Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told congressional investigators that the controversial June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton was “unpatriotic,” a private acknowledgement of comments he’s tried to publicly distance himself from, according to sources familiar with his closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee earlier this week.
Bannon, according to Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff, said the meeting attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and then campaign chairman Paul Manafort was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad [expletive], and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately,” Bannon said, according to Wolff.
He later distanced himself from those comments, which reportedly angered President Trump, saying in a statement that the eldest Trump son “is both a patriot and a good man,” and that the “treasonous” comments were directed at Manafort.
But two sources familiar with Bannon’s congressional testimony tell ABC News that Bannon told lawmakers that the meeting was “unpatriotic,” though he admitted that his initial description of the meeting as “treasonous” was hyperbolic.
A third source familiar with Bannon’s testimony told ABC News that Bannon’s comment about the meeting to lawmakers was only a reference to Manafort, not Trump Jr. or Kushner.
Bannon only said that the meeting “displayed poor judgment” on the part of Trump Jr. and Kushner, but was “excusable because they were newcomers to political campaigns,” the source said.
Bannon, who was questioned about his comments to Wolff by lawmakers, told the committee he was speculating when he suggested to Wolff that it was likely that Trump Jr. brought the Russian lawyer and other individuals in the meeting to meet with Donald Trump in Trump Tower, according to two sources.
“The chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero,” Bannon said, according to Wolff.
Sources familiar with Bannon’s interview also told the committee that he had communicated with former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, press secretary Sean Spicer and Mark Corallo, the former spokesman for the president’s legal team, about the Trump Tower meeting after the New York Times broke the news on the meeting in July of 2017. Bannon’s comments to the committee about these conversations were first reported by Axios.
Bannon is expected back before the committee later this month after he refused to answer questions about his time working for Trump during the transition and in the Oval Office.
Bannon did not respond to a request for comment.
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