Ousted White House chief strategist Steve Bannon opened up about one of the biggest scandals so far of Donald Trump’s presidency during a “60 Minutes” interview with CBS News’ Charlie Rose that aired on Sunday.
During the interview, Rose told Bannon, “Someone said to me that you described the firing of [former FBI director] James Comey — you’re a student of history — as the biggest mistake in political history.”
“That would probably be too bombastic, even for me, but maybe modern political history,” Bannon replied.
“The firing of James Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history,” Rose clarified.
Bannon said: “If you’re saying that that’s associated with me, then I’ll leave it at that.”
It was reported that in the days leading up to Trump’s bombshell decision to fire Comey in early May, Bannon argued strongly against dismissing the FBI director.
At the time, Comey was spearheading the bureau’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which included probing whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the election in his favour. As Trump fumed over the investigation, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner backed the idea of firing Comey, arguing that Democrats would not be able to criticise the move after they lambasted Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Bannon disagreed. “You can’t fire the FBI,” he said, according to one White House official’s account to New York Magazine.
The decision ultimately backfired, prompting deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to tap former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel in charge of the investigation.
“The FBI is an institution,” Bannon told Rose during Sunday’s interview. “The Speaker of the House is an institution. The [Senate] majority leader is an institution. The Justice Department is an institution. They have an institutional logic of how they proceed and what they’re going to do. And you can’t get caught up in individuals.”
Rose pointed out, however, that despite characterising the Speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader as institutions, Bannon had announced he wanted to go to war against them and the GOP establishment.
“You want to go to war with Paul Ryan and he represents an institution,” Rose said. “So you want to go to war, but you didn’t want to go to war against James Comey, because you thought he represented another institution, the FBI. Is there not a contradiction in that?”
Bannon replied that there wasn’t, arguing that “with McConnell and Ryan — those institutions can be changed if the leadership is changed.” Conversely, he said the institutional nature of the FBI, particularly with respect to ongoing investigations, would likely remain unchanged by dismissing its leader.
The former chief strategist added that had Comey not been fired, Mueller would not have been appointed special counsel. “We would not have the Mueller investigation in the breadth that, clearly, Mr. Mueller is going.”
When Rose asked Bannon whether he believed Mueller should be fired, Bannon said that he did not and indicated that there had not been discussions about it within the White House.
Trump has characterised Mueller’s probe as a “witch hunt” on several occasions. Though it’s unclear whether Trump is seriously considering firing the special counsel, it has been reported that he is exploring his pardon power as Mueller’s investigation heats up and broadens in scope.
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