Bannon's financial backers, billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, distanced themselves from him. “I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected,” Mercer said in a statement to the Journal. “My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements.”
In the book by author and media critic Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury: Inside the White House, Bannon is quoted extensively taking shots at Trump’s inner circle and family, including Donald Trump Jr., daughter Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner.
The excerpts have caused such a stir that the publisher is releasing the book on Friday, four days ahead of schedule. This came just hours after Trump's attorneys sent a cease and desist letter demanding that the title be held back, arguing Bannon allegedly violated the terms of a non-disclosure agreement signed during his time at the White House.
The publisher of Wolff’s book, Henry Holt, said in a statement, “We see 'Fire and Fury' as an extraordinary contribution to our national discourse, and are proceeding with the publication of the book.”
Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images
Among the many explosive details in the book, Bannon is quoted as calling the Trump Tower meeting that Trump Jr., Kushner, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort attended with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
Since May 2017, the Russia investigation has led to the indictments of four people, including Manafort, who pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges, and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
At Breitbart News, the Fire and Fury excerpts, first published by the Guardian, were covered prominently without any denials or comments from Bannon himself.
The rebuke from the White House on Wednesday was swift.
“This book is filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House,” Sanders said in a statement. “Participating in a book that can only be described as trashy tabloid fiction exposes their sad desperate attempts at relevancy.”
On his Sirius XM radio show later that night, Bannon had a softer tone, calling Trump “a great man” when responding to a caller’s question about the apparent strain between the two men.
“You know I support him day in and day out,” he said.
Trump, on Thursday, said, “I don’t know. He called me a great man last night. So, you know, he obviously changed his tune pretty quick.” He added, “I don’t talk to him. That’s just a misnomer.”
Trump reportedly sent Bannon a cease-and-desist letter about the “disparaging” comments, ABC News reported. There was talk that Bannon was considering a defamation suit against Trump, but a source close to Bannon told BuzzFeed News that was not true.
But according to emails obtained by BuzzFeed News, Bannon privately expressed ambivalence about Trump as a presidential candidate before taking over his campaign, calling him a “narcissist.”
There were also reports that Bannon was planning to fight back with legal action of his own, although a source close to the conservative firebrand swatted those down.
The tension between Trump and Bannon has been escalating since August, when Bannon left amid a tumultuous time at the White House. Since then, he has used his pulpit as head of Breitbart to target those as insufficiently conservative to be in the Trump adiministration, at times taking aim at the president himself.