If you thought Steve Bannon was forever banished from the conservative political spotlight, think again.
We have proof of his continuing ambition in Robert Costa's report last night for The Washington Post. Bannon "is pitching a plan to West Wing aides and congressional allies to cripple the federal probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election," Costa writes.
The first step, these people say, would be for Trump to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the work of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and in recent days signed off on a search warrant of Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen.
Bannon is also recommending the White House cease its cooperation with Mueller, reversing the policy of Trump’s legal team to provide information to the special counsel’s team and to allow staff members to sit for interviews.
And he is telling associates inside and outside the administration that the president should create a new legal battleground to protect himself from the investigation by asserting executive privilege — and arguing that Mueller’s interviews with White House officials over the past year should now be null and void.
“The president wasn’t fully briefed by his lawyers on the implications” of not invoking executive privilege, Bannon told The Washington Post in an interview Wednesday. “It was a strategic mistake to turn over everything without due process, and executive privilege should be exerted immediately and retroactively.”
It is hard to overstate the Machiavellian character of Bannon's advice here. The moves he suggests are not simply terrible for democracy and rule of law, they could easily be terrible for Donald Trump, making impeachment more likely, not less.
Indeed, given his own full cooperation with Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation, we cannot discount the possibility that Bannon is trying to hasten the process of impeachment -- and even to maximize the political damage to the GOP in the process.
For while a blue tsunami would end the Republican hold on power, it would also sweep away moderate Republicans from purple districts, leaving the more extreme Republican members safe in their deeply-red districts. Bannon may have calculated that the overall effect would be to take the party even farther to the right, which is a longstanding goal.
Not purely by coincidence, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan -- a primary target of Bannon's insurgent wrath prior to his fall from grace -- announced yesterday that he will not run for reelection in November so as to spend more time with his tax cuts.
Kurt Bardella, a former Breitbart employee with an intimate understanding of Bannon's war against the establishment, says that "Ryan’s legacy is that of a would-be leader who was afraid to use his voice to save the GOP from the fear and division of the alt-right." For Bannon, who nurtured the alt-right as an electoral force, and originally recruited white supremacist Paul Nehlen for a primary challenge against Ryan, the departing speaker is exactly the sort of Republican who needs to get out of the way.
Furthermore, with party leadership totally discredited and its institutions in disarray, Bannon probably supposes that his deep ties to the grassroots conservative movement could make him a kingmaker once again. In fact, Bannon has reportedly considered running for president himself in 2020 if Trump is removed from office -- an ambition that is perfectly consistent with his bad advice to the White House.
Would Steve Bannon burn down everything he has built, including the Trump presidency, in order to elevate himself? Having watched his career since he took over Breitbart in 2012, the scenario does not seem at all far-fetched to me. Bannon has always fought his war against the Republican establishment first. Everything else is secondary.