WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump on Wednesday released a head-scratching statement in response to explosive comments by his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, detailed in a forthcoming book.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said. He belittled his one-time close ally as “a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the (Republican) nomination by defeating seventeen candidates,” adding that Bannon “had very little to do with our historic victory.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders similarly diminished Bannon in comments to reporters on Wednesday, saying it was “clear” he “didn’t have a lot of influence” on the president or “the decision-making process” during his time in the administration.
In fact, Bannon became a key figure in Trump’s political braintrust when he joined the presidential campaign in August 2016, helping refine and focus the “America First” agenda that helped propel the businessman to his win. And until Bannon left the White House last August, he was the chief keeper of that message inside the administration.
But the effort to downgrade Bannon’s role in aiding Trump is a familiar refrain. The president and White House officials have deployed a similar approach to distance himself from former aides charged in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.
In October, Sanders argued that the indictments had “nothing to do with the president” or “the activities of the campaign.”
Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who was among those indicted, “was hired to manage the delegate process” in the battle for the GOP nomination “and was dismissed not long after that,” Sanders said.
Earlier last year, when Manafort first became a reported target in the Russia investigation, Sanders’ predecessor, Sean Spicer, claimed that the former campaign chairman “played a very limited role” in Trump’s White House race.
Spicer similarly discounted Michael Flynn, who briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser, describing him as just a campaign “volunteer.”
As part of Mueller’s probe, Flynn pleaded guilty to a felony count of lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government during Trump’s presidential transition.
Former campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russian officials, was a “young, low level volunteer,” Trump tweeted in October.
Former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo scoffed that Papadopoulos was only a “coffee boy.”