Was Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton treasonous? Yes, according to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Bannon, who has returned to the Breitbart news site after having been forced out of the White House in August, spoke on the record to media critic and Hollywood Reporter contributing editor Michael Wolff as part of Wolff's highly anticipated new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, and didn't hold back his criticism of the campaign and Trump's son.
"The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers," Bannon told Wolff, according to excerpts obtained by the Guardian. "They didn't have any lawyers.
"Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s—, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately," Bannon continued. "They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV."
President Trump responded to Bannon on Wednesday afternoon in a 266-word statement, in which he said his former chief strategist had "lost his mind" and had "very little to do" with Trump's 2016 election victory.
"Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating 17 candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party," Trump said in the statement.
Donald Trump Jr. called Bannon a liar in a tweet sent after President Trump released his official statement, adding that Andrew Brietbart "would be ashamed" of Bannon's divisive comments.
The June 2016 meeting, first reported by the New York Times, took place before Bannon joined the campaign in August 2016. Then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who reportedly has ties to the Kremlin, at Trump Tower in a meeting set up by a trusted friend and publicist, Rob Goldstone, with the promise of documents that would "incriminate" Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
According to the Times, Trump Jr. was informed prior to the meeting through email "that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father's candidacy." Instead of contacting the FBI, Trump Jr.'s reply was, "I love it."
Bannon also waded into special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, and offered some predictions that won't sit well with his former boss.
"This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to f—ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner," Bannon told Wolff. "It's as plain as a hair on your face."
Both Manafort and former business associate Rick Gates face 12 counts, including money laundering and conspiracy, stemming from Mueller's investigation. Last month, the Times revealed that federal prosecutors subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, a financial institution in Germany that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to entities associated with the Kushner family's real-estate business.
"They're going to go right through that. They're going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me," Bannon predicted. "They're sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five."
Bret Baier, the host of Special Report on Fox News, said Bannon's quotes about Mueller's investigation "are equally newsy … and problematic for Trump world."
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, which features more than 200 interviews with the president, his inner circle, and players in and around the administration, is scheduled to be released next week.
Here is President Trump's full statement on Bannon's comments: