News Brief: Trump Attacks Bannon, Manafort Sues The DOJ, Winter Storm

Jan 4, 2018
Originally published on January 4, 2018 8:48 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It was just a few months ago that President Trump spoke of his former adviser, Steve Bannon, like this.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I have a very good relationship, as you know, with Steve Bannon. Steve's been a friend of mine for a long time. I like Steve a lot.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So that was then, and this is now. The president expressed a different view after quotes from Steve Bannon were released as excerpts from an upcoming book by journalist Michael Wolff. The former presidential adviser references the meeting that happened between a Russian lawyer and top Trump campaign officials, including Donald Trump Jr. Bannon is quoted as saying about the meeting, quote, "even if you thought that this was not treasonous or unpatriotic, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately," end quote. According to the book, he went on to say they're going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national TV. The president's reaction to all this - well, here's White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think furious, disgusted would probably, certainly fit when you make such outrageous claims and completely false claims against the president, his administration and his family.

MARTIN: The president issued an official statement saying his one-time close confidant Steve Bannon, quote, "has nothing to do with my presidency and has lost his mind."

INSKEEP: Let's discuss that with NPR's congressional correspondent Scott Detrow, who's here. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Also our justice reporter Ryan Lucas - Ryan, good morning to you.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: First, the Bannon statement itself - the statements about Don Jr. in that meeting, calling it treasonous - why would he go there?

DETROW: You know, I think Steve Bannon has long denigrated Jared Kushner and basically any other top adviser in the Trump administration. He's often painted Kushner as someone who opposes Trump's populist agenda. And he just didn't seem to respect Kushner's political instincts.

INSKEEP: Oh, Kushner's involved in this meeting too you're talking about here.

DETROW: Yes.

INSKEEP: OK, so you've got that. And yet, he's using the word treasonous. It makes me wonder if you're Bannon - if you're somebody close to Trump, and you're using the word treasonous about somebody else close to Trump, are you affectively saying you're not treasonous?

DETROW: I mean, that's a good question. And Steve Bannon has not spoken publicly since this book came out. I think there's also a lot of questions about why Trump ramped it up to 11 on his response to Steve Bannon. You know, they have a complicated relationship. And Trump has long been frustrated by reports of Bannon's high influence in his orbit. But we should point out. When he says that Bannon wasn't that influential, Trump essentially made him co-chief of staff at the beginning of his administration.

INSKEEP: OK, Ryan, let's try to figure out where these Bannon statements fit into the investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 election. We're talking about a meeting during 2016. A Russian lawyer is there. Top campaign officials are there in this meeting in Trump Tower. Bannon has a label for it. He says it's unpatriotic or treasonous or something. And he used another phrase we won't repeat here. But does he say anything else?

LUCAS: He does. There - some of the excerpts reference a statement that he made saying that basically there's no way that Trump Jr. did not take the Russian delegation - if we want to call it that - that he didn't take the Russians up to the 26th floor of Trump Tower to meet with Trump himself. Now, Bannon doesn't offer any proof. He merely lays this statement out there. But it's important because Trump has said that he was not aware of any outreach - any overtures by the Russians during the 2016 campaign. So if it's true, it would fly in the face of that. And also those who were involved in the meeting itself have said that it didn't go anywhere. It was a bust. It fizzled. And we didn't do anything with it. So if Bannon's statement plays out - and, again, he didn't offer any proof - it could have an impact on how we view and understand the Russian connection.

INSKEEP: So - and we're talking about a statement from a former presidential adviser, close confidant but also, I mean, the head of Breitbart News. I mean, this is not somebody who is necessarily always known for absolute truth telling. So we can't say that we have evidence of anything here - but something that's going to be of interest to investigators?

LUCAS: Certainly something that will be of interest - I mean, Mueller's team and congressional investigators obviously want to understand anything that they can about that Trump Tower meeting that has been a subject of intense focus. And if Bannon can provide greater insight on what happened, I'm sure they will want to talk to him about that.

INSKEEP: Scott Detrow, hasn't this rupture been coming for a while?

DETROW: Certainly, I mean, Steve Bannon, once he left the White House, decided to declare war on Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and what he liked to frame as the Republican establishment - saying he was going after McConnell and that he was going to to push Republican challengers to Republican incumbents. So Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, many other congressional Republicans have long said Steve Bannon is not a political winner. He should have nothing to do with Trump's strategic decisions. They pointed at the fact that Steve Bannon played a large role in the fact that Republicans lost a Senate seat in Alabama. But, again, I go back to the fact that Steve Bannon did not make Donald Trump endorse Roy Moore and endorse Roy Moore in increasingly direct and forward ways leading up to that election. That was a choice that President Trump made as well.

INSKEEP: The president has also made a choice to send his lawyers after Steve Bannon.

DETROW: He has. There was a cease-and-desist letter issued last night from Trump's private lawyers - also a threat of a future lawsuit. But we should say. Over Trump's career, he has consistently threatened lawsuits and consistently not filed them after making those public threats.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about another lawsuit now, Ryan, because Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman - the guy who was running the campaign before Steve Bannon came on board - he's under indictment now and is now suing the Russia investigation led by Robert Mueller. What's that about?

LUCAS: Well, what Manafort alleges in the lawsuit is that the - Mueller - the special counsel Robert Mueller has basically overstepped his mandate by investigating issues that aren't related to the 2016 campaign. So if you remember, Manafort was charged with money laundering and other crimes that are related to his work in Ukraine that date back to 2005 - so not stuff that's directly tied to the question of Russian interference in the election. Now, Mueller's mandate allows him to investigate any matters that may arise in the course of the investigation. And this would include something that has arisen in the course of the investigation. So legal experts have certainly questioned the seriousness of the lawsuit. A spokesperson for the DOJ called it frivolous but also said that Manafort can file what he wants.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, another aftereffect of the 2016 election, Scott Detrow, is this voter fraud commission, which president Trump said he wanted after claiming there'd been massive fraud against him. What happened to that commission?

DETROW: Well, it is being disbanded. The White House blames states not turning over information the commission requested. This commission's work had basically ground to a halt because of that and also a lot of legal challenges that opened it up to records requests, among other things. And we should point out this all came back to a response to a Trump tweet claiming he could have won the popular vote without voter fraud. There was never any credible evidence backing that claim up.

INSKEEP: Gentlemen, it is only the fourth day of the year. Thank you for coming by - really appreciate it. That's NPR's Scott Detrow and Ryan Lucas.

DETROW: Thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: OK, much of the country faced brutally cold weather even before the storm called a bomb cyclone.

MARTIN: Yeah, several deaths have been blamed on cold temperatures that have gripped parts of the U.S., from Texas to New England. So what's going to happen with this storm that is now on the move up the Eastern Seaboard?

INSKEEP: NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee is going to tell us. Good morning.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Thanks for coming by. What is a bomb cyclone?

CHATTERJEE: That's just the scientific term for a kind of cyclone that is formed when a big mass of cold, dry air bumps into a big mass of warm air - warm, moist air. And that collision creates a lot of energy that causes the air pressure to drop dramatically creating a very powerful cyclone like this one. And with this cyclone, what's happened is the cold that we've been experiencing for the last 10 days is one of the ingredients. That's because of cold air coming down from Canada which bumped into warm air over the Atlantic creating this storm.

INSKEEP: Oh, those of us in the eastern United States have been feeling the preliminary parts of this then.

CHATTERJEE: Exactly exactly. And as this storm moves up north, the air pressure is going to keep dropping, so it's going to get more and more powerful as it moves up north along the East Coast.

INSKEEP: What's bomb-like about it?

CHATTERJEE: It's just the drop and continuing drop of air pressure. So as it moves north, the air pressure is just going to keep dropping, drawing in more air from around it, creating that eye of the cyclone as the storm moves.

INSKEEP: OK, we heard our colleague Sarah McCammon, who was on the beach - at, I believe, Virginia Beach yesterday - describing how surf was coming up onto the beach and freezing. Like, some of the water was freezing before it would go back out. So we see some very, very early effects of this. What are some of the more severe effects that people could see up and down the East Coast?

CHATTERJEE: So as I mentioned, as it moves north, it's going to get more powerful. So New England is going to be the worst-hit region. We're going to - states like Massachusetts and Maine are going to get 12 to 18 or even more of snow. And those winds - the winds are going to get really powerful storm surges and power outages. And so people in New England should actually start thinking about if the power goes out, where can they get some shelter to shelter from the cold because the temperatures are going to continue dropping.

INSKEEP: You know as, we've gone through this cold weather and then heard about this storm, I started thinking about that movie "The Day After Tomorrow," the climate change movie which includes a massive - I mean, ridiculously massive snowstorm. But is there some connection between a storm like this - a series of events like this and climate change?

CHATTERJEE: So with - actually scientists have a much better idea with climate change and hurricanes. With winter storms like this, they actually don't really know whether there is a connection. The models just aren't that good. And so we don't know.

INSKEEP: Well, it's good to state frankly what we don't know. Thanks for coming by.

CHATTERJEE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: We'll be listening as we learn more. That's NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee this morning as we prepare for a massive storm moving up the East Coast.

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