WASHINGTON — Facing withering criticism from President Donald Trump, former White House allies and even his financial backers, Breitbart News chief and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon backtracked Sunday from his commentary in a new book that portrays the president as mentally unfit for his job and members of his family as unpatriotic.
Without attacking author Michael Wolff's account — or even directly apologizing for the substance of his own remarks — Bannon affirmed his allegiance to Trump. He also tried to recast his conclusion that a 2016 meeting between Russian emissaries and Trump campaign officials, including Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, was "treasonous" and "unpatriotic."
Calling his support for the president and his agenda "unwavering," Bannon said in a statement: "I remain ready to stand in the breech for this president's efforts to make America great again."
But the bulk of Bannon's statement, which was first reported by Axios, appeared to be targeted toward assuaging supporters of Trump Jr., who is a favorite in the "alt right" movement that forms part of the president's base and Breitbart's following.
"Donald Trump Jr. is both a patriot and a good man," Bannon said. "My comments about the meeting with Russian nationals came from my life experiences as a Naval officer stationed aboard a destroyer whose main mission was to hunt Soviet submarines to my time at the Pentagon during the Reagan years ... and to making films about Reagan's war against the Soviets and Hillary Clinton's involvement in selling uranium to them."
He added that his remarks to Wolff were aimed at Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who attended the meeting and has since been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller on charges of financial misdeeds.
Manafort is a "seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate," Bannon said in the statement. "To reiterate, these comments were not directed at Don Jr."
Notably, Bannon's statement is silent on Kushner, with whom he reportedly has a very strained relationship.
Aside from reiterating his support for Trump on his Sirius XM radio show, Bannon had been uncharacteristically quiet amid the maelstrom that accompanied reports on Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House."
But the self-styled guardian of Trumpism had quickly become politically isolated over the past few days. The president attacked him in a scathing statement declaring that Bannon had "lost his mind." After that, Republican officeholders, candidates and donors distanced themselves from Bannon.
Sunday's statement — an unusual case of Bannon backing down — appeared to be an effort to stem the criticism and begin regaining the faith of top patrons, including the president and his namesake son.
The closest he came to saying sorry was with regard to Trump Jr. and any damage to the president's work.
"I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr. has diverted attention from the president's historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency," Bannon said.