Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on Sunday said his comments calling a meeting between Donald Trump Jr., the President’s eldest son, and a Russian lawyer in June 2016 “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” were actually aimed at President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort.
Bannon did not apologize to Trump Jr. but called him “a patriot and a good man” who has “been relentless in his advocacy for his father” and the President’s political agenda.
“My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate,” Bannon said in a statement to Axios. “He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr.”
Manafort in October pleaded not guilty to 12 counts including conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money and making false statements, the first charges to come from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Bannon on Sunday said that his support for Trump “is also unwavering.”
“I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency,” he said.
After the Guardian on Wednesday reported Bannon’s alleged remarks criticizing Trump Jr’s 2016 meeting, which Michael Wolf first reported in his book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” Trump tore into his former strategist.
“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,” Trump said in a statement. “Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders subsequently claimed on Thursday that she was “not aware” that Trump and Bannon “were ever particularly close.”
Sanders also suggested that conservative media outlet Breitbart News, where Bannon serves as executive chairman, “should look at and consider” parting ways with him.
Conservative megadonor Rebekah Mercer, a part owner of Breitbart News and member of its board, also said on Thursday that her family did not support Bannon’s “recent actions and statements.”