Steve Bannon has officially turned on President Trump, as revealed by Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, months after Trump unceremoniously fired him. Unsurprisingly, Trump was not at all happy that his former chief strategist described Don Jr.’s infamous Trump Tower-Russia meeting as “treasonous.” In fact, Trump fired off a statement that included angry sentiments like “he lost his mind” and “Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look.” Fast forward a few hours, and Trump’s attorneys are flexing their legal muscles.
The threat arrives in the form of a cease and desist (C&D) letter to Bannon, who previously signed a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) during the Trump campaign. The agreement, which was previously published in full by Buzzfeed News, prohibited acts like working for another political candidate during the election, but it also banned Bannon from “disparagement” of Trump and his family members “during the term of your service and at all times after.” And that’s the section referred to by the C&D, as excerpted by ABC News:
“You [Bannon] have breached the Agreement by, among other things, communicating with author Michael Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members, and the Company, disclosing Confidential Information to Mr. Wolff, and making disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements to Mr. Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members, and the Company, knowing that they would be included in Mr. Wolff’s book and publicity surrounding the marketing and sale of his book.”
The letter also includes a standard threat to sue for an injunction (basically an order to make Bannon shut up) or monetary damages (for an unspecified amount). There’s no telling whether a court would actually enforce the NDA, given that Bannon went on to become a federal employee under Trump. And although Trump stated that he wanted White House staffers to sign fresh NDAs, he couldn’t legally make them sign new agreements that apply to their time as government employees.
So far, it seems that Bannon has angered Trump with statements applying to his time on the Trump campaign. Yet although the NDA claims to cover disparaging statements for all of eternity (that is, beyond the campaign), a court isn’t terribly likely to rule against Bannon’s First Amendment rights to slam his boss as a former federal employee. Really though, no one — especially anyone who thought SNL accurately cast Bannon as the Grim Reaper — should be surprised to see him turn on Trump.
Weirdly (and possibly after he received the C&D), Bannon is now talking nicely about Trump. CNN reports that he described Trump as “a great man” while speaking to a caller on his SiriusXM show. He added, “You know, I support him day in and day out.”