WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump publicly repudiated Steve Bannon, his former senior strategist and onetime campaign chief, after a new book surfaced in which Mr. Bannon made scathing and highly personal criticisms of some of the president’s top advisers, including several family members.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency,” Mr. Trump said in a statement released to reporters on Wednesday. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
In the book, a copy of which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Bannon called a June 2016 meeting between top Trump campaign aides and a Russian lawyer “treasonous” and aired concerns that missteps by aides could lead to legal jeopardy for the president.
The meeting has become a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump campaign aides colluded with the Kremlin in the interference. Mr. Trump has said his campaign didn’t collude with Russia, and Moscow has denied meddling in the U.S. election.
The president’s statement was released after the publication of quotes and excerpts from “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff. In the book, Mr. Bannon sharply criticizes the president’s adult children and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, all of whom Mr. Bannon sparred with during his six months inside the administration.
Mr. Bannon is quoted as describing Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a White House adviser, as “dumb as a brick.” A spokeswoman for Ms. Trump didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Bannon declined to comment. A person close to him said Mr. Bannon didn’t deny his quotes in the book.
President Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon left his job at the White House on Aug. 18, marking another major administration shakeup. WSJ's Shelby Holliday looks at Bannon's turbulent year with President Trump. Photo: Getty
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called the book “trashy tabloid fiction” that was “filled with false and misleading accounts.”
Late Wednesday, an attorney for President Trump and his campaign sent a letter to Mr. Bannon demanding that he “cease and desist” making disparaging statements to the news media about Mr. Trump and his family.
The letter from attorney Charles Harder said that Mr. Bannon violated the terms of his employment agreement with the Trump campaign by making the comments.
In the five-page letter, Mr. Harder wrote that under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Bannon promised that while working for the campaign “and at all times thereafter” he would not “demean or disparage publicly” Mr. Trump and his family, among others.
The letter contends that Mr. Bannon disclosed “confidential information” to Mr. Wolff. In talking to Mr. Wolff, Mr. Bannon “in some cases” made “outright defamatory statements” about the president and his family, the letter alleged.
The letter called on Mr. Bannon to confirm within 24 hours that he will comply with the demands.
A publicist with Henry Holt, the imprint of Macmillan that is publishing the book, didn’t respond to a request for comment. Mr. Wolff didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Bannon resigned his post in August shortly after John Kelly was named White House chief of staff with a mandate to bring more discipline to the West Wing. Mr. Bannon since then has positioned himself as a torch bearer for Trumpism and a minter of conservative candidates heading into the 2018 midterm elections. He returned to the conservative Breitbart website, where he is executive chairman.
Mr. Bannon supported Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race, while Mr. Trump initially backed another Republican candidate, Luther Strange, in the party primary before ultimately backing Mr. Moore in the general election. Mr. Moore lost that race to Democrat Doug Jones, who was sworn in Wednesday. Mr. Moore had been dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct with teenagers when he was in his 30s, which he denied.
Mr. Trump has had public fallouts with various people, including lawmakers, in the past, some of which he has later patched up. A permanent rift between the president and Mr. Bannon could have political implications leading up to November’s midterm elections and into 2020. A battle for the president’s political base could divide the conservative movement, especially if Mr. Trump begins to align himself more with the GOP establishment, which views Mr. Bannon with the same level of enmity as he views it.
In his statement, Mr. Trump played down Mr. Bannon’s role in the Trump movement.
“Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look,” the president’s statement said. “Steve had very little to do with our historic victory…. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans. Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself.”
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon during a campaign event for Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore in December.Photo: jonathan bachman/Reuters
Mr. Trump also charged that Mr. Bannon, known for his so-called economic nationalist stances on trade and immigration, portrayed himself as more influential than he actually was. “Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books,” Mr. Trump said.
At Wednesday’s media briefing, Ms. Sanders said the president was “furious” as he read excerpts from the book. She said Mr. Wolff, the author, visited the White House more than a dozen times last year and “95%” of the visits were to see Mr. Bannon. His only contact with Mr. Trump, she said, was a five-minute phone conversation. She said she believed Mr. Bannon and the president last spoke in early December 2017.
In the book, Mr. Bannon described the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the president’s oldest son and top advisers and a Russian lawyer as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
Donald Trump Jr. has denied he did anything wrong in agreeing to the meeting, in which the campaign had been promised negative information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He said no useful information emerged from the meeting.
Donald Trump Jr. tweeted Wednesday: “Steve had the honor of working in the White House & serving the country. Unfortunately, he squandered that privilege & turned that opportunity into a nightmare of backstabbing, harassing, leaking, lying & undermining the President.”
In the book, Mr. Bannon sharply criticized Mr. Kushner and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, for taking part in the Russia meeting along with Donald Trump Jr.
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic…and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” Mr. Bannon is quoted in the book as saying.
Further, Mr. Bannon predicted that the investigation by Mr. Mueller will focus on money laundering.
“This is all about money laundering,” Mr. Bannon told Mr. Wolff. The path to “Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner,” he said. “It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”
A spokesman for Mr. Kushner didn’t respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Mr. Manafort declined to comment.
Mr. Manafort pleaded not guilty in October to charges stemming from lobbying work he performed for the ruling party of Ukraine as well as attempts to allegedly hide the payments from that work. He filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that Mr. Mueller had exceeded his authority in indicting Mr. Manafort on the charges. A spokesman for Mr. Mueller declined to comment.
By Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Wolff’s book, available for preorder, was the No. 1 title on Amazon.com.
—Michael C. Bender contributed to this article.
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