Donald Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus Defends Steve Bannon as a 'Very, Very Smart Person'

Bannon has been accused of white supremacist beliefs.

ByABC News
November 14, 2016, 7:25 AM

— -- President-elect Donald Trump's new chief of staff, Reince Priebus, today defended incoming White House strategist Steve Bannon against accusations that he sympathizes with white supremacists by asking the public to give him a chance, saying, "This is a very, very smart person."

"I don't know where they're coming from," he said of the critics, on "Good Morning America." "That's not the Steve Bannon that I know."

The strongest criticism of Trump's selection of Bannon, the executive chairman of the alt-right-favored website, has come from retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and the Anti-Defamation League, an international Jewish organization based in the United States.

"President-elect Trump's choice of Steve Bannon as his top aide signals that white supremacists will be represented at the highest levels in Trump's White House," Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said in a statement Sunday.

The ADL opposes the appointment of Bannon because the alt-right movement, which he is sometimes credited with fostering, is "so hostile to core American values," the group's CEO, Jonathan Greenblat, said in a statement to the media.

"It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the alt-right — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the 'people's house,'" Greenblat's statement read.

PHOTO: Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee was named as President-elect Donald Trump's chief of staff.
Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee stands at the main podium as he previews the stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 17, 2016.
Mike Segar/Reuters

But Priebus said that, based on his experience, such categorizations of his colleague were unfounded.

He said he found Bannon in person to be "the opposite" but didn't clarify what he and Bannon discussed that countered such descriptions of him. Priebus recommended that Americans give Bannon time to prove his character.

"Look at the person. Get to know the person. This is a very, very smart person," Priebus said.

He also discussed Trump's priorities in the early stages of his presidency. Priebus listed "getting his arms around foreign policy," planning for changes to the Affordable Care Act and looking at tax reform as the most important things on Trump's agenda.

Priebus didn't mention immigration this morning, but in a "60 Minutes" interview that aired Sunday, Trump said he planned after his inauguration in January to immediately deport 2 million to 3 million undocumented immigrants who "have criminal records."

Priebus also addressed the fact that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and suggested that it wasn't the Republican Party's concern.

He said Trump put his resources into the states that would get him elected and declined to campaign in highly populated states like New York and California, which he said could have bolstered his numbers there.

"This is an election that takes place in about 12 states," Priebus said. "He played the states he wanted to play."