Zero Tolerance: Kurt Bardella Interview | FRONTLINE


>>So let’s start with, what is the “Breitbart Embassy”? Where is it, and who does business there?>>So what used to be known as the Breitbart Embassy is really nothing more than a rented townhouse— they don’t own it; they rent it—on a townhouse that’s near Capitol Hill right behind the Supreme Court. And that is the center of operations for the organization known as Breitbart. It’s where Steve Bannon both lived and conducted his business when he was running Breitbart. And it really became the central hub, the central gathering place for at the time what was called the Tea Party, which would eventually morph into the Trump party. And the players involved, people like Jeff Sessions, people like Stephen Miller, who at the time was working for then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, people like obviously Bannon, [Sen.] Ted Cruz, people who were central to the conservative Tea Party wing of the Republican Party that really coalesced and formed around the idea that immigration was going to be the issue they were going to spend the most time talking about, the most time that they felt they could wage an effective war against what they called the status quo, the political establishment, the establishment Republican Party. The leaders at the time like [Sen.] Mitch McConnell and then-Speaker John Boehner, eventually people like [Reps.] Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor—I mean, the Breitbart Embassy was ground zero for their plan to try to make and remake the Republican Party into what has become a white nationalist party. … You know, they had kind of a— what would be a dining room table but was really more of a conference room. I mean, they would call it their war room, where you would see the staffers sitting around with their laptops out. I mean, Breitbart’s a digital platform, so everything for them was about, you know, telecommuting. And the people who worked for Breitbart would be all over, not just in the embassy, but dispatched on Capitol Hill or on conference calls in California or in their quote/unquote “bureau” in Texas at the border. And all day long, there would be interactions between the central nervous system of the Breitbart Embassy and the various tentacles of the Breitbart organization.>>Who worked there? How old? What types?>>You know, by and large, aside from Steve Bannon, who obviously is, you know, a middle-aged man in his 50s or whatever, very young, very young people. You’re talking most people who are in the first stages of their career in journalism, we’ll call it for lack of a better term, people who haven’t had a lot of job experience, people who in a lot of ways are kind of misfits as well, that probably couldn’t find another reporting gig in any other place but Breitbart. I kind of think about it as the island for misfit toys— outcasts, both socially and politically. And that very much reflects, I think, Andrew Breitbart, the site’s founder, the late Andrew Breitbart, who himself was an outlier, he was a misfit— things that he took as a badge of courage. He didn’t see that as a negative; he saw that as a positive. The counterculture, anti-establishment— if you fit that mold, you were welcome at Breitbart.>>And as it establishes the outpost in Washington, what was the idea of Breitbart as a piece of political journalism?>>You know, it really changed, because when Andrew Breitbart was alive and the driving force and cult of personality behind Breitbart, I think it really was just being counterculture, anti-establishment, but not to destroy the establishment; more that there is another voice, another conversation happening in this country that isn’t always being detailed and chronicled in the pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times and the so-called elite D.C. East Coast media. And Andrew was interested in having that story told, the counternarrative to that: What else is going on? What isn’t in the mainstream media? Let’s shine a light on that. Let’s go where they aren’t going right now, or, as he would say, too afraid to go. It was a balance that Andrew was ultimately looking for. Now, after his death, and as Steve Bannon became a central figure and asserted himself as the leader of Breitbart and began to remake the image of Breitbart around his agenda, it morphed from an entity that wanted to tell another side of the story to an entity that wanted to be politically active; that was an active organization; that was command and control; that sought to not just chronicle what was happening, but to shape the events around what was going on.>>So now that we have the room and we have the idea, let’s have that dinner party with Sessions, Miller and Bannon, and their conversation, which is about a range of things, but is also I think maybe primarily about immigration and how to put that on the agenda in a way that it isn’t— it isn’t what the establishment and the “autopsy” said it should be, which is a more open, a more benign Republican Party vis-à-vis immigration.>>Well, remember where we are at this time. The Republican Party is seeing where the demographics in this country are going, which is more diverse, where white people are becoming more and more less the majority, and by all statistical reality white people will be the minority in this country at some point in the not too distant future. The Republican Party, realizing this, seeing that they have a real political problem when it comes to reaching voters who are minorities, who are immigrants, who aren’t white, and who live in places that aren’t predominantly white, if they don’t do something about this, that’s a recipe for permanent electoral failure, which is exactly what’s happened to the Republican Party in California. California was a Republican state at one point in time— had a Republican governor, Republican state legislator. But the more and more the Republican Party alienated minorities and repelled diversity, the more politically irrelevant they got, to the point where they are in a permanent state of being in the political minority. So that’s what the Republican Party at this time nationally is seeing and trying to prevent. Meanwhile, you have this other coalition forming, in part led by voices like Steve Bannon and platforms like Breitbart, who are trying to resist that transformation, who are trying to resist the idea that there needs to be an assimilation by the Republican Party to be politically viable. They’re angry about that. And so, looking at what was going to happen after President Obama were to leave office, there was going to be, for the first time, a very wide open Republican primary, I think they wanted to make sure that their voice was equally represented in that primary process. They were coming off of a string of stinging defeats in the midterm elections where the majority of candidates that they supported who were on the far right part of that Tea Party contingent, they all lost. They all challenged primary people like Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. They challenged Lamar Alexander in Tennessee. And in every single one of those races, they got killed. And Bannon, realizing that, you know, we don’t have a central coalescing figurehead to kind of unite the conservative movement, they don’t have a singular issue that can also unite the core base of the Republican Party conservative side of things. And I think that this meeting with Sessions was realizing that hey, you’re not going to be the president, but you can be that figure. You can be the person that makes immigration the central issue. That can be your platform, and you can be the voice and the face behind that to bring legitimacy to that side of the conversation. Because at this point, a lot of the candidates that they backed, and the reason why they lost, was they were not really that credible. They ran terrible campaigns; they had a lot of baggage. They expressed ideas that were so far outside the mainstream that no one took them seriously, and they all lost. Sessions was already—he was a sitting United States senator. He had built a tremendous reputation within the conservative community. He was regarded as a credible person, a credible figure. He was chairman of a Senate—powerful Senate committee. So he was someone that I think Bannon saw that he could anoint the de facto face and voice and figurehead of this movement and try to propel it into the 2016 conversation.>>Who is Steve Miller at that moment?>>So Miller at this moment is the communications director for Sen. Jeff Sessions. Miller is—he’s a staffer; he’s a spokesperson. He is—it’s his job to craft the message and come up with a strategy to try to get as much exposure as possible. Now, Miller, along the way, develops a very close relationship with the Breitbart platform, with Steve Bannon, with the reporting team that focused on Capitol Hill and politics, to the point where it’s almost like, who’s really leading who here? Is Miller giving Breitbart content and they’re publishing it, or is Breitbart suggesting ideas that, ”Hey, maybe you should have the senator do this, and we’ll give it big play on our homepage”?>>So these guys all get together that night, and they’re cooking up a plan, and it’s really— they are kind of outliers in politics. It is a dream for them—maybe not a realistic one, if you were used to looking at politics as usual in Washington. They decide—let’s say they decide to knock off the most vulnerable figure they can think of that the Republican establishment might pay attention to, is if they could take down Eric Cantor. What happens?>>Well, and again, this is where Breitbart was a bit ahead of the curve; again, the idea that the mainstream political media sometimes are a little slow to certain things, or they don’t want to acknowledge a political reality because they don’t like the source of where it began, I think that was the case with what happened in Virginia with then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, you know. Breitbart backed a guy named Dave Brat, who no one had ever heard of really, who had no national political exposure of any kind, and they used the issue of immigration as the defining issue in the race and basically spent every day relentlessly just pillorying Eric Cantor as this open-borders, you know, pro-amnesty, “amnesty” being the worst word you could say and assign to a Republican at this time. And counting on the fact that Cantor and his team wouldn’t take it seriously, would take his power and his profile and the money that he had at his disposal for granted and assume that this wouldn’t be serious because it was coming from that Breitbart world that everybody would laugh at and not take seriously and not assign any real political gravity to it. And Bannon and Breitbart very successfully kind of preyed on that, took advantage of that and helped engineer Dave Brat becoming the biggest upset of election night, defeating Eric Cantor.>>They collaborate with Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin and others in right-wing media to just almost as a demonstration project, almost like a beta testing of something, to support Brat and bolster him up, get him on national radio, and really get the word out.>>Yeah. I mean, it’s funny because if in today’s time, 2019, if you watch Laura Ingraham’s program on Fox News, a lot of people are oftentimes shocked at how far she’ll go with her rhetoric and her judgments and her commentary. And I would say to them, look at what she was saying on the campaign trail back in 2014 when she was getting behind Dave Brat and using—>>Like what?>>I’m sorry?>>Like what? What would she say?>>Oh, I think just using the issue of immigration and the overall theme that immigrants are something and someone you need to be afraid of, and that you need to vote and do everything you can to fight back against someone who would make it easier for immigrants to be in this country. You know, to me that’s xenophobia. And she was openly espousing that theme five years ago. And you know, and I think the word “beta test” is a perfect way to describe what happened in that race, because all of the things that we saw— whether the use of conservative media, the use of conservative radio, the personalities becoming actively politically involved in a campaign to defeat somebody, not just commentating but campaigning actively to support somebody over another person—all those things are, were the path for Donald Trump later on. But they were first really used and seen in a politically significant way in the race against Eric Cantor.>>There is a thing that’s happening, which is a bill from the Senate, the Gang of Eight bill, moves down to the House. … And I think taking Cantor down was designed to send a message to any Republicans who might vote for that bill that they could be in real jeopardy from a new force that seems to be emerging in American politics and growing, I think, largely out of the actions of Sessions, Miller and Bannon.>>Well, I think, again, it used to be said that Social Security is the third rail in American politics; if you touch it, you die. And I think that for Bannon and Miller and Sessions, their goal was to make it so that immigration would become that issue, at least in the Republican Party. And beating Cantor who, again, I can’t tell you if it ever happened before, a sitting House majority leader losing his seat, in a year in which— it’s not like the Republicans lost the House; they kept the House. They didn’t have significant, you know, defeats across the board that would have at least explained in a broader context what happened. This was isolated specifically to Eric Cantor. And it was so tied to the issue viscerally of immigration that it did send the message that from here on out, if you go down the road of looking at anything that could be construed as amnesty or open borders or pro-immigrant even, they were going to come for you. And—and in Cantor they had what Bannon would call as their first big “scalp.” That’s what he called it. When he got a big victory at the expense of someone else, that’s what he called it: a “scalp.” And Cantor represented that for them.>>So around Breitbart, when Cantor goes down that night, take me to what you imagine or what you may know actually it was like for the Breitbart people.>>That was the biggest moment in the history of Breitbart News at that point in time, because they had the combination of, one, they legitimately could say that they were reporting this story before anybody else was. So there is kind of a semblance of credibility there when everybody else is playing catch-up— “How could this have happened?”—and they said, “We’ve been talking about this for months.” That was a really big win both politically, but also frankly journalistically. It’s not a word we associate with Breitbart, “journalism” and “Breitbart News,” but in this case, they were telling that story before everybody else was. And what that meant going forward was anytime that they went out on a limb and said, “Keep an eye out on this race or this candidate or this figure,” you had to go, well, you know, maybe there’s something to that now. It gave them power, and it amplified the effect of their editorial decisions of who they would support going forward and give airtime to because they had this one big victory. And that night, it was euphoric. The—the, you know, from Steve Bannon to the reporters who were on that beat, you would have thought that they were the campaign of Dave Brat. And essentially they were the campaign of Dave Brat. You know, I’ve been in many campaigns in my life, and I’ve been there on election night when we’ve won, and that celebratory feeling, that feeling of accomplishment, well, that’s exactly how the team at Breitbart felt that night.>>I can imagine Steve Miller having a certain amount of swagger after that was over.>>Yeah, both Steves, Miller and Bannon. You know, and I think their rise is both connected and— and in tandem with each other. And again, it was that feeling of, they’re on to something; they’re feeling like they could knock anyone down now. I mean, it’s really that feeling of the giant killer. And in taking out Cantor, what that also really meant was John Boehner’s days were probably numbered after that, too, the then-speaker. I think that they thought, well, if we can take down Cantor, it will be easy to take down Boehner after this.>>I know they go looking for a presidential candidate. They think, you know, this is the time, as you said; 2016 is going to be a wide open field. … >>I think Bannon looked at just about everybody. I mean, you know, I remember him talking about Sarah Palin perhaps being that person. Bannon was very enamored with Sarah Palin and always thought that she would have another— a second political act, and was very close with her. He, you know, they looked at [Sen.] Rand Paul at one point, was someone that they also had a very close relationship, that their team was on daily conversations and emails with the Breitbart team. Then there was Ted Cruz, another person that, when you look at the pages of Breitbart during this time, they promoted the heck out of Ted Cruz. And I think the prevailing feeling amongst the internal team at Breitbart was I think that Ted Cruz would be the Republican nominee, and that was the person that they were going to line up and get behind. Another person who was working for Ted Cruz at that time, who was his pollster, was Kellyanne Conway, someone who had a very strong relationship with Steve Bannon. And so Bannon went candidate shopping, and literally you can trace as each candidate kind of had their rise and fall. Rand Paul was on the cover of Time magazine at one point; he was all over Breitbart at that time. Ted Cruz had come on as kind of the conservative guy that was going to be the Tea Party choice; he was all over the pages of Breitbart at that time as well. When Ben Carson had his moment in the sun, Bannon was talking to his guy every day. Bannon once told me, “If Carson wins, I’m going to be his chief of staff.” So, you know, then, of course, Donald Trump happens. And it’s almost like even a broken clock is right twice a day. If you get behind enough candidates, eventually one of them . is probably going to be the guy. And—and it just so happened that that was the case with Donald Trump.>>What was it about Trump? >>I think that what Steve saw in Trump, and he recognized that the other people that he had thought about getting behind didn’t necessarily have this, was that showman, a natural salesman, a natural promoter, someone who understood TV. And the other people, whether it was Palin or Carson or Cruz or Paul, they came from political backgrounds where they didn’t understand television and the power of television, the power of casting and looking at the world as if it’s a WWE universe. And Trump very much did. And I think Bannon, through the radio program that Breitbart had on SiriusXM, the Patriot Channel, started having Trump on, and Trump would call in, and they’d have these conversations. And I think Bannon was impressed not necessarily with any particular substance of what Trump was saying, but more of the style in which he said it, that everything Trump says he’s certain and he—that self-belief that this is going to be the best and that I can sell you on anything and the whole aura behind the art of the deal. And I think Bannon saw in Trump someone that nobody from the media to the Republican Party to the Democratic Party would know what to do with, and that there was something there.>>He called him, to us, the “imperfect instrument.”>>Yeah. And I think the great thing about Trump, to Bannon at least, was that this is a guy who clearly has no actual core moral values guiding him, which means you get to steer him. You get to fill the moral vacuum. You get to fill the substance in, because Trump doesn’t care about any of that. And that is where the true power lies. I think Bannon saw that, unlike any of the other people that were running for president, that Trump might be the only guy that Steve could exert true influence over, and people like Stephen Miller could exert influence over their public policy process.>>Immigration becomes a central selling point?>>It becomes the selling point. I mean, when you think about the Donald Trump campaign in 2016, one of the first two things you think of, you know, is “Build the wall,” and that was born right out of, you know, that Steve Bannon/Steve Miller/Jeff Sessions casting, almost. It’s almost as if they had already written the script and had the lines; they just needed the actor who could deliver them. And in Trump, that’s what they saw: someone who can go out there, deliver the line. Didn’t matter what else you said. As long as you say, “Build the wall, build the wall,” nothing else really matters. That’s all people will remember.>>And the idea of Miller signing on with the campaign as the speechwriter, but also as the guy, the warm-up act, your thoughts about that?>>Well, here you saw, I think, the transformation of Stephen Miller from a behind-the-scenes, unknown staffer to a in-front-of-the-camera, you know, visible player, someone who wasn’t just quietly trying to shape the conversation and impact Donald Trump’s strategy, but someone who in real time was affecting it. And it’s almost like who’s kind of Charlie McCarthy and the dummy here? Because when it came out of Miller’s and Bannon’s mouth, all of a sudden it would come out of Trump’s mouth. And you know, traditionally, candidates are the ones who steer their campaigns. They’re the ones who have the big ideas. They have the direction, the vision for the country that they want the team to execute. Well, this was the reverse of that; it was reverse engineering. Instead of having the message and the vision, Trump was just, “Give me the line, and I’ll deliver it,” because again, when it came to substance, when it came to values and a morality, well, Trump wasn’t interested in that. And that really empowered Miller and Bannon to fill that in.>>… How important was Sessions’ endorsement?>>I think it was really important for a couple of reasons. Sessions was seen as one of the few key gateways to the conservative Tea Party movement. And I think it also signaled kind of the end of what would be Ted Cruz’s campaign as well. You know, Ted Cruz had obviously conservative bona fides. He was supported by all of the forces that would ultimately align with Donald Trump. He had been their greatest visible spokesperson, really, until Trump arrived on the scene. And with Sessions choosing Trump at the end of the day, I think that signaled that that torch had—had been passed; that this wasn’t going to be the Republican Party of Ted Cruz; that it was going to be the Republican Party of Donald Trump.>>When Miller would warm them up and say something about immigration and get a kind of great response, and Trump would come out and give it the sort of “Build the wall” and then say something else about immigration, I guess there was no doubt at Breitbart that this was the winning combination; this was the issue that was going to walk him home to the presidency.>>Yeah. I mean, I think that what they saw was Trump, unlike any other person running in this race, was able to mobilize people emotionally around the issue of immigration in a way that we saw a little bit with Dave Brat beating Eric Cantor, but in a much more passionate, in a much more substantive way that— I mean, Donald Trump’s campaign, I can’t name for you a single policy that he ran on other than effectively “Build the wall” and “Hillary Clinton is corrupt.” That’s basically all we heard. And I think they saw what the reaction they would get at these rallies. And Trump loved these rallies. And you started seeing not only did he revel in that energy, I think, but that the media would cover them wall to wall. I mean, it became must-see TV. Every minute was played. You know, it’s been well documented how much free airtime Trump got over everybody else. And in part, the frenzy of the crowd was driven by the immigration movement and by the rhetoric surrounding what their vision was for how immigration would be legislated going forward. And the idea that, again, he’s not going to tell you anything about numbers and quotas and visas and process; it’s just going to be “We’re going to build the wall, and we’re going to make America great again.” And they’re bumper stickers. And you know, it was almost like they kind of one-upped each other, where Miller would get them ginned up a little bit, and then Trump would go, “I’m going to top that.” And, you know—and again, as we saw, the media couldn’t get enough of that either.>>When they won, and they did, was there any doubt in your mind that Bannon, Miller and Sessions would be in the administration and in a powerful place inside there?>>No doubt. It was very clear that Steve wanted to play the active role of being Trump’s guy, being his right-hand man. He, again, he—>>Which Steve?>>Steve Bannon. Steve Bannon reveled in the idea that he was the architect of Trump’s victory. And Steve Miller, I think, you know, reveled in the idea that he was the person behind Trump’s words. And Sessions, being the early endorser that he was of Trump, guaranteed that he was going to be secretary of something, or in this case the attorney general, and be a prominent member of the Cabinet. And, you know, I think the trifecta of Miller-Bannon-Sessions, on election night, that was going to be as good as it ever got for them. You know, I think for them there was—there were signs that a great fall was going to happen as well, because I think they fundamentally didn’t understand certain parts of Donald Trump’s personality and how they did not align with the way that at least Bannon certainly conducted his business. The idea of being out front and—and so eager to claim credit was something that would ultimately be a real, I think, strain with his relationship with Donald Trump.>>So Bannon is the chief strategist.>>Yes, co-chief of staff, basically.>>Co-chief of staff with Reince Priebus. Miller is also something high.>>Senior specialist, senior adviser to the president.>>And Sessions is the attorney general.>>Yep.>>This is real power, Kurt.>>It is, but we also see the limitations of that power. You know, I think with Sessions it became— the afterglow of the election would reveal the controversies about, well, how did you win the election, and what role did outside influence potentially play in that? And it became clear that Sessions, being a traditional political figure who came from that traditional political construct, who would play it by the book, and was completely out of alignment with what President Trump wanted him to do. And I think Bannon found himself stuck in between Trump and Sessions. Bannon was Sessions’ protector. No one was a bigger advocate for Jeff Sessions than Steve Bannon. Bannon was very, I think, insistent that Sessions needed to be protected; that despite the impulse perhaps to have him fired or removed, that that would be a disaster, and it would be a disaster not just publicly, but I think because Sessions was one of the only true Bannon allies in the administration, someone who had a history that superseded Bannon’s relationship with Trump. And then Stephen Miller was kind of the one that served both of those masters, Stephen coming up, working for Sessions, who got his break in politics because of Jeff Sessions. Certainly had a loyalty to him, but he also served Donald Trump. And those things all became in great conflict with one another. All the while they were starting out with a tremendous amount of power. And we saw that almost immediately when they instituted the Muslim ban. That became very controversial, was rushed out, legally challenged, successfully legally challenged. Made it look like they didn’t know what they were doing, were unaware of what the law was, or uninterested at least in checking what the laws were before they tried to do something that was draconian. >>…. Take me to how surprised you were, or not, to hear about the travel ban right away, like within a week of the inauguration.>>I wasn’t surprised that they wanted to implement a travel ban and try to take advantage and capitalize on xenophobia, to try to, as Bannon would say, throw a bone to their base after they’d just gotten elected. I was surprised at how unaware they were of the land mines, the procedural land mines really, that existed for something like that; that they didn’t vet it through counsel; that they didn’t check with the lawyers to see, well, if— what happens if this gets struck down in a court of law? What happens if the implementation doesn’t go well, if the bureaucracy isn’t formed in a way that could support such a massive mobilization operation? It was a terribly run operation, as we saw, you know, with very distinct images of— at the airports and families and kids. And it became a real visual political debacle for President Trump. But it more underscored two things: one, that Bannon, Miller and Sessions were very powerful; that one of the very first visible things that came out of this administration was the Muslim travel ban, but also the blindside that they all had for process and how, if you don’t check that box, it can become undone very quickly and create negative headlines, which we all know that this president hates more than anything in the world. >>So it’s true: They were the revolutionaries who were really excited, but when they took over the castle, they didn’t know how to turn the lights on.>>Yeah. And again, it’s vintage Bannon and Breitbart and—and Miller and Sessions being counterculture, not caring about the rules, not caring about the way things have always been, not having any real respect for tradition or precedent. And that’s all fine and well when you run an online news site, or when you’re one of 100 in the United States Senate. But when you actually have the keys to the car, you’ve got to know how the car drives. And we saw with that Muslim travel ban what happens when you don’t know how to drive that car, when it turns out, “Oh, that’s a stick shift, not an automatic; we’re going to have some problems.” And that’s exactly what happened.>>There was a lot of talk, and I think a lot of worry by the DACA—by the “Dreamers” and the lawyers around the DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] people that Trump had said, day one, “Bang, we’re going to— we’re going to rescind the Obama executive order on DACA.” It doesn’t happen… >>Well, it became very clear that immediately, especially after the disaster that was the Muslim travel ban, that different factors emerged. And you had the Bannon-Miller-Sessions faction, and then you had what Bannon and Miller would call the “globalist faction”—the Gary Cohns, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and others, people who came from a more traditional establishment background, we’ll say. But these are also the people that Bannon and Miller and Breitbart and Sessions fought against every day for the last six years. They are the epitome, Gary Cohn particularly, of exactly what they were trying to beat down. And so the idea that they would have an equal say or an equal voice in the Oval Office I think infuriated Bannon. And we saw that because things started leaking out…>>He flies a little too close to the sun. …>>Steve Bannon made the mistake that I think a lot of people in this town make. And there’s an irony there, because Steve is so anti-D.C., anti-establishment, above all of that, and yet he made the same mistake that so many before him have made, which is, don’t forget the person that you’re working for. Don’t outshine your boss, because when you do— and I’m speaking from personal experience here, because I’ve made the same mistake— when you do that, you’re going to get burned. And it was inevitable. We saw very early on the signs, I think, through Bannon’s behavior and the growth of his public profile— the guy had his own press secretary in the White House, for crying out loud—that this wasn’t going to last.>>…. So talk to me about Miller’s trajectory. How does he survive? How does he stay in? How does he not commit the same sins that Steve Bannon did?>>What we know about Trump is that he assigns more value to how you perform on television than anything else. That is the number one criteria in which he evaluates you, whether you’re a Supreme Court justice nominee, a Cabinet secretary, a member of the White House staff. Miller going on TV and forcefully and unapologetically defending Trump and his policies in almost a James Bond villian-ish way played very well with Trump personally. And even though I think Miller came under siege a little bit from the outside world for coming off as a James Bond villain, Trump at least appreciated his words, his effort, his loyalty. And unlike Bannon, Miller at times would take a step backwards from the public side of things and disappear from being on TV and being in the news and would focus on the president. That’s the difference between Steve Miller and Steve Bannon. Miller knew when it was time to take a step back so that he could preserve his position, show that he was loyal, do what was asked of him, and, more importantly, maintain that direct relationship with the president. Bannon always seemed more preoccupied with wanting to be out in front in public, doing the sit-down with Reince Priebus at CPAC [Conservative Political Action Conference], going on the—he was on the cover of Time magazine, which I think was probably the stupidest thing that he’d ever done at that point if he wanted to have a permanent relationship with the president. Bannon seemed more preoccupied with advancing the narrative that he was the kingmaker and Trump’s brain than actually doing the job of being Trump’s brain, because if he had been, he would have seen that that’s not the way to go.>>Now, the status of the issue that brought them to the big dance in the first place, the immigration wars. … Are they involved in a, from what you can tell, in a continuing struggle to get immigration out there knowing that it’s a vital element of their continuation in office? And as you say, what was it, a bone for the base, or whatever?>>Right. Well, the president had a unique problem, which was that he promised everyone who would listen that he’s going to build a wall and Mexico was going to pay for it. And for the first part of the Trump presidency, he was going to be defined and measured by whether that promise was going to be fulfilled. Set aside all the other distractions of Robert Mueller and his investigation, their effort to get tax cuts put through, that still, you know, the issue of immigration and building the wall is the most central thing to the Trump presidency. And I think what they realized was, one, Mexico was not going to pay for the wall, so they began to try to spin the idea that, well, we’re going to pull out of these trade deals, and the money we’re going to save by getting a better deal will pay for the wall. So they start pulling out of different trade agreements and different partnerships that involve Mexico and other countries. Then they start doing the—what we’re seeing kind of happen now, which is a very draconian policy through executive order, limiting legal immigration into this country, changing the criteria for seeking asylum in this country, and very aggressively arresting and doing mass large-scale operations to detain and ultimately deport illegal immigrants in America, which culminates with this massive incarceration of immigrants and their families and their children, to the point where detention centers are overflowing. There’s not enough room to put these people anywhere.>>This is Steve Miller in action?>>Yeah, I think without question Steve Miller has been the driving force behind the mass deportation and incarceration and holding of immigrant children, families, you know, at the border, because the reality is throughout the entire tenure so far of the president, the one constant has been Stephen Miller. Steve Bannon has come and gone. Jeff Sessions has come and gone. But still the one person who is there, who is probably the truest link to what Trump said and talked about during the campaign is Steve Miller, and I think that’s partly because he was the architect of all of that in the first place.>>… So Sessions recuses himself on the—>>Mueller.>>Or Russia investigation. First [James] Comey and then Mueller. It completely enrages Donald Trump. And I guess even though Sessions is in the doghouse and not exactly his best bud anymore, and maybe he even took back the MAGA hat—who knows?—Sessions is sitting over there, and a lot of things are happening, because he’s the attorney general of the United States, on the immigration front. >>I mean, I think it’s almost because Sessions was in such a bad place with the president, I think that Miller engineered a lot of the activity on immigration trying to salvage the relationship between Trump and Sessions by guiding Sessions to the conclusion that maybe they need to do some of these things and increase deportations and increase law enforcement presence at the border and increase acting on Trump’s signature issue, which is also Stephen Miller’s signature issue, which also used to be Jeff Sessions’ signature issue, maybe if you do those things, it can help you get back in the good graces with the president and save your job.>>Well, exactly. And even if you’ve got a trajectory that’s not going to be very long, get things done while you can get them done. We all know of the moment where Bannon pulls him aside, and they talk about providence—“We put you here. Do this for the lord, if nothing else,” appealing to Sessions’ religious evangelical background, I guess.>>Right. Well, and again, I think in Sessions you had someone that both Bannon and Miller, an attorney general that they will never have more influence over and a rapport with than Jeff Sessions. Whoever comes after Jeff Sessions, they’re not going to have that with. So this is their best time to try to get as much of their agenda that they have been talking about and plotting about for years done in action, and done so in a way where it almost happens slightly under the radar because the Mueller probe is happening, because so much attention is being spent on the termination of former FBI Director James Comey, the subsequent investigation by Mueller, what Congress is going to do about it, the pending elections that are going to happen at the midterms. All this is happening, and it almost provides smokescreen and cover for Miller, Sessions and Bannon to try to get as much done on immigration as they can while no one’s paying attention.>>It’s September 2017. The president discovers from Sessions that he’s got to do something about DACA. … We don’t know where the president is. We discover that he sort of likes the Dreamers; he likes the idea of the Dreamers. He’s sort of squishy on it, and apparently our three guys, even Bannon before he leaves, are pushing pretty hard to do the hard-line thing, which is, you know, let’s shut down the DACA program. And Sessions makes that announcement. Is that the way you remember it?>>Well, I think we saw that Trump was torn between, again, the two forces inside his own house— the people like Ivanka, who was very supportive of the idea of the Dreamers, I think, and Bannon-Sessions-Miller who, for years—again, it’s all very public: every statement they’ve ever made, every vote they’ve ever taken, every story they’ve ever run, completely anti-DACA/anti-Dreamers. And those two forces collided, and Trump had to make the decision. … I think he was able to see what Bannon and Miller and Sessions were able to do by weaponizing the issue of immigration, showing: “Look at Eric Cantor. This is what happens when you don’t do the hard thing. This is what happens when you do give in to the nationalists. This is what happened to the globalists. This is what happened when you give in the globalists. This is what happens when you start doing anything that looks like amnesty. When you do anything that looks like you’re going to make it easier for illegal immigrants to get things Americans can’t get, you’re going to lose just like Eric Cantor if you don’t do this now. You’ll lose the base. You’ll lose everybody.” Bannon, Miller and Sessions preyed on that fear because they did have, as Bannon always talked about, that one scalp he could point to to show: “Look what happened when the House majority leader went against us. Don’t make the same mistake.”>>And it and the attorney general from Texas’s threat and a lot of other things lead to the president acceding, I guess, letting Sessions make the announcement, but being himself vulnerable, I suppose, to a campaign to make him look like a bad guy. He doesn’t want to look like a bad guy.>>Well, it was very clear that Trump didn’t want to be the public face of ending Dreamers or DACA. And he has always said he’s wanted to find a way. He’s gone so far as to blame the Democrats for not making a deal on Dreamers and DACA. He’s tried to rewrite that script so many times because it’s painfully obvious he doesn’t want to be viewed publicly as a reason why that policy was rescinded, even though it was done under his direction, even though it was done under his authority and announced by his own attorney general. Sessions, of course, had no reservation about being the public face of that. Again, I think that there was the feeling that if Sessions took a more visible role in choreographing the president’s biggest agenda item from the campaign that it might build him some goodwill with the president who— at this point their relationship had been perhaps irreparably damaged. But I think that it was—that damage was used as a vehicle to try to advance and accelerate some of these immigration things. >>Breitbart through all of this time, where are they on how they feel? What are they writing about how they feel about the president of the United States, who seems to be wobbly a lot of the time on a lot of these issues? … >>Here we see for the first time the limitations of Breitbart, that they weren’t powerful or loud enough, or whatever you might have you, to protect Sessions in the long run for keeping his job, despite every effort to promote Sessions, to highlight everything he was doing on immigration—everything Sessions a la Steve Miller was doing on immigration; [despite] their effort to undermine those who fought back and opposed Bannon in the Oval Office, to undermine Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Gary Cohn. You saw all of that on the pages of Breitbart throughout this entire chapter. And at the end of the day, it wasn’t enough to protect them. And ultimately Sessions ends up having to leave, as does Bannon. And I think for Breitbart, it showed that, again, they were never going to be more powerful than on the day Donald Trump got elected. There was nowhere to go for them but down.>>Why?>>Well, the coalition that they appealed to is not one that’s rapidly growing in demographic… They were so tied and fixed to Steve Bannon that they were going to either live and die by Bannon’s success. People started going to Breitbart because they assumed that Bannon had a direct role in Breitbart’s content; therefore, you could read Breitbart and get real insight into what was going on in the Oval Office. And it might be the only place you can read to get that kind of insight at that point in time because of Bannon’s relationship with Breitbart. And once Bannon started kind of getting on the outs with Trump, well, that access was going to be cut off. There was going to be no unique insight other than Bannon propaganda, really. Once Trump fired Bannon and publicly divorced himself from him, calling him “Sloppy Steve,” well, now Breitbart has been openly mocked by the president of the United States. Their once-benefactor, the once-platform that was designed as an instrument to help Donald Trump get elected, now Trump’s turned against them. And there was nowhere for them to go. And Bannon had nowhere to go. And they were, again, they were kind of like And I think that for Breitbart, that meant having to try to recalibrate what they were going to be, because if you weren’t “alt-right” enough to keep that relationship with Donald Trump, When Breitbart gets all the criticism that it gets for the way it covers immigrants and crime and the comment boards, what’s the attitude inside of Breitbart and from Bannon?>>Anytime that anyone would complain or write a story or try to shame Breitbart for what can be objectively called racist coverage of immigrant minority populations, they loved it. They reveled in it. They thought it was the greatest thing in the world that people were so distraught about their tone and coverage that they would write about it or talk about it. Because for Bannon, and this is very similar to Trump, the worst thing you could do to either of them is to not talk about them at all. But if you’re talking about them, whether it’s favorably or derogatorily, it doesn’t matter to them. They just want you talking about them. They’re in the conversation. They feel good about that. Bannon said that he saw that Fox was actually the enemy when they were starting out, were the competition. Did you see that? Was that how people at Breitbart saw Fox?>>Bannon ultimately had ambition, I think, to build a competing media enterprise that would compete and ultimately defeat Fox. I think before the Trump phenomenon actually happened, Bannon saw that the personalities on Fox, the shows on Fox were very lenient on the immigration issue, that they were very for comprehensive immigration reform; they were very for amnesty. And he saw an opportunity to use the immigration issue as a wedge issue to divide the audience, to divide the Republican electorate and to try to get more viewers, more page clicks, more radio show listeners. And ultimately, I think that he wanted to go into TV and create a competing channel to compete with Fox. Did that competition go into the election? There’s a famous Megyn Kelly moment, you know, confronting with Trump. Was there a split with Breitbart and Fox during the primaries?>>… There was almost open warfare between Breitbart and Fox News as we got into the presidential election where you had on one side Fox News with Megyn Kelly and Shep Smith and Neil Cavuto, and on the other side you had Breitbart and people like Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin. And I think Bannon saw an opportunity to, even if we lose the election, off of that loss you could build a media enterprise that could viably compete with Fox. I think that him and Trump thought that they would lose the election, in fact, and after that they would announce a co-venture announcing a TV deal. My last question: When the president is under assault from Laura Ingraham and new Fox hosts around the shutdown and other places, why do they have a power to influence him? He seems to back off sometimes.>>Well, I think these are people who operate with fear, the fear of if you lose this base, it’s done for you politically. I mean, the reality about the Trump coalition that got him elected and could keep him in power is, it’s not an audience that’s going to expand beyond what we saw in 2016… And so if you lose any segment of those people, there’s no political viability left for you. And for better or worse, Trump is uniquely tied to that Laura Ingraham-Sean Hannity-Steve Miller-Steve Bannon way of looking at the world because that’s what got him to the dance and that’s the only thing that could possibly keep him at the dance. … So fast-forward to now. What is the legacy that these three leave on immigration?>>I think that their legacy is presiding over one of the darkest periods in American history, something that’s going to be a permanent stain on our country…




Comments
  1. This interview was conducted with FRONTLINE during the making of our documentary “Zero Tolerance.” Watch the full film, here: https://youtu.be/eW4kQ4akZ1A

  2. The Republican Party is not a White Nationalist Party!😞 It is First and Foremost a Pro-Life Party!😃 Blessings, John

  3. Typical leftist rubbish at times. Suggesting Trump is an empty vessel. Oh please. And white nationalist? No, nationalist. The folks already in the country benefitting most from immigration reform, are Hispanics and blacks. So short sighted. Also, the mischaracterisation of Breitbart is atrocious. Breitbart is 1st and foremost, a patriot and anti communist and anti cultural Marxist. Shame so little insight. Any true liberals left?

  4. This guy is a very white skinned human who happens to be Asian yet see’s himself as a person of color. His definition of populism and white supremacy seem to be alike. The country contrary to his dislike is still a large majority white country. If you look at diversity around the country it’s actually quite the opposite. People are and live very tribal like because that’s what humans do. When white people do it it’s racist, nationalist and supremacist. When others do it it’s community. This guy is pro communist, geez I wonder why🤔

  5. Can we stop with the 2 biggest misleading statements most widly used in regards to immigration? 1. Illegally crossing the border even if it's to bypass the wait and turn yourself into a cbp official is a crime. It make those criminals illegal ALIENS. Not illegal immigrants. If you come here illegally your are not an immigrant you're a criminal and should be expected to be treated and prosecuted as such. And 2. All of the laws regarding immigration on the books currently have been there since long before Trump. These are not Trump administration policies and procedures they are just old rules by the u.s. and u.n. that a president is finally enforcing. This isn't racism it isn't xenophobia. and anyone who claims it is, is either being blantantlt divisive or lacking a clear and reasonable level of knowledge and logic, and shouldn't be anywhere near a journalist or a microphone

  6. Whoa whoa whoa, did Kurt just say this was the darkest period in American history?! What about the great depression? What about segregation, what about slavery? Jesus Christ kid the 2008 financial crisis and 911 are far worse than this. These people we are talking about keeping out of the country aren't eligible nor are they americans. At least the other examples are times when americans felt just how dark times were for them. And if we don't stop acting like every other countries hooker… We will be feeling this issues dark times. I pray we put a stop to the mass influx of poor uncivilized uneducated and unskilled demographics willing to put their kids through hell and abuse and rape on third journey north in order to force third way into a country whom already has too many we still need to assimilate and process. Do it legally, do it the right way, come here not as a charity case, not looking for handouts, come here pay your own way be a net benefit to this country if you can't do that you're not wanted here. We need to help our own first.

  7. It's always humorous when a person of Asian ethnicity – which as a race outperforms all others in every socioeconomic metric – makes the claim that America is a racist country. If racism is indeed systemic as the Left's ceaseless narrative lectures us, then most absurdly this young man wouldn't have had the jobs he's held and wouldn't have been interviewed by Frontline.

  8. Libs imported millions of poor immigrants to CA and turned it into a $hithole. It’s not fear, it’s dislike of the result

  9. This guy thinks that citizens being concerned about immigration into their country including illegal immigration is xenophobic. I wonder how generous and welcoming the country is wherever he or his family comes from.

  10. This swine is the quintessential RINO. He deliberately misrepresents the Conservative anti-ILLEGAL immigration stance by conveniently omitting ILLEGAL.

  11. This guy starts off with inflammatory statements calling Trump supporters "white nationalists". Just because AMERICANS are concerned about people ILLEGALLY entering the country who commit crimes and drive down wages, it doesn't mean their stance is based on racism. It gets me so upset when guys like this make every policy viewpoint about race.

  12. Question: What happens when the WHITE MAN goes away, leaving pseudo America to 3rd world Mutants, passively aggressive Asians and cuckish traitorous Whites…

  13. Man i know the Trump fahggets are probably mad and havent read the comments yet…. Im sure that's the case because this for sure is one of the high quality interviews that PBS got (the other being Anne Coulter). This guy is very analytical and revealing

  14. Of course, opposition to open borders and a demand for enforcement of immigration laws equate with racism which is a peculiar condition that afflicts white people. The totalitarian "progressive" narrative and view of society no longer resonates and the totalitarian "progressives" understand that. Hence default to race baiting and trashing whites.

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