In the days leading up to the January 6 riot at the US Capitol that left five people dead and more than 100 police officers wounded, one man may have been whispering in Donald Trump’s ear more than any other: Steve Bannon.
In the waning days of December, Bannon was on the phone with Trump, urging the President to make January 6 – the date of the official certification on the Electoral College vote by Congress – a sort of final stand in his war on (nonexistent) voter fraud.
As authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa recount in their book “Peril”:
“‘You’ve got to call Pence off the [expletive] ski slopes and get him back here today. This is a crisis.’ Bannon said, referring to the vice president who was vacationing in Vail, Colorado.
“Bannon told Trump to focus on January 6. That was the moment for a reckoning.
“‘People are going to go ‘What the [expletive] is going on here?’ Bannon believed. ‘We’re going to bury Biden on January 6th, [expletive] bury him.’
“If Republicans could cast enough of a shadow on Biden’s victory on January 6, Bannon said, it would be hard for Biden to govern. Millions of Americans would consider him illegitimate. They would ignore him. They would dismiss him and wait for Trump to run again.
“‘We are going to kill it in the crib. Kill the Biden presidency in the crib,’ he said.”
That conversation with Trump on December 30 was far from the only time the two talked in the lead-up to January 6. In fact, after a contentious meeting on January 5 in which Pence told Trump he would not overturn the election results the next day, Trump called Bannon, who was at a local DC hotel with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to commiserate. As Woodward and Costa write:
“Trump brought up his meeting with Pence. He said the vice president’s whole demeanor had changed – Pence was not the man he had long known.
“‘He was very arrogant,’ Trump said.
And in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, invoked Bannon in trying to understand the origins of that day.
“It was a planned revolution,” Woodward and Costa write. “Steve Bannon’s vision coming to life. Bring it all down, blow it up, burn it, and emerge with power.”
Bannon, speaking on his “War Room” podcast this week, confirmed that had huddled with Trump to plot a way to fundamentally undermine the Biden presidency on January 6 and even sort-of declare victory.
“It killed itself,” Bannon said of the Biden presidency, according to an account in Newsweek. “Just look at what this illegitimate regime is doing. It killed itself. OK? But we told you from the very beginning, just expose it, just expose it, never back down, never give up and this thing will implode.”
That Bannon was so involved in influencing Trump’s view of January 6 – or that he was in contact with the President at all – is a stark testimonial to the fact that Trump never really breaks with anyone fully.
Remember that Trump fired Bannon, who was serving as the chief political adviser to the president, back in August 2017.
Bannon, on his way out the door, insisted the populist presidency of Trump ended with his ouster. “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency,” Bannon told The Weekly Standard. “But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.”
Trump, as he does, attacked Bannon once his political svengali was no longer by his side. In the wake of Michael Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury,” which cast Trump in a deeply negative light (and for which Bannon was rumored to be a major source) the President put out a lengthy statement bashing Bannon.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
And yet, in his final days, as he sought to cling to a presidency that he had lost fair and square, Trump turned back to Bannon, who had made a name for himself in far right circles for his embrace of wild conspiracy theories and his belief that the bureaucracy was rotten to its core.
Bannon was ready and waiting, dripping his poison into Trump’s all-too-willing ear. January 6 was no accident. It was part of Bannon’s long-term plan to end democracy as we know it.