The infamous meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump’s eldest son and other senior members of his campaign team, was “treasonous and unpatriotic”, according to ousted White House strategist Steve Bannon.
In explosive leaked comments from a much-anticipated book about Mr Trump’s campaign and his seizing of victory, Mr Bannon claims that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election is increasingly focused on possible money laundering.
“They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV,” he adds, according to details of the book seen by the Guardian.
It is not clear when Mr Bannon spoke with journalist Michael Wolff, who is the author of the forthoming Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Mr Bannon, a pugilistic nationalist and conservative, became the head of Mr Trump election campaign in August 2016 and served as senior adviser to him in the White House from January 20 2017, until he was fired in August 2017.
Since then, Mr Bannon has returned to the helm of his right wing news site Breitbart News, and put his support behind the failed candidacy of “insurgent” Roy Moore in Alabama. He has vowed to funnel money and support to other non-establishment candidates in the 2018 midterms.
Mr Bannon was not a part of the Trump campaign when the billionaire’s eldest son, his son-in-law Jared Kusher and then campaign manager Paul Manfort, met at Trump Tower with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Also present was a Russian lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, who has long worked in Washington on issues of importance to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Mr Trump Jr claimed he agreed to attend the meeting after being told Ms Veselnitskaya had incriminating material on his father’s rival, Hillary Clinton, saying: “I love it”.
After details of the meeting were revealed last year by the New York Times, Mr Trump Jr sought to play down its significance. He claimed Ms Veselnitskaya in truth only wanted to talk about lifting US sanctions on Russia and had no material to offer on Ms Clinton. His father said he supported his son’s decision: “Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended.”
Meanwhile, Ms Veselnitskaya claimed she had not offered any information and did not work for the Kremlin.
Despite Mr Trump’s Jr’s claims of innocence, critics of the President claimed the June 2016 meeting in New York was evidence of collusion with Russia that many had alleged and which Mr Mueller’s team is currently investigating.
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Mr Wolff claims Mr Bannon was scornful of the meeting: “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. They didn’t have any lawyers,” the former strategist is quoted as saying.
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
He said if there had been a need for such a meeting it should have been held at “a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”, and not such a high profile location.
He said if the campaign members had obtained anything incriminating, it could have been passed down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.
Mr Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to. But that’s the brain trust that they had.”
The White House has yet to respond to Mr Bannon’s reported comments.
However, others have questioned the former strategist’s motives.
Conservative Matt Drudge, creator of the Drudge Report, tweeted: “No wonder schizophrenic Steve Bannon has been walking around with a small army of bodyguards.”