Steve Bannon thought he wasn't giving an interview
Andrew Harnik / AP
Steve Bannon's White House colleagues can't believe what they're reading tonight — and here's the twist: neither can Bannon.
- The White House chief strategist has told associates he never intended to do an "interview" with an editor at the American Prospect, a left-wing publication.
- Bannon has told associates that he admired the author's stance on China, and so called the journalist, Robert Kuttner, on Tuesday, to discuss his piece. Apparently Bannon never thought that the journalist might take his (very newsworthy) comments and turn them into a story. It's Anthony Scaramucci all over again (minus the curse words.)
- The result is not good for Bannon, who is already under pressure, with colleagues lined up against him and a president who agrees with him ideologically but tells associates he thinks Bannon is a leaker.
Here's what one of Bannon's colleagues — somebody who's not an enemy of his — told me after reading the piece: "Since Steve apparently enjoys casually undermining U.S. national security, I'll put this in terms he'll understand: This is DEFCON 1-level bad."
Here are some things that Bannon's colleagues tell me bother them about the interview — an article that appears to be so well-read that it's crashing the American Prospect's servers:
- The liberal journalist Bannon called — Robert Kuttner — is no friend of Trump's. As Kuttner writes, "I'd just published a column on how China was profiting from the U.S.-North Korea nuclear brinkmanship, and it included some choice words about Bannon's boss. 'In Kim, Trump has met his match,' I wrote. 'The risk of two arrogant fools blundering into a nuclear exchange is more serious than at any time since October 1962.'"
- Bannon undercut the president's stance on North Korea: "Contrary to Trump's threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: 'There's no military solution [to North Korea's nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about, there's no military solution here, they got us."
- He openly talked about his internal fights with colleagues: "That's a fight I fight every day here," he said. "We're still fighting. There's Treasury and [National Economic Council chair] Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying."
- He talked about changing personnel in a way that made him sound like the president: "I'm changing out people at East Asian Defense; I'm getting hawks in. I'm getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State."
On big question: As one of Bannon's colleagues — again, somebody who is generally sympathetic to him — asked me after reading the piece: "What will Kelly do when he sees this?"
Bottom line: The piece gives Bannon's enemies ammunition at a time he's extraordinarily vulnerable. They've been saying he's a leaker, a self-promoter, "President Bannon," etc. This interview plays right into their hands.