WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon on Sunday backed away from derogatory comments ascribed to him about Mr Trump’s son in a new book that sparked White House outrage and could threaten Mr Bannon’s influence as a would-be conservative power broker.
Mr Bannon, ousted from the White House in August, was quoted in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by journalist Michael Wolff, as saying a June 2016 meeting with a group of Russians attended by Donald Trump Jr and his father’s top campaign officials was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”.
The president responded by saying Mr Bannon had lost his mind, and the White House suggested the hard-right news site Breitbart News part ways with Mr Bannon as its executive chairman.
Mr Bannon said in a statement released on Sunday his comments were directed at Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s former campaign manager, and not aimed at the president’s son.
“Donald Trump Jr is both a patriot and a good man. He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around,” the statement said. “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.”
Uproar over the book has dominated news coverage for days, putting the White House on the defensive just as Mr Trump and his advisers sought to plan and bring attention to their policy goals for 2018 ahead of a November congressional election.
The former strategist’s statement could be aimed at trying to secure his job at Breitbart, a platform he has used while backing anti-establishment candidates for election to Congress.
The book portrays Mr Trump, a former reality TV star who took office nearly a year ago, as mentally unstable and unfit for the demands of his job.
Mr Trump said last week Mr Bannon had nothing to do with him or his presidency. That scathing response left Mr Bannon alienated among the more conservative factions of Mr Trump’s party.
Mr Bannon said he still supported Mr Trump, whose public break with his one-time strategist and use of a derisive nickname for him, “Sloppy Steve”, reflected the depth of the president’s anger.
“My support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda,” Mr Bannon said in the statement. “I am the only person to date to conduct a global effort to preach the message of Trump and Trumpism, and I remain ready to stand in the breech for this president’s efforts to make America great again.”