WASHINGTON - The White House unleashed a scathing attack on Donald Trump's former chief strategist who is quoted as saying he thought it "treasonous" and "unpatriotic" for the president's eldest son and others to meet with Russians during the 2016 election.
President Donald Trump was "furious and disgusted" after reading the comments made by Stephen Bannon in a new book, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday.
The president, the press secretary and the first lady's communications director all issued statements during the afternoon blasting Bannon, an influential nationalist who was chief executive of Trump's campaign in the last three months prior to the 2016 election before taking a senior position in the White House West Wing.
"Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency," Trump said. "When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."
The president, in his statement, declared Bannon is "only in it for himself" and "spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was" at the same time that he had declared war on the media.
A lawyer for President Trump has threatened legal action against Bannon over what he calls “disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements” in a new book.
Trump attorney Charles Harder has sent a letter to Bannon, saying the former Trump aide violated confidentiality agreements by speaking with reporter Michael Wolff for a book. The letter demands Bannon “cease and desist” any further disclosure of confidential information.?
Bannon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. ABC News first reported the letter from Harder.
Bannon in book
Wolff, in his book, quotes Bannon assailing Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner (who is a key White House adviser) and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, for meeting with Russians promising incriminating information about Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
The June 2016 meeting inside campaign headquarters at Trump Tower in New York came after the president's son said he would "love it" if he could acquire damaging material on Clinton.
Trump Jr. subsequently said that the Russian lawyer at the meeting had no such incriminating evidence.
"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 said, referring to the top U.S. law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It is a "ridiculous accusation" that the president's son committed treason, replied Sanders to a reporter's question.
In the book titled, Fire and Fury, Bannon is also quoted saying that Trump Jr. will "crack like an egg" under the pressure of the investigations into meddling by Russia in the last U.S. presidential election.
Sanders said author Wolff wrote "false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House," but she acknowledges the author was allowed to have "dozens of interactions" at the White House since Trump became president.
Bannon, after leaving the White House, remained a staunch Trump supporter, but has failed so far in his political efforts to help insurgent Republican candidates win congressional seats to support Trump's populist agenda.
"You have a former advisor here who has almost as big as an ego as the president himself," says presidential historian David Cohen.
Focus on money laundering
Bannon, according to the book, says that the investigative team led by special counsel Robert Mueller, now in the midst of a criminal investigation of alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia during the election, is focusing on money laundering.
"Their path to f------ Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner," Bannon is quoted saying. "It's as plain as a hair on your face."
The rupture with the Trump White House makes Bannon a potentially dangerous adversary as he was present at many critical meetings during the campaign and in the White House.
"He knows where the bodies are buried," Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron (Ohio), tells VOA. "If Bannon is publicly breaking with Trump, who's to say he's not going to potentially tell all to the investigators? This could be extremely damaging from a legal perspective to Trump."
Mueller has already indicted Manafort and another Trump campaign aide, Rick Gates, on money laundering charges linked to their lobbying efforts for Ukraine prior to the 2016 election, and secured guilty pleas from former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to federal agents about their Russia contacts.
Aside from probing Trump campaign links with Russia, Mueller is also investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey, who was heading the agency's Russia investigation before Mueller was appointed to take over the probe.
Manafort, in an unusual legal move, on Wednesday sued Mueller.
The civil lawsuit accuses Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, of exceeding his legal authority to "grant Mr. Mueller carte blanche to investigate and pursue criminal charges in connection with anything he stumbles across."
"The lawsuit is frivolous, but the defendant is entitled to file whatever he wants," a Justice Department spokesperson, who asked not to be named, tells VOA News.
VOA's Department of Justice correspondent Masood Farivar and Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.