“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor—with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers,” Bannon said, per Wolff. “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
Bannon predicted that Special Counsel Robert Mueller would go after all three participants for money-laundering, citing Mueller’s hiring of experienced financial-crimes prosecutor Andrew Weissmann. “They’re going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national TV,” Bannon said.
In describing the Trump Tower meeting as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic,” Bannon becomes the first major Trump insider to say what is at this point clear to anyone willing to look at the facts: Whether or not there were any crimes committed, Trump aides colluded with Russia. The pattern runs from George Papadopoulos’s conversations with Russian agents, through the Trump Tower meeting, and up to Michael Flynn’s conversations with then-Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, about which he has pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents.
None of this proves that the Trump campaign committed a crime, nor that these actions determined the outcome of the election. But they do show that Trump’s repeated insistence that there was no collusion isn’t credible. For a time last summer, Trump and his defenders quit claiming there was no collusion, and adopted a new talking point: that collusion was entirely normal and proper. More recently, the president has returned to claiming there was no collusion.
“I think it’s all worked out because frankly there is absolutely no collusion, that’s been proven by every Democrat is saying it,” he told The New York Times last week. (His claim about Democrats is false.) “So, I think it’s been proven that there is no collusion.”
The fact that Bannon dares call it treason is a powerful counter to this denial, and it’s powerful because Bannon’s name will forever carry the label “former White House chief strategist.” As Dick Morris, Jeffrey Lord, Pat Caddell, and dozens of other mediocrities and washed-up operatives can attest, such an imprimatur can sustain a career for decades. By elevating Bannon to that title, Trump set himself up for pain. Before Trump hired him, Bannon had a checkered record—he’d done decently for himself financially, but he had an up-and-down business career and his proudest achievement was sitting atop Breitbart—a news organization that even he disparages in Wolff’s book (saying a leak could go “down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”).
Bannon was able to help usher Trump to a victory in the election, though the portion of the credit he deserves is in dispute. An electoral win tends to have a thousand fathers, and in any case Trump felt Bannon often inflated his role. Once in the White House, the self-proclaimed Leninist proved to be just as much an agent of chaos as he had proudly been at Breitbart—pushing his own priorities, even when they put him at odds with the rest of the White House; fighting bitter internecine wars via leaks; and giving damaging interviews to liberal publications.