- White House says decision was mutual: ‘We are grateful for his service’
- Bannon says: ‘I’m leaving and going to war for Trump against his opponents’
Steve Bannon has been removed from his post as White House chief strategist, ending his highly contentious career at the center of the Trump administration .
A statement from the White House press secretary was sent to journalists on Friday afternoon after multiple outlets reported Bannon was on his way out.
“White House chief of staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” it read. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”
Reports on Friday had stated that Donald Trump had decided to remove his chief strategist, but that the White House was trying to work out the details.
A Trump ally told the Guardian that the leaks about Bannon’s fate were part of an effort to pressure the White House aide to step down. “They are trying to get him to quit,” the source said.
Minutes later, the Guardian learned that Bannon was out.
One source told the Guardian that Bannon had officially resigned weeks ago, before the furore over Trump’s remarks equating neo-Nazis and leftwing protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Late Friday afternoon, the Breitbart website, where Bannon had been editor before joining the White House, announced that he had already returned to the helm as executive chairman and presided over their nightly editorial meeting. An indication of what its editorial tone might be came in an interview that Bannon gave to Bloomberg News on Friday afternoon. “If there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up,” he said. “I’m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents – on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America.”
The website had long been a thorn in the side of establishment Republicans but had been relatively restrained in criticizing the Trump administration, although it become more aggressive towards figures like McMaster and Cohn in recent weeks. Joel Pollak, a senior editor at Breitbart, simply tweeted “#WAR” soon after Bannon’s departure was announced.
The removal of Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist marks a remarkable rise and fall for a rightwing ideologue regarded by some as the power behind the throne.
Bannon had retreated from the limelight in recent months, after bearing much of the blame for the failure of the president’s initial travel ban and amid speculation that his increased profile had drawn Trump’s ire.
But a bizarre interview that Bannon gave to the liberal magazine the American Prospect – in which he claimed there was no military solution for North Korea, called the far right a “collection of clowns”, and said the left’s focus on racism would allow him to “crush the Democrats” – may have altered the balance of power inside the West Wing. For an aide long suspected of leaking freely about rivals, Bannon’s excuse that he thought the call was off the record was not helpful.
Bannon’s departure leaves a major void in the White House, depriving it of a man once seen as Cardinal Richelieu in cargo pants, an unkempt schemer adept at manipulating the president, who was famously depicted as a childlike naif to his aide’s Grim Reaper in a Saturday Night Live sketch . The characterization – summed up in a Time magazine cover that hailed “the great manipulator” – reportedly annoyed the famously thin-skinned president and contributed to Bannon’s fall from grace.
Josh Green, the author of the book Devil’s Bargain about Bannon and Trump, told the Guardian: “Bannon may be the only person in the White House with clear and distinct politics of his own.”
His absence means more power and influence for figures such as Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and the national economic council chair, Gary Cohn, who have few, if any, ideological ties to the Republican party and the conservative movement.
Bannon has long occupied an unusual position in the White House. In an administration that one outside ally compared to Baskin Robbins, “composed of 31 flavors,” Bannon represented “the nationalist Trump coalition” as opposed to “a lot of people that were not only not Trump supporters but anti-Trump people”.
One Bannon ally told the Guardian that the West Wing had seen a “four-on-one fight” recently, with Bannon taking on a coalition of Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Cohn and national security adviser HR McMaster. In the ally’s eyes Bannon represented the populist “burn it all down” path while others in the administration wanted Trump to “move the center” and work with the establishment.
An indication how Bannon viewed those remaining in the West Wing came in an interview with the Weekly Standard on Friday afternoon where Bannon said: “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over.”
He added: “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.”
Bannon had also stood out as the lone White House staffer to defend Trump’s comments on Charlottesville in recent days.
The White House aide talked on the record to the New York Times to defend the president’s response earlier this week,
arguing: “President Trump, by asking, ‘Where does this all end?’ – Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln – connects with the American people about their history, culture and traditions.”
He gleefully added: “The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it’s all racist. Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it.”
In a White House where aides have rushed to distance themselves from Trump’s “both sides” comments, Bannon’s public support was as an outlier, although vice-president Mike Pence has also backed Trump over Charlottesville, albeit in less strident terms.
However, his role as the former editor of Breitbart, which Bannon called “a platform for the alt right” made him a focal point of criticism of the administration in the recent days and one stalwart Trump ally on Capitol Hill, Peter King of New York, had called on Bannon to resign.
The president himself had offered a less-than-full-throated defense of Bannon earlier in the week, saying “we’ll see” when asked if the White House aide would keep his job. Trump added, referring to his election campaign: “I like Mr Bannon. He’s a friend of mine. But Mr Bannon came on very late. I went through 17 senators, governors and I won all the primaries. Mr Bannon came on very much later than that.”