US President Donald Trump's former chief strategist offered a semi-apology after days of withering castigation from the White House over his scathing comments in a new book.
Steve Bannon praised Trump in a public statement that aimed to soften his earlier criticism.
His mea culpa came as Trump and his senior aides continued a barrage of public insults against him. The President's top policy adviser, Stephen Miller, called Bannon an "angry, vindictive person" whose "grotesque comments are so out of touch with reality".
Bannon asserted that passages in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff in which he was quoted as being critical of Donald Trump jnr's contacts with a Russian lawyer - calling their 2016 meeting at Trump Tower "treasonous" and "unpatriotic" - were a mischaracterisation.
Bannon insisted his criticism was aimed not at the President's eldest son but rather at former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was fired and is facing charges in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Manafort, who also attended the meeting with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, should have known "how the Russians operate," Bannon said. "Donald Trump jnr is both a patriot and a good man. He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around."
Bannon was quoted in the book speculating that Trump jnr told his father about the meeting shortly after it took place but offered no evidence. In yesterday's statement, Bannon said he believes there "was no collusion" between the campaign and Russian operatives.
"The investigation is a witch hunt," Bannon said. "I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don jnr has diverted attention from the President's historical accomplishments."
But the White House did not appear eager to forgive Bannon or welcome him back into Trump's good graces.
On CNN's State of the Union, Miller repeatedly slammed both Bannon and Wolff, calling the book a "betrayal of the President" that is "so contrary to the reality of those who work with him". Miller added that "the book is best understood as a work of poorly written fiction. The author is a garbage author of a garbage book".
Bannon's statement came after Trump berated Bannon in public and private, mocking the often dishevelled Breitbart News chairman on Twitter as "Sloppy Steve" and belittling him as "poor" and "a liar" to Republican leaders during weekend meetings at Camp David, Maryland.
Although Bannon was forced out of the White House in August amid escalating feuds with Trump's family members and other senior aides, Trump remained close to him, speaking to him occasionally by phone over objections from advisers. Now the former insider appears isolated, not only from the West Wing but also from his outside supporters, including financier Rebekah Mercer. Mercer, who had helped finance many Bannon initiatives, issued a rare public rebuke of him in which she said she would to sever ties with him.
At Breitbart, company leaders have debated whether they could force Bannon from his top perch.
Miller and Bannon were once considered kindred spirits - both immigration hard-liners who sought to exploit Trump's populist rhetoric to advance a nationalist agenda. But as Bannon lost favour in the West Wing, Miller reportedly realigned himself with a faction led by Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
Asked on CNN whether the President knew about Trump jnr's meeting with the Russian lawyer when it occurred, Miller said Bannon was not present and therefore "is not even a remotely credible source on any of it". Growing frustrated as Miller praised the President while evading questions and repeating his talking points, CNN host Jake Tapper cut him off early and went to a commercial.
"I think I've wasted enough of my viewers' time," Tapper said as Miller attempted to keep talking. "Welcome back to planet Earth," Tapper said to viewers after the show returned.
But Trump was eager for the last word. He tweeted: "Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!"