Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., weighed in on the public breakup of President Trump and his former top adviser, Steve Bannon, on the ABC News “Powerhouse Politics” podcast Wednesday, and criticized Bannon for not raising an alarm sooner about a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a group of Russians in Trump Tower.
“I wouldn’t take a meeting with a foreign national to be able to say I want to share information with you about your opponents. I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Lankford, who’s on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told ABC News’ Political Director Rick Klein and Political Reporter Maryalice Parks.
“If [Bannon] felt that strong on that then he probably should have said it to someone early on and helped them in that process,” he said, referring to a quote from Bannon in a new book on the Trump campaign by Michael Wolff. Bannon officially took over as Trump’s campaign CEO in August 2016, but had been informally advising Trump before that.
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad [expletive], and I happen to think it’s all of that you should have called the FBI immediately,” Bannon is quoted as saying of the implications of the June 2016 meeting, according to Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”
“That meeting will be much discussed for a long time. It’s been an area of intense investigation on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee as well,” Lankford said.
Lankford added, “We’ve gone extensively through that to be able to get as much information as we possibly could about it.”
But broken political relationships are no sign of improvement for the country– even if the divorce is between the Republican president and a political operative waging war on many Republican senators, Lankford said.
“I don’t have any great affection for broken relationships in any way. There’s an awful lot of heated rhetoric that’s happening around the country right now and it seems to get louder and louder, and more broken and more broken in relationships and I don’t think that helps us as Americans,” Lankford said.
Lankford, who’s working to pass a conservative plan to protect DREAMers ahead of the termination of the program in March, must face this divisiveness head-on to get bipartisan support for the bill in the Senate.
But the SUCCEED Act he’s co-sponsoring is only a partial fix, the senator said. Though it aims to help those brought to the United States as children and without documentation, it must also be part of a larger bill that also deals with border security– and the president’s controversial border wall.
Lankford, however, is confident that the White House would “absolutely” settle for a solution that is not a physical, thousand-mile long barrier.
“In some places its a traditional wall, in other places its technology, and in other places its traditional manpower,” Lankford said. “But I don’t think it’s going to be a 2,000-mile tapeworm along our border, 30 feet tall. I think it’s going to be a different set of options that are there.”
As for Trump’s rhetoric, most recently concerning his jab at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “button,” Lankford disagrees with the president’s blunt style.
“I have said this a lot,” Lankford said. “I don’t speak the way the president does. I don’t have my children speak that way and I wish he wouldn’t speak that way because I think it’s too blunt. There’s a difference between being a private citizen and being president of the United States. The entire world is listening to everything that you say.”
Lankford does not, however, see Trump’s tweet as an outright threat of nuclear war. Instead, he sees the president’s tweet as a reminder that North Korea is “poking the bear” and to “stand down.”
“I would assure you, I’ve had the conversation with the president, with the secretary of state, with the secretary of defense and others. No one here wants war. We all know exactly what that means,” Lankford said.
“So I think the president basically pushed back on Kim Jong Un in a way that is typical of the president– exceptionally non-conventional,” he said.