Brian Becker on Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear was joined by Joe Lauria, a veteran journalist who has also worked for major newspapers in four countries, perhaps most notably as the Wall Street Journal's correspondent to the United Nations.
"Mr. Bannon has fallen and I think he was the ideological force behind Trump, particularly in relations with Russia," said Lauria. "It's interesting to know why did Trump call for detente, and still seems to be pursuing detente, with Russia. Many people who believe in Russiagate believe it's because he's somehow beholden to them or has been blackmailed or whatever. But professor Jeffrey Summers with the University of Wisconsin wrote an interesting piece where he said Bannon was the one who had impressed upon Trump that he should improve relations with Russia so they can team up against Islamic extremism."
"Bannon is gone, but he's now become fodder for the book by Michael Wolff which is now being mined by both Mueller and the House Intelligence Committee. We don't know what Bannon told the intelligence committee, since it was behind closed doors. But the New York Times, who broke the story, speculate that the subpoena is a way to get Bannon to agree to an interview rather than stand before the grand jury."
Lauria also discussed Wolff's "Fire and Fury," which paints a highly negative image of the first year of the Trump White House — including a quote from Bannon describing Donald Trump, Jr. and former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort as "treasonous."
"If you read the key quote in that book, the House Intelligence Committee wants to question him about an allegation against Paul Manafort and Donald Trump, Jr. for treason. I find this very curious. If Bannon wanted Trump to have better relations with Russia, it's curious that he would roll out an accusation of treason. He's far from the only one to bring the charge against Trump in this entire Russiagate fiasco, but if you look at treason, it's the only crime defined in the US Constitution. It says clearly treason against the US consists only of assisting an enemy of the US… in a state of open hostility with us."
"Russia is not in open hostilities with the United States, no one would argue that. The idea that Trump, Jr. has committed treason is ridiculous. I don't know why Bannon used [the term]. Clearly he was angry at Trump for being fired, I don't know if he was begging for his job back as Trump tweeted," Lauria said.
The conversation then turned to the specifics of Bannon's claim of treason, the meeting between Manafort, Trump, Jr. and several Russian lobbyists in Trump Tower, and its connection with the famous "dodgy dossier" compiled by Christopher Steele.
"If I could talk a second about that Don Jr meeting, there's a core issue in it over the difference in opposition research and intelligence," Lauria said. "While Christopher Steele was an MI-6 intelligence agent for Britain, he was working for a private company at the time. He was hired by the Clinton campaign and the [Democratic National Committee] through Fusion GPS. Glenn Simpson, of Fusion, who hired Steele directly, wrote in a New York Times editorial that Steele produced intelligence memos. He was either lying or misleading the readers — he has to know the difference between them."
"The difference is that intelligence reports are vetted by the intelligence agent and then by his superiors and usually by other agencies in his country's intelligence community. It's also a taxpayer-funded operation, supposedly to protect society, although that's not always what intelligence agencies do. Opposition research is a completely different thing: getting dirt on a political opponent, which is what Steele did," Lauria explained.
"The idea that Trump, Jr. had gotten this opposition research from the Russian government, as apparently Bannon said, is completely incorrect because there was no one from the Russian government, there was a former KGB agent. The lawyer was not a member of the government and no dirt was ever turned over. [There's] only been one campaign that received opposition research from foreigners during the 2016 campaign: the Clinton campaign that paid for it via a British former intelligence agent and his supposed Russian sources. But foreign opposition research [has] never been established as a crime."