Former White House strategist Steve Bannon thought Donald Trump was suffering from early-stage dementia and campaigned covertly to remove him from office via the 25th amendment, according to a veteran TV producer.
Ira Rosen, the author of a new memoir about his work for CBS, Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes, was speaking to Skullduggery, a podcast from Yahoo News.
Rosen told hosts Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman his book was “not a dish on this person or that person”, then gave listeners a taste of the dish inside.
He was asked about his relationship with Bannon, which developed around attempts to set up a 60 Minutes interview. “Steve is a big talker, a big gossiper,” Rosen said. “He became a source for a lot of media people in Washington.”
The former investment banker and failed Hollywood producer who came to run the ultra-rightwing Breitbart News website was Trump’s campaign chairman in his 2016 election victory over Hillary Clinton. But Bannon was fired as a White House strategist in August 2017, amid fallout over Trump’s praise for white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Bannon was a source for tell-all books but re-entered Trump’s orbit as the 2020 election approached. After his defeat by Joe Biden, Trump pardoned Bannon on a fraud charge relating to a fundraising effort for a wall on the US border with Mexico. Bannon remains a media gadfly, hosting a hard-right podcast.
In the early days of the Trump administration, Rosen said, he “became kind of a therapist” for Bannon, “loitering in the chief of staff’s office, drinking Diet Cokes … and he would kind of download to me on stories”.
Rosen took contemporaneous notes, he said, as he worked to build trust and secure an on-camera interview. It was not all smooth sailing. At one point, he said, Bannon told him “the people at the White House are telling me you’re gonna fuck me”.
“And I said, ‘Steve, I’m not gonna fuck you.’ And he said, ‘All right that’s all I needed to hear, we’re good.’ And that was it. That was our conversation.” Rosen said he and Bannon also communicated by text, some of which Bannon marked as off the record.
In his book, Rosen writes that Bannon “believed Trump was suffering from early stage dementia and that there was a real possibility he would be removed from office by the 25th amendment, where the cabinet could vote that the president was no longer mentally capable of carrying out his duties.”
He also writes that one Bannon text said: “You need to do the 25th amendment piece. By the way brother I never steer you wrong.”
Potential use of the 25th amendment was widely discussed throughout the Trump administration, intensely so in the aftermath of the 6 January Capitol riot, when Trump incited his supporters to attack Congress in his attempt to overturn the election. The amendment was not invoked. Instead Trump was impeached – and acquitted – a second time.
Rosen said Bannon’s eventual appearance on CBS was “one of the all-time great” political interviews. However, it did not contain the 25th amendment claim, which in his book Rosen says Bannon was also making to the rightwing donor Rebekah Mercer.
“He didn’t want to talk about it on 60 Minutes at the time,” Rosen said. “You can’t force the guy. But he had laid out the record at the time.”
Rosen said Bannon had “great frustrations with Trump”, who had been “throwing him under the bus”, particularly over an interview Bannon gave to Time magazine.
Bannon, he said, regularly cited a New York Times column by David Brooks, in October 2017, which said some Republicans visiting the White House suspected Trump might have Alzheimer’s disease – but gave him a standing ovation anyway.
“Bannon kept saying this, and he wanted to do something about it,” Rosen said. “Now, the secret was that Bannon crazily thought that he could be president.”
Asked to what extent Bannon’s claims represented “legitimate news versus Bannon just kind of trying to get attention”, Rosen said: “That’s exactly the trick in trying to deal with Steve, because a lot of it is to draw attention to himself.”