World

Trump breaks with Bannon, says former White House aide 'lost his mind'

Trump blasts former White House chief strategist after damaging comments in excerpts from new book

WASHINGTON United States President Donald Trump blasted former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on Wednesday as having "lost his mind" in the fallout over damaging comments Mr Bannon made about Mr Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. in excerpts from a new book.

Mr Trump, who had continued to speak privately with Mr Bannon after firing him in August, essentially cut ties with his former aide at least for now in a blistering statement issued after Mr Bannon's comments came to light.

"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," Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump had relied heavily on Mr Bannon, chairman of the right-wing Breitbart News website, for advice in the months leading up to his upset victory in the November 2016 election.

Mr Bannon helped Mr Trump shape a populist, anti-establishment message and has been the President's link to his conservative base of support.

It was not clear if the split would push Mr Bannon to be even more aggressive in his campaign against the Republican establishment and if he would now also target Mr Trump or would emerge much weaker.

According to excerpts from Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Mr Michael Wolff, Mr Bannon described a June 2016 meeting with a group of Russians at Trump Tower in New York as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic".

The meeting was arranged by Mr Trump's son and attended by top campaign officials.

Mr Trump has in the past praised Mr Bannon for his friendship, but he said in his statement on Wednesday that Mr Bannon had little to do with his election victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, calling him "a staffer who worked for me" after he had already won the Republican nomination.

The President said Mr Bannon was to blame for the loss of a US Senate seat in Alabama last month, when Republican Roy Moore, whose campaign was derailed by accusations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, lost to Democrat Doug Jones.

Mr Trump and Mr Bannon backed Mr Moore in the campaign.

"Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning is not 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.

"Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans," Mr Trump said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had been upset over Mr Trump's backing of Mr Moore at the urging of Mr Bannon, was clearly pleased that Mr Trump was willing to rid himself of the former aide.

His campaign organisation posted on Twitter an image of the normally taciturn senator with a beaming smile.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump Jr. attacked Mr Bannon in a tweet.

'SQUANDERED"

"Steve had the honour 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. Steve is not a strategist, he is an opportunist," he said.

Mr Trump said Mr Bannon was trying to promote himself by "leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he 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," said Mr Trump.

Lawyers for Mr Trump sent a cease-and-desist letter to Mr Bannon on Wednesday.

They said in the letter that Mr Bannon had breached an agreement by communicating with Mr Wolff about Mr Trump, his family members and the campaign and made disparaging remarks about Trump and his family.- REUTERS

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