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 TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments 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 RyanHouse Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea Duncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden 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 TrumpWhite House calls Democratic witness's mentioning of president's youngest son 'classless' Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing Top Democrats knock Trump on World AIDS Day MORE, then-campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortGiuliani meets with fired Ukrainian prosecutor who pushed Biden, 2016 claims: report Top State Department official tells senators he has not seen evidence of Ukrainian interference Justice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe MORE and Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerDemocrat calls for investigation of possible 'inappropriate influence' by Trump in border wall contract Judge temporarily halts construction of a private border wall in Texas Mueller witness linked to Trump charged in scheme to illegally funnel money to Clinton campaign 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 MooreThe job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Former AG Sessions enters Alabama Senate race Campaign ad casts Sessions as a 'traitor' ahead of expected Senate run 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 ClintonTrump to hold campaign rally in Michigan Saagar Enjeti ponders Hillary Clinton's 2020 plans Political ad spending set to explode in 2020 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 CottonHillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators want FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats Enhancing protections for sensitive information in congressional investigations MORE, Sen. [David] Purdue,” he began, answering his own question. “Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Democratic congressman calls for study of effects of sex-trafficking law McConnell says he's 'honored' to be WholeFoods Magazine's 2019 'Person of the Year' MORE — on some days. Maybe Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrade deal talks expand as Congress debates tech legal shield Sanders meets with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred Cruz knocks Chick-fil-A over past donation: It has 'lost its way' MORE and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Pelosi works to remove legal protections for tech companies from USMCA | Treasury sanctions Russian group over 0 million hack | Facebook sues Chinese individuals for ad fraud | Huawei takes legal action against FCC Senators defend bipartisan bill on facial recognition as cities crack down Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans 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 McConnellDemocratic challenger to Joni Ernst releases ad depicting her as firing gun at him Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days The case for censuring, and not impeaching, Donald Trump 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 BurrSenate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges NC rep explores Tillis primary challenge Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators MORE (R-N.C.), Roy Blount (R-Mo.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing Push to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases MORE (R-Wis.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight 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 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 JordanTrump, first lady take part in National Christmas Tree lighting The Hill's Morning Report - Dem impeachment report highlights phone records Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ohio) or Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump, first lady take part in National Christmas Tree lighting Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown GOP lawmakers, Trump campaign rip 'liberal law professors' testifying in impeachment hearing 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 WarrenTrump to hold campaign rally in Michigan Castro hits fundraising threshold for December debate Buttigieg: Harris 'deserves to be under anybody's consideration' for vice president 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.