President Donald Trump has told senior aides that he has decided to remove Stephen Bannon, the embattled White House chief strategist who helped Trump win the 2016 election, according to two administration officials briefed on the discussion.
The president and senior White House officials were debating when and how to dismiss Bannon. The two administration officials cautioned that Trump is known to be averse to confrontation within his inner circle, and could decide to keep on Bannon for some time.
As of Friday morning, the two men were still discussing Bannon’s future, the officials said. A person close to Bannon insisted the parting of ways was his idea, and that he had submitted his resignation to the president on Aug. 7, to be announced at the start of this week, but it was delayed in the wake of the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Bannon had clashed for months with other senior West Wing advisers and members of the president’s family.
But the loss of Bannon, the right-wing nationalist who helped propel some of Trump’s campaign promises into policy reality, raises the potential for the president to face criticism from the conservative media base that supported him over the past year.
Bannon’s many critics bore down after the violence in Charlottesville. Outraged over Trump’s insistence that “both sides” were to blame for the violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally, leaving one woman dead, human rights activists demanded that the president fire nationalists working in the West Wing. That group of hard-right populists in the White House is led by Bannon.
On Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York, Trump refused to guarantee Bannon’s job security but defended him as “not a racist” and “a friend.”
“We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” Trump said.
Bannon’s dismissal followed an Aug. 16 interview he initiated with a writer with whom he had never spoken, with the progressive publication The American Prospect. In it, Bannon mockingly played down the U.S. military threat to North Korea as nonsensical: “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
He also bad-mouthed his colleagues in the Trump administration, vowed to oust a female diplomat at the State Department and mocked officials as “wetting themselves” over the consequences of radically changing trade policy.
Of the far right, he said, “These guys are a collection of clowns,” and he called it a “fringe element” of “losers.”
“We gotta help crush it,” he said in the interview, which people close to Bannon said he believed was off the record.
Bannon’s departure was long rumored in Washington. The president’s new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who was brought on for his ability to organize a chaotic staff, was said to have grown weary of the chief strategist’s long-running feud with Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser.
Bannon had been aligned with Kelly’s predecessor, Reince Priebus, who was forced out in late July. More significantly, Bannon has been in a battle with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, since the spring.
Bannon, whose campaign against “globalists” was a hallmark of his tenure steering the right-wing website Breitbart.com, and Kushner had been allies throughout the transition process and through the beginning of the administration.
But their alliance ruptured as Trump elevated the roles of Gary D. Cohn, his top economic policy adviser and a former official at Goldman Sachs, and Dina Powell, a former Bush administration official who also worked on Wall Street. Cohn is a registered Democrat, and both he and Powell have been denounced by conservative media outlets as being antithetical to Trump’s populist message.