Steve Bannon backpedaled on comments to journalist Michael Wolff, whose explosive new book sparked a backlash against the former top Donald Trump aide over his remarks about a meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016.
According to the book, released a week early due to high demand, the former White House strategist called the infamous meeting in New York between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian operatives at Trump Tower “treasonous.”
In a statement to Axios on Sunday, Bannon heaped praise on Trump and his agenda, and called Don Jr. a “patriot and a good man.“
“My comments about the meeting with Russian nationals came from my life experiences as a Naval officer stationed aboard a destroyer whose main mission was to hunt Soviet submarines to my time at the Pentagon during the Reagan years when our focus was the defeat of ‘the evil empire’ and to making films about Reagan’s war against the Soviets and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in selling uranium to them,” Bannon said in the statement.
Bannon added that his comments to Wolff were “aimed at Paul Manafort,” the former Trump campaign manager who has been charged as part of an investigation into possible collusion between the Russian government and members of Trump’s team. Manafort was also at the 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
Manafort, Bannon said, “should have known how the Russians operate. He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, those comments (about the meeting with the Russians) were not aimed at Don Jr.”
In the statement, Bannon again denied that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. And though he did not deny any of the remarks that were attributed to him in the book, Bannon said he regretted “that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”
Bannon released the statement after a three-day barrage of criticism from Trump and his allies. The president dubbed Bannon “Sloppy Steve.”
Bannon’s statement also followed a CNN appearance on Sunday by Stephen Miller, the president’s senior policy adviser and former Bannon ally, who eviscerated his comments to Wolff as “grotesque.”
Earlier Sunday, Trump railed about what he called Wolff’s “Fake Book” on Twitter:
I’ve had to put up with the Fake News from the first day I announced that I would be running for President. Now I have to put up with a Fake Book, written by a totally discredited author. Ronald Reagan had the same problem and handled it well. So will I!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 7, 2018
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.