Embattled ex-White House strategist Stephen Bannon — bowed by the blowback from his slams of President Donald Trump and his eldest son in a new book — expressed “regret” Sunday for the bashing, Axios reported.
In a lengthy statement to the news outlet, Bannon called Donald Trump Jr. “a patriot and a good man,” and declared his own support as “unwavering for the president and his agenda.”
“I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr. has diverted attention from the president's historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency,” Bannon said, Axios reported.
“He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around,” Bannon said of the Trump scion.
Bannon said the remarks were really aimed at one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort, “a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate.”
“He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends,” he said, Axios reported. “To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr."
Bannon also defended his own loyalty to the president, declaring himself as “the only person to date to conduct a global effort to preach the message of Trump and Trumpism; and remain ready to stand in the breech for this president's efforts to make America great again."
He also reiterated his agreement with the president that special counsel Richard Mueller’s Russia collusion investigation is a “witch hunt.”
In Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," Bannon is quoted as saying of Mueller's prosecutors: "They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.'"
According to Axios, Bannon is likely to be “graciously” forgiven by Trump Jr. — but that Trump himself has said he wants surrogates who appear for him on TV to “bury Steve.”
Bannon did not challenge the accuracy of the quotes that Wolff attributed to him. Wolff said that he had tapes of conversations with some of his sources.
Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, and in the storm of reaction to the book, one of the stakeholders in the outlet, Rebekah Mercer, with whom he has had close ties, issued a statement rebuking his comments and siding with the president.
Bannon served as chief strategist until August, when he was dismissed. Trump named him campaign CEO in August, 2016.
Here is Bannon's complete statement:
"Donald Trump, Jr. is both a patriot and a good man. He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around.
"My support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda — as I have shown daily in my national radio broadcasts, on the pages of Breitbart News and in speeches and appearances from Tokyo and Hong Kong to Arizona and Alabama. President Trump was the only candidate that could have taken on and defeated the Clinton apparatus. I am the only person to date to conduct a global effort to preach the message of Trump and Trumpism; and remain ready to stand in the breech for this president's efforts to make America great again.
"My comments about the meeting with Russian nationals came from my life experiences as a Naval officer stationed aboard a destroyer whose main mission was to hunt Soviet submarines to my time at the Pentagon during the Reagan years when our focus was the defeat of 'the evil empire' and to making films about Reagan's war against the Soviets and Hillary Clinton's involvement in selling uranium to them.
"My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate. He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr.
"Everything I have to say about the ridiculous nature of the Russian 'collusion' investigation I said on my 60 Minutes interview. There was no collusion and the investigation is a witch hunt.
"I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president's historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency."
The book continued to dominate cable TV news Sunday. Trump's advisers, meanwhile, fanned out across Sunday morning news show to defend him.
Chief policy adviser Stephen Miller, in a combative appearance on CNN, described the book as "nothing but a pile of trash through and through."
He also criticized Bannon, saying it was "tragic and unfortunate" that Bannon "would make these grotesque comments so out of touch with reality and obviously so vindictive."
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who said Trump was "completely fit" to lead the country, said he paused before answering because it was such "a ludicrous question."
"These are from people who just have not accepted the fact that President Trump is the United States president and I'm sorry for them in that," Pompeo told "Fox News Sunday." He gives Trump his regular intelligence briefings.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that she is at the White House once a week, and "no one questions the stability of the president."
"I'm always amazed at the lengths people will go to, to lie for money and for power. This is like taking it to a whole new low," she told ABC's "This Week."
To Miller, "the portrayal of the president in the book is so contrary to reality, to the experience of those who work with him."
Miller's interview on CNN's "State of the Union" quickly grew heated, with Miller criticizing CNN's coverage and moderator Jake Tapper pressing Miller to answer his questions.
Tapper abruptly ended the interview, saying: "I think I've wasted enough of my viewers' time."
Soon after, Trump tweeted: "Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!"
Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to defend his fitness for office, insisting he is "like, really smart" and, indeed, a "very stable genius." He pressed the case again on Sunday as he prepared to depart Camp David for the White House.
"I've had to put up with the Fake News from the first day I announced that I would be running for President. Now I have to put up with a Fake Book, written by a totally discredited author," he tweeted.
Wolff's book draws a derogatory portrait of Trump as an undisciplined man-child who didn't actually want to win the White House and who spends his evenings eating cheeseburgers in bed, watching television and talking on the telephone to old friends.
The book also quotes Bannon and other prominent advisers as questioning the president's competence.
Chatter about Trump's mental fitness for office has intensified in recent months on cable news shows and among Democrats in Congress.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders this past week called such suggestions "disgraceful and laughable."
"If he was unfit, he probably wouldn't be sitting there and wouldn't have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen," she said, calling him "an incredibly strong and good leader."
Trump and some aides have attacked Wolff's credibility, pointing to the fact that the book includes a number of factual errors and denying that the author had as much access as he claimed.
"He said he interviewed me for three hours in the White House. It didn't exist, OK? It's in his imagination," Trump said Saturday.
Wolff told NBC on Sunday that "I truly do not want to say the president is a liar," but that he had indeed spoken with Trump for about three hours during and since the campaign.
Trump has repeatedly invoked Ronald Reagan, tweeting Sunday that the former president "had the same problem and handled it well. So will I!"
Reagan died in 2004, at age 93, from pneumonia complicated by the Alzheimer's disease that had progressively clouded his mind. At times when he was president, Reagan seemed forgetful and would lose his train of thought while talking.
Doctors, however, said Alzheimer's was not to blame, noting the disease was diagnosed years after he left office. Reagan announced his diagnosis in a letter to the American people in 1994, more than five years after leaving the White House.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.
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