Washington(CNN) Steve Bannon was only minutes away from attacking "Fire and Fury" author Michael Wolff over quotes attributed to the former White House chief strategist, but he decided not to do so after President Donald Trump attacked him after the release of excerpts from the book, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Bannon and his allies drafted a statement Wednesday praising Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr., after excerpts of Wolff's explosive exposé quoted Bannon calling Trump's eldest son "treasonous" and "unpatriotic," a Bannon ally told CNN.
"As I said during my interview with '60 Minutes' and many times since, there is no basis to the Russian investigation. It's a political witch hunt orchestrated by the left," Bannon's statement was going to say, according to the source familiar with the situation. "Don Jr., like his father, is a great American and a patriot. And we all know Don Jr. did not knowingly meet with Russian agents. Paul Manafort is an independent actor who clearly put his own interests ahead of the campaign and all involved. Michael Wolff took my remarks about Don Jr. out of context to sell his book. Sadly, this is yet another lefty hatchet job intended to disrespect our President and his supporters."
The statement was drafted, but Bannon had not yet made up his mind about whether to release it before the President released his own scathing statement about his former chief strategist, a second Bannon ally said. In that statement, Trump blasted Bannon and alleged he had "lost his mind."
It was too late for Bannon to do any cleanup, and the statement was spiked, the source said.
Wolff's book quoted Bannon as calling a June 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort "treasonous" and "unpatriotic."
Bannon also reportedly told Wolff: "They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV."
CNN has not independently confirmed all of Wolff's assertions.
Trump continued to fire into Bannon on Friday night, writing in a tweet that he "cried when he got fired and begged for his job."
"Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book," Trump wrote. "He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!"