Steve Bannon has said he was certain Donald Trump Jr took a group of Russians with alleged links to the Kremlin to meet his father, after a now notorious meeting at Trump Tower, according to a forthcoming political book – leaked details of which are gripping political observers.
Excerpts from Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House claim Mr Bannon told author Michael Wolff the meeting between the billionaire’s eldest son, his then campaign manager, Paul Manafort, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was “treasonous and unpatriotic”.
Yet he opens the possibility that Mr Trump also met with the lawyer, and Russian lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin.
“The chance that Don Jr did not walk these Jumos up to his father’s office of the 26th floor is zero,” Mr Bannon said, according to an excerpt obtained by NBC.
He does not say he knows for certain that Mr Trump met with the Russian party, whom his son had agreed to talk to.
Commentators have pointed out that Mr Bannon did not join the Trump campaign until August 2017 – two months after the meeting at Trump Tower that Donald Trump Jr has said he agreed to after being promised incriminating material about Hillary Clinton, his father’s electoral rival.
Others have questioned, why, if Mr Bannon believed the meeting was treasonous, he has waited for the 2018 publication of a political book to make such views public.
After the New York Times revealed that the meeting had taken place in the summer of 2016, Mr Trump claimed his son had done nothing wrong.
“My son is a wonderful young man. He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer,” he said alongside French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris last July.
“It was a short meeting. It was a meeting that went very, very quickly, very fast.”
He added: “I think from a practical standpoint most people would have taken that meeting. Politics isn’t the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard.”
Mr Trump Jr subsequently claimed his father knew nothing about a meeting with the Russian lawyer. “There was nothing to tell,” he told Fox News when he was asked if he had told his father anything about the meeting.
He added that meeting was a “wasted 20 minutes” and in retrospect he would have “done things a little different”.
The President himself initially said he knew nothing about the meeting until details of it were revealed in the Times.
Yet Mr Trump later changed his position, telling reporter as he flew back from France – having helped dictate his son’s statement on the issue: “In fact maybe it was mentioned at some point.”
He added: “They talked about the adoption stuff which was actually a big thing at the time but nothing happened.”
He said he was not informed that the meeting had been held because the Trump campaign members believed they were to be given incriminating material on Ms Clinton provided by elements of the Russian establishment.
Ms Veselnitskaya has always denied working for the Kremlin or offering dirt on Ms Clinton.
Yet she has been at the front of efforts to overturn a set of US sanctions, known as the Magnitsky Act. In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin, made it more difficult for Americans to adopt Russian children.
Mr Trump responded to the publication of excerpts of the book by claiming he had “lost his mind”.
“Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look,” said Mr Trump. ”Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country.”
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