Bannon was convinced that firing Comey was going to put the Jared/Ivanka side of the White House in a weaker position. The Jared/Ivanka side was likewise worried of this. Bannon’s resurgence would mean that family wasn’t as important concept in the White House as everyone thought.
Bannon was convinced any opposition to him was finished. If they weren’t, they were an existential threat to the White House. Bannon thought they were giving terrible advice and he particularly disliked Ivanka. He thought her stupid aside from some marketing chops and a marketable look. The Jared/Ivanka side, for their part, were beginning to think Bannon and his team were master political assassins.
The animosity stemmed back to the idea on the Jarvanka side that Bannon had leaked Jared’s interactions with the Russians. This led Jared and Ivanka to think of their rivalry with Bannon as a winner-take-all scenario. Thus, it was an uncomfortable moment when Bannon openly verbally attacked Ivanka in front of her father and Donald Trump, for his part, merely waved it off with “this is a tough town, baby.”
No one was sure what it meant to have a resurgent Steve Bannon. Trump didn’t forget slights, especially if he saw someone winning at the expense of Trump himself. Bannon felt like recent events proved that his advice was better than the Jared/Ivanka side. At least with the firing of Comey, this was true. Jared and Ivanka, for their part, felt like Bannon was using right-wing media to effectively blackmail Trump.
All the same, Bannon didn’t miss his opportunity. This time around he was doing everything he could to install people loyal to him. These people formed an army to attack on Bannon’s behalf and defend him when someone attacked him. Bannon even smoothed things over with Reince Priebus, largely because both of them hated Jared and Ivanka.
In addition to this, Bannon was in charge of the team of lawyers that would act as a line of defense between Trump and special prosecutor Robert Mueller. Bannon hired one of Trump’s pit-bull lawyers, Marc Kasowitz to be on the legal end and a Karl Rove staffer by the name of Mark Corallo to be the team spokesperson. Bannon then tried to take advantage of Kasowitz’s history with Trump by having Kasowitz recommend to Trump that Jared and Ivanka had to go back to New York. It didn’t work, but it was a nice try.
Nevertheless, Bannon was clearly back on top. The icing on the cake was the June 1 announcement that Trump would be pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Ivanka fought hard for this not to happen, but ultimately she lost. Bannon took this as a sign that Ivanka was on her way out.
A dedicated prosecutor is one of the ultimate wildcards in politics. Just by existing a prosecutor can generate intense, constant and unwelcome media focus. In addition, as the case grows, so too do the number of people who have to hire lawyers “just in case”. Even if involvement is minimal, millions of dollars can be spent for legal protection. As Mueller’s investigation went on, staffers were frantically trying to get representation at a given law firm before anyone else did to prevent conflicts of interest for the lawyers involved. No one would talk about Russia in public or otherwise. The more that was said, the more likely the investigation would come calling. Bannon himself kept insisting on discipline. “Be careful who you talk to” and “Don’t ever talk to Jared and Ivanka. They’re Russia-toxic.”
As an additional insurance, Bannon arranged for Vice President Mike Pence to be out of the White House a lot. It was better to have him out in the world glad-handing than potentially getting caught up in the investigation. He wasn’t the only one Bannon was worried about, either. Anyone could flip in an investigation. Paul Manafort worked in too many gray areas and had a nemesis in Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, to whom he owed 17 million dollars. Deripaska wanted to be able to travel into the United States and was willing to dish on Manafort to do it. Tom Barrack was one of several of Trump’s billionaire friends who had listened to Trump endlessly gossip as President. Barrack was also aware of Trump’s financial history. He was one of many whom the investigation might touch just because his phone calls with the President. The truth is, the investigation could touch anybody and everybody.
Bannon didn’t think Trump could be brought up on charges of formal collusion and conspiracy with Russia. That would have required a level of organization and teamwork that Trump and his subordinates didn’t seem capable of. Everyone, including Bannon, thought that if the investigation wore on, Trump’s family would all find their financial history under the microscope. That’s something nobody wanted.
Problems were compounded by the fact that Trump was convincing himself that there would be no problem if he fired Mueller. The idea fit into Trump’s person world view of man-to-man confrontation, where people were either strong and respectable, or weak and pathetic. By making everything so personal, Trump turned everything into a death match that gave him an advantage against those who weren’t expecting to deal with such intensity. This is the one thing that Bannon understood about Trump; he made everything personal and was helpless not to.
Since Trump was being talked out of firing Mueller, he focused his ire on Sessions. Trump ridiculed, insulted and belittled everything about Sessions, from his height to his voice and his clothing. This was a problem for Bannon. If Trump liked someone, then Trump liked everything associated with that someone. If Trump didn’t like someone, then he didn’t like anything associated with that someone. Bannon didn’t realize this, or thought perhaps he could work around it. Unfortunately, his attempts to get Trump to back off of Sessions backfired, and Bannon’s star began to threaten to dim again.
Trump was already thinking of replacing Sessions. His thoughts were on Chris Christy or Rudy Giuliani, both of them, he felt, would fight endlessly and ruthlessly for him. Of course, everyone else know neither of these two stood a chance in getting confirmed if he nominated them.
James Comey spoke before the Senate Intelligence Community on June 8, about 12 days after Trump returned from his trip to the Middle East and Europe. Staffers were trying to gain insight into his state of mind. Many wondered why he didn’t just fire Comey during his first days in office. It would have seemed like a natural changing-of-the-guard and saves everyone so much trouble. The theory was beginning to form that Trump thought he had more power, authority and control than he actually had, compounded by the fact that he thought he could manipulate anybody into doing what he wanted. This gave way to pondering if Trump had a problem with reality.
This idea was a contradiction to the initial idea everyone had of Trump; that he was some kind of political wizard. No one could explain how he became President, so the explanation everyone reached for was that he had some kind of personal magic that made him unstoppable. The firing of Comey and the hiring of Mueller began to crack this belief. For the first time, people were questioning if perhaps he wasn’t really up to the job of being President.
Bannon believed that Jared and Ivanka were to blame. If they continued to be advisors to Trump, the whole enterprise was going down. Jared and Ivanka believed that Bannon was to blame. They thought he was preying on Trump’s worst instincts. Everyone blamed Reince Priebus. Priebus was Chief of Staff and was therefore expected to rein everything in. That would make sense, except Trump didn’t like being reined in and created chaos as a management technique over subordinates. Priebus was completely de-powered and would never have been able to do anything no matter what his job description was.
The day of Comey’s testimony came and Comey himself came across as professional and detailed. He explained how Trump had tried to cajole him into stopping an investigation on Flynn. Trump came across as shady liar, unconcerned with rules and protocols, and generally someone worth investigating. Trump insisted that he hadn’t watched the testimony, but everyone knew he had. There was something else everyone knew, or at least believed: Trump had no defense against Comey.
Sessions gave his testimony to the same committee on June 13. A notable aspect of the testimony was Sessions’ use of executive privilege. He used it to get out of answering a lot of questions, and people noticed. Bannon was sympathetic. Trump saw Sessions as the cause of the Comey scandal, but Bannon thought Sessions was a victim of it. In conversation with Jared Kushner all people, Bannon explained his thoughts. What Trump didn’t understand, in Bannon’s view, was that the fight was with institutions and not people. Trump believed he could be bigger than the system, but Bannon knew the system would fight back. Trump was fighting to get back to a good place. Bannon believed that there was no good place. That there was a war between an upstart President and a political machine composed of institutions that didn’t want to adapt to the President’s new “normal”.