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President Donald Trump wavered in his support for White House aide and strategist Steve Bannon in an interview with The New York Post on Tuesday, following stories of a rift forming between Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
"I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late," Trump said. "I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist, and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.
"Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will," Trump said.
Trump "didn’t know Steve"?
That’s an altogether different story than Trump told when he first hired Bannon, a former top editor at the conservative website Breitbart, onto his campaign staff last fall. It also directly contradicts the public record.
Trump announced the hiring of Bannon and adviser Kellyanne Conway as part of the Trump campaign on Aug. 17, 2016. Here’s what he said at that time:
"I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win," Trump said. "I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again. I am committed to doing whatever it takes to win this election, and ultimately become President because our country cannot afford four more years of the failed Obama-Clinton policies which have endangered our financial and physical security."
So, in Trump’s own words he either "didn’t know Steve," or he has "known Steve … for many years."
One of those claims is clearly wrong.
Rebecca Berg of RealClearPolitics provides the answer. She reported the day after Bannon’s hiring by the campaign that Bannon first met Trump in 2011, when Trump was considering whether to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012. In later years, Bannon hosted a radio program in which Trump was a frequent guest, Berg reported.
"As Breitbart grew, Mr. Trump was constantly in touch with Steve about news articles and doing interviews with his reporters," David Bossie, president of the conservative advocacy nonprofit Citizens United, told RealClearPolitics.
The Washington Post counted nine times that Trump appeared as a guest on Bannon's radio show.
That version of events is corroborated by The New Yorker. "In 2011, David Bossie, the head of the conservative group Citizens United, introduced Trump to Bannon; at the time, Trump was thinking about running against Obama. Bannon and Trump met at Trump Tower and discussed a possible campaign. Trump decided against the idea, but the two kept in touch, and Bannon gave Trump admiring coverage. Bannon noticed that, when Trump spoke to crowds, people were electrified. Bannon began to think that Trump might be "the one" who could shake up American politics."
Reporters who covered the Trump campaign were puzzled by Trump's retelling of events.
"Trump claiming he didn't know Bannon till late in campaign is flatly untrue," tweeted Maggie Haberman of the New York Times. Added McKay Coppins of The Atlantic: "Just for the record: Trump is pretty blatantly not telling the truth when he says he didn't know Bannon until late in the campaign."
We've reached out to the White House and will update this post if we hear back.
Trump said that before the presidential campaign, "I didn’t know Steve," referring to Steve Bannon.
That’s contradicted by Trump’s own words and independent reporting.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire.
The New York Post, "Trump won’t definitively say he still backs Bannon," April 11, 2017
Trump campaign, "Donald J. Trump announces major campaign hires," Aug. 17, 2016
RealClear Politics, How the Trump-Bannon Alliance Took Shape, Aug. 18, 2017
The New Yorker, "The reclusive hedge-fund tycoon behind the Trump presidency," March 27, 2017
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