NEW YORK — Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon believes President Donald Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey was one of the worst mistakes in “modern political history.”
In a “60 Minutes” interview that was posted online Sunday night, Bannon was asked whether he considered Comey’s dismissal — which ignited a political firestorm and directly led to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including potential ties to Trump’s campaign — the biggest mistake in political history.
Bannon responded, “That would be probably — that probably would be too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history.”
He went on to acknowledge that if Comey had not been let go, it’s unlikely that the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller would have been established.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired, we would not have a special counsel, yes,” he said. “We would not have the Mueller investigation. We would not have the Mueller investigation and the breadth that clearly Mr. Mueller is going for.”
Bannon said he doesn’t believe Trump should fire Mueller, adding that he has not heard anything from within the White House that would indicate such a move is under consideration. Trump himself told reporters last month he hasn’t given firing Mueller any thought, despite people close to him telling the media that the President was considering it.
Bannon’s brash character was on full display in the interview, in which he discussed his disdain for the Catholic Chuch’s position on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, called the investigation into Russian election involvement “a farce” and took aim at the Republican establishment.
48 revealing lines of Steve Bannon’s ’60 Minutes’ interview
Bannon, known for his rhetorical bomb-throwing and willingness to poke the political establishment in the eye, did not disappoint in his conversation with Charlie Rose.
Below are the 48 most revealing lines from Bannon about President Donald Trump, his time in the White House and the Republican Party.
1. “The Republican establishment is trying to nullify the 2016 election.”
Think about this statement. Republicans are in control of the House, the Senate and the White House. This should be an absolute Republican Golden Age. Instead, Bannon sees an ongoing civil war in which the GOP establishment continues to try to rob the populist strain in the party of its rightful credit and power.
2. “They do not want Donald Trump’s populist, economic nationalist agenda to be implemented.”
The “they” here is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. And it’s not entirely what “they” have blocked of Trump’s agenda but presumably Bannon means failing to repeal Obamacare or approve funding for the border wall? (Worth remembering: Trump didn’t really run on a set of issues; he ran on a willingness to say controversial and un-politically correct things.)
3. “The ‘drain the swamp’ thing was — is Mitch McConnell was day one did not want to — did not want to go there. Wanted us to back off.”
McConnell has been in the Senate since 1985. He is a consummate insider who has made his name in Washington by his ability to outmaneuver his opponents using Senate arcana. He literally is the so-called “swamp” and has made a very good living for himself and his party by being just that.
4. “They’re going to be held accountable if they do not support the President of the United States.”
The former top strategist for the Republican President is openly threatening members of his party who disagree with Trump. Oh, also this news that Bannon is organizing primary challengers against GOP incumbents who don’t fall in line with Trump.
5. “The swamp is a business model. It’s a successful business model.”
He’s not wrong.
But it’s also worth noting that draining the swamp is a business model, too. Lots of outside groups and political consultants have raised lots of money and gotten very rich by promising to drain the swamp.
6. “In the 48 hours after we won, there’s a fundamental decision that was made … We embraced the establishment.”
This was, to Bannon’s mind, a very bad decision.
7. “So he looks around and I’m wearin’ my combat jacket, I haven’t shaved, I got — you know, my hair’s down to here …”
Bannon is talking about Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who apparently made the decision to embrace the establishment after Trump won. But, it’s an important point. Bannon — all double button-down shirts and unruly hair — didn’t look like official Washington. Kushner, suit and tie at all times, did.
8. “That would be probably — that probably would be too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history.”
Bannon is responding to Rose’s question of whether the firing of former FBI Director James Comey was the biggest mistake in political history. Suffice to say, it’s so far the worst mistake of Trump’s political history.
9. “By the Easter break, we’ll do repeal and replace.”
Bannon argued that Ryan promised Trump that Congress would get rid of the Affordable Care Act in the spring, handle tax reform over the summer and do infrastructure in the fall. It, um, hasn’t played out like that.
10. “I think their choice is going to be you’re not going to be able to totally repeal it.”
This is right. And John Boehner, the former speaker of the House, was right when he predicted Republicans wouldn’t repeal Obamacare. The issue? Getting rid of it sounds good. But replacing it with something else is very complicated and Republicans don’t agree on how to do it.
11. “I’m worried about losing the House now because of this — of — because of DACA.”
Bannon opposes the six-month window Trump gave Republican in Congress to get something done on DACA. His worry — Republicans debate and debate it but get nothing done in time — is a legitimate one.
12. “I think what we have to do is focus on the American citizens.”
This is Bannon’s politic(!) way of saying that he thinks Trump should have simply ended DACA.
13. “I think — I think as — as the work permits run out they self deport.”
“The answer is self-deportation.” — Mitt Romney, 2012.
14. “There’s no path to citizenship, no path to a green card and — no amnesty. Amnesty is non-negotiable.”
Bannon’s view is not uncommon among Republicans in Congress — especially in the House. That reality makes clear how hard it will be for Ryan and McConnell to find any sort of deal on DACA that a majority of their conference will be for.
15. “You couldn’t be more dead wrong. America was built on her citizens.”
This response from Bannon comes in response to Rose pointing out that the US was conceived as a melting pot. Bannon, um, disagrees. Vehemently.
16. “Economic nationalism is what this country was built on. The American system.”
Bannon’s argument — which he goes into slightly more detail on with Rose — is that the US has to look out for itself and its manufacturing sector, first, second and last. And that people who aren’t citizens aren’t part of that equation.
17. “Because unable to really to come to grips with the problems in the church, they need illegal aliens, they need illegal aliens to fill the churches.”
Um, what? By Bannon’s logic, the reason the Catholic Church opposes DACA is because they know the faith is struggling and the only way to make their numbers is to allow undocumented immigrants to pack into their church services.
Bet you didn’t know that.
18. “I’m a street fighter. That’s what I am.”
Also, same. Except the exact opposite.
19. “Donald Trump’s a fighter. Great counter puncher. Great counter puncher. He’s a fighter.”
The “counterpuncher” thing is straight from the mouth of Trump. What’s interesting about it is that it’s not totally true. Trump does do best when he is in a back and forth with someone — President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, etc. But, it’s not at all clear to me that Trump is always counterpunching. It feels like he is just punching a fair amount of the time.
20. “I was the only guy that said he’s talking about something, taking it up to a higher level.”
Bannon on Trump on Charlottesville. It’s not clear to me how Trump’s attempts at both-side-ism when dealing with neo-Nazis and white supremacists was him “taking it up to a higher level.”
20. “When you side with a man, you side with him. I was proud to come out and try to defend President Trump in the media that day.”
So, because Bannon said he was for Trump and had worked to get him elected, the only honorable thing to do was to defend Trump on Charlottesville? That is, to me, odd logic.
22. “I’m talking about obviously, about Gary Cohn and some other people. That if you don’t like what he’s doing and you don’t agree with it, you have an obligation to resign.”
Cohn, the chief economic adviser to Trump, is Jewish. In an interview with the Financial Times post-Charlottesville, Cohn said Trump “can and must do better” in condemning hate groups. That, according to Bannon, is a bridge too far — and Cohn should have resigned.
23. “David Duke — the President has condemned David Duke and what David Duke stands for.”
In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper in February 2016, Trump said this of Duke: “I don’t know — did he endorse me, or what’s going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.”
He later blamed a bad earpiece for the comments.
24. “I don’t need to be lectured — by a bunch of — by a bunch of limousine liberals, OK from the Upper East Side of New York and from the Hamptons, OK, about any of this.”
Remember that at the heart of Bannonism (and Trumpism) is a hatred for elites. That distaste comes out in this quote from Bannon. He views elitists as having lectured him his whole life about how to act and what to say — even though they allegedly lack the life experience he has.
25. “There’s nothing to the Russia investigation. It’s a waste of time.”
I don’t know if Bannon is echoing Trump here or the other way around. Either way, this is exactly what Trump continues to say about the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
26. “I think it’s far from conclusive that the Russians had any impact on this election.”
This is a common talking point from the President — and others around him. But it misses the point. No one is alleging that Russian altered the election results. Trump won. Period.
What is at issue is how Russia tried to meddle in the election, whether and where they had success and if anyone in Trumpworld colluded with the Russians to make all of this happen.
27. “I don’t think the President goes out of his way — what his point is, why pick another fight?”
“Donald Trump’s a fighter. Great counterpuncher. Great counterpuncher. He’s a fighter.” — Steve Bannon, #18
28. “He criticizes the Russians all the time.”
He really doesn’t.
29. “The elites in this country have got us in a situation, we’re at not economic war with China, China is at economic war with us.”
“The elites.” (See #23)
30. “That’s the geniuses of the Bush administration. I hold these people in contempt, total and complete contempt.”
I wrote last week about how Trump had killed the Republican Party George W. Bush tried to build.
31. “They’re idiots, and they’ve gotten us in this situation, and they question a good man like Donald Trump.”
Don’t hold back, Steve! Tell us what you really think!
32. “The Condi Rice, the George W. Bush, his entire national security apparatus.”
It’s interesting to me that in the entire Bannon interview so far, he’s attacked Democrats not at all and Republicans a whole lot.
33. “Reince started off and Reince said, ‘You have — you have two choices. You either drop out right now, or you lose by the biggest landslide in American political history.'”
Bannon on the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape — and how he was the only one who told Trump to stay in the race and ignore it. (I wrote more about this last Friday.)
34. “Christie, because of — Billy Bush — weekend — and — was — was — not looked at for a cabinet position.”
The New Jersey governor disagrees.
35. “Actually, the Grim Reaper.”
36. “You can call me anything you want. OK?”
37. “I’m not cut out to be a staffer.”
One-thousand percent true. It was always an odd fit for Bannon to be in the White House staff. He is a charge the gates kind of guy. Not a stand behind them one.
38. “I cannot take the fight to who we have to take the fight to when I’m an adviser to the President as a federal government employee.”
It’s a fascinating window into Bannon’s thinking that he believes he can only have real influence on who he needs to influence by being something other than the chief strategist to the president of the United States.
39. “A Darwinian environment for ideas is positive.”
This sounds like a Decemberists lyric.
40. “I think what he does on Twitter is extraordinary. He disintermediates the media.”
Two sentences that explain why Trump will never, ever give up his Twitter feed — regardless of whether Bannon (or Trump) is right about social media.
41. “The pearl-clutching mainstream media.”
I rarely wear pearls to the office. And, when I do, I try not to clutch them.
42. “I don’t think he needs — The Washington Post and The New York Times and CBS News. And I don’t believe he thinks that they’re looking out what’s in his best interest, OK?”
(screams) The media’s job is not to look out for any President’s “best interest.”
43. “(General Kelly’s) not going to be able to control it either because it’s Donald Trump.”
Bannon couldn’t be more right about this. Trump is Trump. No one will change that.
44. “Hillary Clinton’s not very bright.”
The hottest of hot takes.
45. “Sherrod Brown gets this. Tim Ryan gets this … The people around (Chuck) Schumer get this.”
The Bannon endorsement! My guess is that these three Democrats will not be touting Bannon’s kind words about them.
46. “And (Bernie Sanders) did not have the guts to take on Hillary Clinton in that primary.”
I’m not sure it was about guts but there’s no question that Sanders could have gone after Clinton WAY harder than he did in the 2016 Democratic primary.
(Greg Krieg and I talked about that here.)
47. “I think he’s at 30 — I think he’s 36% or 38% because he hasn’t — we haven’t gotten the wall built.”
That is not the reason I would have cited for Trump’s low approval ratings.
48. “We’re going to win in ’18 and we’ll pick up six or seven Senate seats. I think we’ll pick up a couple of seats in the House. And he’ll win in a huge landslide in ’20.”
This prediction is predicated on Trump continuing to do what he promised to do as a candidate, according to Bannon.
List of quotes and commentary compiled by Chris Cillizza.