Bannon allies say statement praising Trump Jr. was spiked after Trump went nuclear

Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon on Wednesday was about to issue a statement praising Donald Trump Jr. and disputing his quotes in a book from Michael Wolff, but the statement was spiked after President Trump went nuclear on his former chief strategist.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the situation say that Bannon’s aides sought to impress upon him the need to put out a statement quickly. The aides had crafted a statement, which was pending Bannon’s approval, when the White House beat him to the punch. 

In the unreleased statement, Bannon had planned to call Trump Jr. a patriot and dispute the account in Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” in which Bannon described Trump Jr. as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” for setting up a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. 

Bannon and his allies did not see a need to release the statement once Trump accused his former top campaign aide of having “lost his mind.” They believe the president’s statement effectively ended the relationship between the two men. 

“He was literally just about to respond but backed off when the White House issued the statement,” said one source.

Bannon had a lengthy window to respond after the book excerpt was first released early Wednesday morning. It was a missed opportunity for Bannon, as the statement might have been enough to salvage his relationship with the president, those close to the Breitbart News chairman say.

The White House did not respond to early requests for comment about the Wolff excerpt, giving Bannon time to get ahead of the story and offer his own version of events. Trump waited several hours before torching Bannon, and even Trump Jr. did not tweet about Bannon’s quotes in the book until after his father had weighed in.

During that time, several other of Trump’s current or former aides and advisers disputed quotes or anecdotes in the book.

In the unreleased statement, Bannon would have called Trump Jr. a “patriot” and say that he doesn’t believe that he committed treason, according to a description from those familiar with it.

Bannon would have also disputed Wolff’s account by saying he had been taken out of context — that he doesn’t believe Trump Jr. intentionally did anything wrong and that he only meant to convey his frustration that Trump Jr., a political novice, had created a mess for his father.

But Bannon waited too long, and his relationship with Trump now appears beyond repair, although those close to him believe the two can reconcile at some point. 

“It’s a family fight, they always get back together,” said one source in Bannon’s orbit. “Although this one could take some time.” 

At present, the political future for Bannon looks bleak. 

It is hard to see how his effort to primary Republican incumbents can gain momentum if Bannon is unable to position himself as the standard-bearer of Trump’s agenda. Several candidates Bannon has backed or met with about running in GOP primary elections have backed away from him.

And The Washington Post has reported that the wealthy conservative donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer are furious with Bannon and choking him off financially. Rebekah Mercer owns the majority stake in Breitbart News, Bannon’s flagship conservative publication. 

Those close to Bannon insist that he is unfazed, even if they are dispirited by the turn of events.

“He’s not worried about it,” one ally said. “He was just on the radio last night.”

In that interview, Bannon largely avoided discussing the controversy but described Trump as “a great man.”

“You know I support him day in and day out,” Bannon said. 

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Trump continued to downplay his relationship with Bannon, saying that the two don’t talk.

“He called me a great man last night,” Trump said. “So he obviously changed his tune pretty quick.”

Now, Trump and his allies are looking at ways to discredit Wolff, alleging that he misquoted them, made-up scenes and broke agreements that events he attended and information he was given would remain off the record.

A personal lawyer for the president has threatened to sue Bannon, Wolff and the book’s publisher and demanding that the book release be canceled.

There could be more efforts like that from others close to Trump.

“We are going to tie him up in litigation for years, until he’s spent more on legal fees than he makes on the book,” said one person quoted in the book. 

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Jr.

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