Consider the incessant, sensationalized coverage of the Bannon-Trump feud a microcosm of a society obsessed with outrage and the obvious. Bannon had to have known that he was serving the mainstream media and Trump critics precisely the type of uncritical, surface-water fish food that would create a frenzy by throwing around the term ‘treason’ in combination with the Trump administration, let alone the president’s son and namesake.
But look deeper, consider the important excerpt, and you will realize that there is a major potential bombshell within all of Bannon’s bombast.
The frenzy has been predictable. Even those within the conservative and non-traditional Trump base have become preoccupied by the hysteria. If they are paying attention to the right quotes, they are right to do so. Without spending too much time playing into the same trap that Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff, for whatever reason (likely money and attention), had to have known he was laying in front the media and to a lesser extent the president, it’s important to touch plainly on the excerpt that has re-energized the Red Scare-esque calls for impeachment.
Note that Steve Bannon did not, in a quote attributed to him by Wolff, directly label anybody involved in the now-notorious June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer – bait laid by enemies to fortify later claims of collusion – as treasonous.
"The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor -- with no lawyers. They didn't have any lawyers," Bannon said, according to the Guardian. "Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s***, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately."
Though you may consider Bannon's wording surrounding the term treasonous to be a matter of semantics, semantics matter, particularly in the case of a written, published quote by a former chief strategist to a sitting president. The wording takes on a heightened importance amid a political climate in which ‘impeach’ is thrown around more flippantly than a Frisbee.
That said, Bannon knew that the term would create a firestorm regardless of how he used it. To hint at the notion that either Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, or all three committed treason without saying so is selfish and cowardly, though perhaps Wolff chose not to include any qualifying statements intentionally. But, Bannon should have assumed that Wolff would include such a potentially incendiary passage in the book. That being the case, Bannon likely would have forseen that his words would dominate all the headlines without actually crossing the accusation of treason threshold. Regardless, Bannon was still besmirching his former workmates and the president by extension. And he knew what he was doing, at least in terms of how the media would paint his words.
Steve Bannon said that the president’s son, son-in-law, and advisor committed treason.
That is the obvious implication, and Bannon had to have known it would be. It’s not what he said, but he should have known and likely did know that is what would be gleaned from Wolff's accounting. Even if reporters knew better, "treasonous" is all they would include in their reports, even if they knew better. And they have.
Is Bannon correct in his assertion that taking a meeting with any non-diplomatic Russian was idiotic? Yes. It was a trap laid, as Bannon sees, by Kushner and anti-Trump factions that Don Jr. all-too-willingly walked right into. Bannon never trusted Kushner, and by all accounts he had little reason to. The role he had in the Trump Tower meeting is far beneath somebody of Kushner’s intelligence and cunning, but apparently not above Don Jr.’s gullible faith in his brother-in-law. Bannon, right as he is, cannot resist telling the president and those who will listen that he told them so.
And Bannon said as much, throwing in a few extra terms for headlines. This is hardly news, aside from the bold manner in which Bannon has chosen to speak, albeit without direct accustion. It is a manner which he has always utilized, most often to his own advantage. In this case, Wolff used it to his own ends, in this case being to sell books. Bannon is complicit in the resulting controversy and split in support that has resulted from the book's release. All of that said, Bannon added another tidbit that could very well prove true, and has potentially dire implications to his former boss’s hold on power.
"You realize where this is going ... This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose (senior prosecutor Andrew) Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy," Bannon reportedly said. "Their path to f***ing Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner ... It's as plain as a hair on your face."
Bannon was proven right about the meeting between Kushner, Don Jr., Manafort, and a Russian lawyer. His retrospective accounting is accurate as well. The manner in which he characterized the meeting can be criticized and contested, but not the substance of his comments. If he is right, and Kushner, Manafort, or both managed to tie Don Jr. into a more nefarious scheme involving money laundering – presumably in exchange for ‘dirt’ on the Clinton campaign – then the whole narrative changes.
Russia-Trump may no longer be the easily dismissed fairytale that his supporters have thus far believed it to be. Manufactured as it may be, if Bannon is proven correct again, it’s almost certainly the end for Trump. It’s a wonder why it, if true, has taken so long for Mueller to prove a monetary connection between Russia and the Trump campaign. But if he does, and there is money involved, down goes the ship.
It would be naive to completely rule out this possibility, including that Kushner was somehow involved in setting up his own father-in-law. He set up the Tower meeting, why would anybody put further subversion past him?
This is perhaps the reason why Donald Trump lashed out so angrily, so viscerally, at Bannon. If it dawned on him that, perhaps, his own son was gullible enough to be led into such a trap – that this is even a potentiality – it will continue to eat at him, to perhaps drive him, for lack of a better term, crazy. MSNBC, don’t quote me, I know how eager you are to deem the man unfit for office.
Bannon is bombastic. Bannon uses terms he shouldn’t. Bannon has an ego the size of Trump Tower. But Bannon has yet to prove himself a liar, and is correct more often than not. That’s why Trump took him on as chief strategist, and so apparently leaned on him for his strategy for so long. It was Bannon that had his hand on the pulse of rural America, blue-collar America, and yes, angry America. And Dr. Bannon was right all along.
It’s impossible to feel, and more importantly react so effectively to that pulse from a golden tower in Manhattan. Donald Trump had an inkling, but Bannon had much to do with the Trump campaign’s success, regardless of what the president now asserts.
"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. "Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn't as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country," added the President.
The truth, and even the potential yet unproven truth, can be difficult to hear. It can be painful, our reactions often visceral and exaggerated. How else could you explain Trump’s blatantly false disavowing of Bannon?
Whether Steve Bannon knew that Trump would react this way to his most critical quotes or not is at this point irrelevant. Trump's reaction, because of its extremity and absurdity, is. It speaks to the earlier question, which Donald Trump will surely be pondering until his first term, if not his presidency, ends or Bannon is proven right before then.
Did Don Jr. allow himself to get entrapped? Would Jared Kushner and/or Paul Manafort be willing to sabotage the man they pled loyalty to?
Is Steve Bannon telling the truth?