US President Donald Trump’s lawyers have written to his former strategist Steve Bannon, saying he has violated a non-disclosure agreement.
The cease-and-desist notice accuses Mr Bannon of defaming the president in speaking to author Michael Wolff.
Mr Wolff’s forthcoming tell-all book describes the president as being unprepared for the job.
Mr Trump responded by saying Mr Bannon had “lost his mind” after losing his White House position.
His lawyers said Mr Bannon had broken his employment agreement by speaking to Wolff about Mr Trump and his family, “disclosing confidential information” and “making disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements to Mr Wolff about Mr Trump, his family members, and the Company”, the letter said.
What is in the book?
The book – Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House – makes many explosive claims, including that:
- Mr Bannon thought a meeting between Donald Trump Jr and a group of Russians was “treasonous”
- The Trump team was shocked and horrified by his election win
- His wife, Melania, was in tears on election night
- Mr Trump was angry that A-list stars had snubbed his inauguration
- The new president “found the White House to be vexing and even a little scary”.
- His daughter, Ivanka, had a plan with her husband, Jared Kushner, that she would be “the first woman president”
- Ivanka Trump mocked her dad’s “comb-over” hairstyle and “often described the mechanics behind it to friends”
It also alleges that former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair told Mr Trump during a meeting last February that the British intelligence services may have been spying on him and his campaign, according to a report in The Times newspaper.
The Times says Mr Blair was hoping to get a job advising Mr Trump on the Middle East. A spokeswoman for Mr Blair told The Times that the allegations were a “total fabrication” and said Mr Blair had not suggested himself as Mr Trump’s Middle East envoy.
In March 2017, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer told journalists UK intelligence services could have been involved in an alleged spying operation on Trump Tower in New York. GCHQ said the allegation was “nonsense”.
Who is Michael Wolff?
The 64-year-old writer is a former columnist for New York magazine and Vanity Fair. He also wrote a biography of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
His book is reportedly based on more than 200 interviews.
According to New York magazine, which first published the extracts, Wolff was able to take advantage of the Trump administration’s political inexperience to gain an unusual amount of insight.
“There were no ground rules placed on his access, and he was required to make no promises about how he would report on what he witnessed,” it says.
Wolff said he was able to take up “something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing” following the president’s inauguration.
How has the Trump administration responded?
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Mr Trump said in a statement on Wednesday. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
“Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party,” he continued.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders described the book as “filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House”.
“Participating in a book that can only be described as a trashy tabloid fiction exposes their sad desperate attempts at relevancy”.
An inevitable break-up
Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington
Donald Trump swept to the presidency in part on the back of Steve Bannon and his Breitbart conservative media empire. Now we will see how he fares when he is at war with them.
The president’s blistering reply to Mr Bannon’s comments appears to indicate that the bridge between the politician and his ideological spirit guide has been reduced to cinders. But how will Mr Trump’s legion of supporters react? It is never wise to underestimate their dedication to the man himself, above all else.
No matter the outcome of this coming battle, this has to be viewed as a devastating failure for Mr Bannon personally. After spending years advocating for an anti-establishment conservative populism, he finally had a seat in the halls of power. He said in early 2017 that his goal was nothing short of the “deconstruction of the administrative state”.
Now he is on the outside again, besieged by long-time antagonists and former allies. His president recently signed a tax bill embraced by corporate interests. His first post-2016 foray into elective politics, the Alabama Senate race, ended in humiliating defeat.
Perhaps, given all this, the Bannon-Trump feud was as inevitable as it is certain to be vicious.
How did the Bannon/Trump relationship implode?
Mr Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, was considered a key player in the Trump White House and helped shape Mr Trump’s “America First” campaign message before he left his post in August.
In April, Mr Trump had declined to affirm that Mr Bannon still had his support, removing him from his elevated role on the crucial National Security Council.
He then appeared to downplay Mr Bannon’s role, declaring in a New York Post interview: “I’m my own strategist”.
After leaving the White House, Mr Bannon returned to his role as the head of the right-wing Breitbart News website, where he said he planned to help Mr Trump’s administration as a “wingman outside”.
Mr Trump reportedly spoke to Mr Bannon as recently as 13 December, the day of the special US Senate election in Alabama that saw the defeat of Republican Roy Moore, whom Mr Bannon supported.