Bannon Calls Comey Firing the Biggest Mistake in ‘Modern Political History’

September 11, 2017

By NOAH WEILAND

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/10/us/politics/steve-bannon-60-minutes-interview.html

Stephen K. Bannon at the White House in June. He left the White House on Aug. 18 after a year first as President Trump’s campaign chief and then in the West Wing. CreditChip Somodevilla/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — In his first extended interview since he left the White House last month, Stephen K. Bannon was unsparing in his criticism: calling out top Republicans, West Wing staff, the “pearl-clutching mainstream media,” special counsel investigators and the Roman Catholic Church.

He even singled out President Trump, labeling his firing of James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, the biggest mistake in “modern political history.”

Pressed by the interviewer, Charlie Rose, Mr. Bannon said that had Mr. Comey not been fired, the Justice Department investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia’s election interference would not have been handed over to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

“We would not have the Mueller investigation and the breadth that clearly Mr. Mueller is going for,” Mr. Bannon said. Mr. Mueller is said to be investigating whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in firing Mr. Comey.

The assertion, made in an online-only segment of a wide-ranging “60 Minutes” interview that aired on Sunday night, was perhaps the most extraordinary of many criticisms made by Mr. Bannon as he sets out to reclaim his mantle as Mr. Trump’s most prominent outside supporter from his perch as the head of Breitbart News, the far-right website. for the entire time” he is in office.

“Our purpose is to support Donald Trump,” he said. “I cannot take the fight to who we have to take the fight to when I’m an adviser to the president as a federal government employee.”

Mr. Bannon left the White House on Aug. 18 after a year first as Mr. Trump’s campaign chief and then as his chief strategist in the West Wing. He returned the same day to his previous role as chairman of Breitbart.

Among those Mr. Bannon plans to take on? Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, two Republicans Mr. Bannon accused of “trying to nullify the 2016 election.”

“They do not want Donald Trump’s populist, economic nationalist agenda to be implemented,” Mr. Bannon said. “It’s obvious as night follows day.” He cited as an example a request that Mr. McConnell once made of Mr. Trump to stop talking about “draining the swamp.”

Mr. Bannon predicted deep division within the Republican Party over Mr. Trump’s recent move to end the program that provided temporary relief from deportation for hundreds of thousands of young people in the United States illegally. The president set a March end date for the program and asked Congress to come up with a solution in the meantime, a task that Mr. Bannon said could split Republicans and cost them their House majority in the 2018 midterm elections.

“If this goes all the way down to its logical conclusion, in February and March it will be a civil war inside the Republican Party,” he said.

When Mr. Rose asked whether Mr. Bannon’s opposition to the immigration program was true to his Catholic faith, Mr. Bannon took aim at church leaders and claimed they relied on illegal immigration to fill pews. “The bishops have been terrible about this,” he said. “You know why? Because unable to really to come to grips with the problems in the church, they need illegal aliens. They need illegal aliens to fill the churches.”

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, called Mr. Bannon’s comments “preposterous and rather insulting.”

In the interview from his Washington home, Mr. Bannon reacted defensively when asked whether his clout in the White House had diminished by the time he left. “I had the same influence on the president I had on Day 1,” he said.

His departure was hastened by Mr. Trump’s growing weariness with the image Mr. Bannon cultivated as the architect of the president’s populist agenda.

Mr. Bannon, who is often critical of those he sees as Washington careerists hostile to Mr. Trump, has become famous for his polemics that critics see as reflections of the president’s impulses.

“The media image, I think, is pretty accurate,” he said. “I’m a street fighter. That’s what I am.”

Mr. Bannon also condemned top officials in the George W. Bush administration, calling them “idiots” friendly to what he termed China’s anti-American economic agenda. He singled out Condoleezza Rice and Colin L. Powell, former secretaries of state, and Brent Scowcroft, an adviser to Mr. Bush and his father, as those most worthy of his scorn, criticizing them for China’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization.

“They’ve gotten us in this situation, and they question a good man like Donald Trump,” he said. “I hold these people in contempt, total and complete contempt.”

He also called the special counsel a “waste of time.” “It’s a total and complete farce,” he said. “Russian collusion is a farce.”

But he declined to answer when Mr. Rose asked whether Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, was responsible for the dismissal of Mr. Comey.

Mr. Bannon seemed eager to pursue anyone who has crossed Mr. Trump. He said he was the president’s only defender after the racially tinged violence in Charlottesville, Va., last month, when Mr. Trump was widely condemned for statements that likened white supremacists to people protesting them.

“I was the only guy that said, ‘He’s talking about something, taking it up to a higher level,’” Mr. Bannon said, then echoed Mr. Trump’s language in the days after the Charlottesville violence. “Where does this end? Does it end — does it end in taking down the Washington Monument?”

Yet Mr. Bannon accused neo-Nazis of “getting a free ride off Donald Trump” for their role in white supremacist rallies.

“The left-wing media makes them up as some huge part of Donald Trump’s coalition,” he said. “It’s a small group. It’s a vicious group. They add no value. And all they do is show up.”

Mr. Bannon told Mr. Rose that he did not “need the affirmation of the mainstream media.” Neither does Mr. Trump, Mr. Bannon said.

“I don’t think he needs The Washington Post, and The New York Times, and CBS News,” he said. “And I don’t believe he thinks that they’re looking out what’s in his best interest, O.K.?”

Mr. Bannon also attacked Gary D. Cohn, Mr. Trump’s top economic adviser, who publicly criticized the president’s comments about Charlottesville. “If you don’t like what he’s doing and you don’t agree with it, you have an obligation to resign,” Mr. Bannon said. “You can tell him, ‘Hey, maybe you can do it a better way.’ But if you’re going to break, then resign.”

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