Exclusive: Bannon blasts 'con artist' Kochs, 'lame duck' Ryan, 'diminished' Kelly

Stephen Bannon is ratcheting up his war on the Koch network, accusing the billionaire brothers of running “a conscious scam” and a “con job.”

He also has a warning for Republican candidates in November’s midterm elections who might be thinking of distancing themselves from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE: Don’t do it. 

GOP candidates need to get in lockstep with the president, Trump’s former chief strategist insists.

But that’s not all. 

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Bannon, a long time foe of establishment Republicans, says Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCorey Stewart fires aide who helped bring far-right ideas to campaign: report GOP super PAC hits Randy Bryce with ad starring his brother Super PACs spend big in high-stakes midterms MORE (R-Wis.) “should have been removed” as soon as he announced his decision not to seek reelection and is “retiring very simply because he never supported President Trump."

White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, whose arrival at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was soon followed by Bannon’s departure, is someone whose power is “definitely diminished” and who is chief of staff in name only — despite reportedly having accepted Trump’s offer to stay through 2020.

“First off, chief of staff qua chief of staff — he’s not chief of staff. I mean, let’s be blunt,” Bannon said. 

Trump was now running the White House as informally as he had once run the Trump Organization, his former Svengali insisted.

“Gen. Kelly is there for more administrative matters,” Bannon said.

Bannon’s comments came in an almost two-hour interview with The Hill in a Capitol Hill townhouse this week. 

The former Breitbart News executive, dressed in a navy shirt and long shorts, acknowledged that he no longer speaks to Trump directly, following the storm that ensued after the publication of Michael Wolff’s exposé “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” earlier this year.

Bannon had cooperated extensively with Wolff and was quoted as calling “treasonous” a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Kavanaugh controversy consumes Washington | Kavanaugh slated to testify Monday | Allegations shake up midterms Trump Jr. hits back at Anderson Cooper: He 'lied about me' CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him MORE, then-campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortEric Holder: Trump releasing docs on Russia probe is 'dangerous abuse of power' Time for sunshine on Trump-Russia investigation Legal expert says Manafort deal could help Trump in short term MORE and Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Manafort’s plea deal — the clear winners and losers Five takeaways from Manafort’s plea deal MORE.

After the book’s publication, Trump tweeted derisively about “Sloppy Steve.” Bannon, Trump insisted, had “lost his mind.”

Bannon has always had his share of detractors for what they consider his self-aggrandizing and divisive style. The critics are eager to note his own strategic missteps, including his support for Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreCorey Stewart fires aide who helped bring far-right ideas to campaign: report #MeToo era shows there's almost never only one accuser, says Hill.TV's Krystal Ball Dem senator: 'Not a good practice' for anonymous misconduct allegation to halt Kavanaugh nomination MORE in the Senate race in Alabama won by Democratic candidate Doug Jones last December.

But the strategist still sees himself as a keeper of the Trumpian flame, and he retains extensive contacts among Trump confidants.

Trump’s tepid approval ratings have led some GOP strategists to say that the party’s candidates need to get separation from the president as November looms.

Bannon emphatically disagreed.

“You’re not going to be able to hide Trump. The opposition is going to force this anyway. … You have to go all-in. If you try to go in half-baked, it’s not going to work,” he said. He insisted, against the conventional wisdom, that this approach could make Republican candidates competitive even in districts carried by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton: FBI investigation into Kavanaugh could be done quickly Hillary Clinton urges Americans to 'check and reject' Trump's 'authoritarian tendencies' by voting in midterms EXCLUSIVE: Trump says exposing ‘corrupt’ FBI probe could be ‘crowning achievement’ of presidency MORE in 2016.

Bannon’s recommendations have already drawn opposition, even in conservative circles. The Wall Street Journal argued in an editorial earlier this week that “the Bannon strategy is an incitement to Democrats to vote in precisely the places where House Republicans are most vulnerable.”

This assessment drew snorting derision from Bannon, who accused the Journal and other “old-style” Republicans of believing a “fantasy” that prosaic promises of reforming Congress would bring voters to the polls. Only Trump could do that, he said.

But he reserved even greater scorn for the fundraising and political network around the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, Charles and David. (David Koch has recently retired from his business and political commitments.)

Trump came in for harsh criticism from Charles Koch over the weekend for his trade policies. Bannon is hitting back.

Bannon argued the Koch network had lost some of its biggest donors after backing a number of losing candidates during the 2012 election cycle.

Now, he alleged, it was run by “con artists.”

“The Koch network is a conscious scam,” he insisted. “It’s an open secret in conservative circles that they are a scam, OK? And that’s why no big donors are with them anymore. They are fleecing these smaller donors … because these guys haven’t gotten the word. But it’s a total scam.”

Bannon also insisted, “Those aren’t donors. Those are marks. This is a con job.”

James Davis, a spokesman for the Koch network, responded: “We just had our largest summer seminar ever with more than 500 attendees. Our discussion focused on uniting the country to help remove barriers that are preventing people from reaching their potential. Toward that end, we look forward to working with anyone whenever possible, to help people improve their lives.”

If Bannon’s opprobrium for the Koch network is particularly sharp, it is only part of a broader picture in which he argues that the GOP has not yet changed to reflect the enthusiasm for Trump among the party’s base.

“The apparatus — the donor class — by and large I think still opposes President Trump, particularly the larger donors,” he complained.

Who in the Senate, he added, could really be counted upon to understand Trump’s agenda? 

Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP senators condemn 'vulgar' messages directed at Collins over Kavanaugh GOP turns its fire on Google Overnight Defense: Trump denies report he's looking at Mattis replacements | Inhofe officially gets Armed Services gavel | Trump revives shutdown threat MORE, Sen. [David] Purdue,” he began, answering his own question. “Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate approves 4B spending bill Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says Dems inflated Puerto Rico death toll | House cancels Friday votes | Florence starts to hit coast MORE — on some days. Maybe Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGOP candidate scores upset win in Texas state Senate runoff McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal Cornyn takes on O'Rourke over AR-15s MORE and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate approves 4B spending bill Overnight Health Care: Opioid legislation passes overwhelmingly | DOJ backs Cigna-Express Scripts merger | Senate passes ban on pharmacy gag clauses US military intervention in Venezuela would be a major mistake MORE on other days. But it’s on one hand and usually two or three digits.”

As for Ryan, the soon-to-be-ex-Speaker: “He’s a lame duck. What’s he even around for?” 

A Ryan spokesperson declined to comment.

Some of this animus, on both sides, undoubtedly stems from the 2016 election, where the GOP establishment initially reacted to Trump’s candidacy with disdain and horror.

Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSanders hits Feinstein over Kavanaugh allegations: Now it’s clear why she did nothing for months On The Money: Senate approves 4B spending bill | China imposes new tariffs on billion in US goods | Ross downplays new tariffs: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal MORE, the great Mitch McConnell!” Bannon exclaimed sarcastically, going on to list candidates favored by the Senate majority leader who were struggling to win reelection in 2016. He cited Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas Graham: Mueller is going to be allowed to finish investigation Trump authorizes sanctions against foreign governments that interfere in US elections MORE (R-N.C.), Roy Blount (R-Mo.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills MORE (R-Wis.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.).

McConnell "wouldn’t have been majority leader if it was not for Donald Trump. Donald Trump dragged ‘em all across the finish line at the end,” he said.

Bannon favors a House Freedom Caucus figure like Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanRussia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh and his accuser will testify publicly Jordan says FBI used 'crushing power of the state' to probe Trump campaign based on dossier MORE (R-Ohio) or Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsGraham to renew call for second special counsel Hillicon Valley: Sanders finds perfect target in Amazon | Cyberattacks are new fear 17 years after 9/11 | Firm outs alleged British Airways hackers | Trump to target election interference with sanctions | Apple creating portal for police data requests Graham: Obama, not Trump, politicized DOJ and FBI MORE (R-N.C.) as Ryan’s replacement atop the House GOP conference.

Even those congressmen, whose loyalty to Trump is unquestioned, might not quite match Bannon’s zest for defending the president even at this most incendiary moments.

He has no problem with Trump’s comments on the clashes between white supremacists and those opposed to them last summer in Charlottesville, Va. Trump caused widespread outrage by referring to “some very fine people on both sides” amid the violence.

“I still support what he said,” says Bannon, insisting that Trump was merely drawing an equivalence between those people who wanted to see Confederate statues covered or removed from the Virginia city and those who wanted them to stay.

In any case, he insisted: “Antifa is just as bad, if not worse, than the quote-unquote fascists that they try to stop.”

As for the child separation issue that more recently convulsed the nation, Bannon took issue with the suggestion that it was a political disaster for Trump.

“No, I don’t think it is at all,” he said. “What he said on the campaign, he’s delivering. There’s no hiding this.”

Referring to the families that were split up, he said, “They’re looking for a better life. There are 7 billion people in this world who would like to come to the United States looking for a better life. It’s not the point. The point is your sovereignty."

The Trump policy caused an international outcry. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics at the time told CNN it “amounts to child abuse.”

To Bannon, “it was a very humane solution” that fell victim to “media hysteria.”

Throughout the interview, Bannon inveighed against “the opposition party media,” a phrase that has long been a favorite of his.

Asked about the president’s reference to the media as the “enemy of the people,” a long harangue followed.

It encompassed everything from the media’s purported failure to call Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOn The Money: Senate approves 4B spending bill | China imposes new tariffs on billion in US goods | Ross downplays new tariffs: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Warren joins Sanders in support of striking McDonald's workers MORE (D-Mass.) out on “cultural appropriation” that is “sickening” — a reference to her claim of Native American heritage — to their alleged blaming of Trump for the gun attack on an Annapolis, Md., newspaper in June that left five people dead. 

The alleged killer, in that instance, was a man who appears to have had a long-standing grudge against the publication.

”That’s not Donald Trump’s problem,” according to Bannon.

As to the incendiary "enemy of the people" tag, which Trump’s daughter Ivanka dissented from on Thursday, Bannon argued barbs from the media aimed at Trump’s supporters are just as bad.

“Certain members of the mainstream media have gone out to vilify and to demonize and to call people racists and call them xenophobes and call them nativists, OK?” Bannon said.

“When you go out and do that, day in and day out, week in and week out, then what are you? That’s a populist movement. Those are the people, right? So what are you? Are you a friend of them, you’re an ally to them, you’re neutral to them or you’re [an] enemy to them? You have to look upon yourselves.”

There is more — much more — in that vein.

Bannon may no longer be the central player he once was — and he dismisses as “ridiculous” the idea that he would ever seek elected office.

But he’s not going anywhere.

“I’m a street fighter,” he says.

He’s spoiling for more fights to come.