Stephen Bannon is leaving his role as Donald Trump’s chief strategist, the White House announced Friday, ending a controversial tenure as the administration is engulfed in a storm over the president’s remarks on violence in Virginia. His exit caps a tumultuous four weeks in which a slew of senior officials have announced their departures, including the White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, press secretary Sean Spicer and communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who was hired and fired within the space of 11 days. Bannon’s departure was agreed on mutually with new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and his last day on the job will be Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said. The benchmark S&P 500 stock index and dollar both rose following initial reports that Bannon’s ouster could be imminent, reversing earlier declines, as his investors interpreted his departure as removing a powerful advocate for a protectionist agenda and direct confrontation with China over trade.
Bannon, 63, the chief executive of Trump’s presidential campaign and an architect of his election victory, was the leading champion of conservative populism within the administration. The former chairman of Breitbart News, Bannon served as a link to the so-called “alt-right” movement attuned to the attitudes of the most conservative elements of the president’s base.
“Steve played an integral part in the president’s journey to the White House,” said former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg. “Steve went into the White House and didn’t betray his values, worked every day to advance the agenda that the president was elected on. Trump’s voters may get upset that America’s not being made great again. We’ll find out.” Sebastian Gorka, a Bannon ally who previously worked with him at Breitbart News, also faces possible removal from his post as a counter-terrorism aide to the president, said two people with knowledge of the situation.
Bannon has advocated that the president delve into racial issues and applauded Trump’s widely criticized handling of the Charlottesville situation. The president appeared to press forward with that strategy with a series of tweets Thursday morning decrying the removal of Confederate statues. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Bannon’s ouster “is welcome news, but it doesn’t disguise where President Trump himself stands on white supremacists and the bigoted beliefs they advance.”
“Personnel changes are worthless so long as President Trump continues to advance policies that disgrace our cherished American values,” she added. Bannon, whose relationship with Trump was forged through campaign battles, has been one of the president’s closest advisers, skilled at infighting and cultivating the media. His departure would strengthen Kelly, who has sought to better organize a West Wing known for chaos and disorder.
The move also will bolster Bannon’s rivals within the administration, including National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and top economic aide Gary Cohn, with whom Bannon frequently clashed over policy. During an interview Sunday with NBC News, McMaster pointedly and repeatedly refused to say whether he could effectively work with Bannon going forward. The American Prospect, a progressive magazine, on Wednesday published an interview with Bannon in which the president’s chief strategist discussed his efforts to undermine fellow Trump aides and seemed to undercut the president on key foreign policy issues.
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Stirring the Pot
Bannon told the magazine political opponents at the State Department and Pentagon were “wetting themselves” over his plans to root out employees he disagreed with over policy. And despite the president’s threats of a swift military response to provocations from North Korea, Bannon conceded “there’s no military solution here” that wouldn’t result in millions of deaths.
Even before the interview, the president signaled Bannon’s fate could be in jeopardy. Asked about Bannon’s job security during a freewheeling press conference Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York, the president was noncommittal. He said Bannon was “not a racist” and was treated unfairly by the press, but contended he “came on very late” to his presidential campaign.
The president was reportedly upset by Bannon’s portrayal as key to his success in a recent book by Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Joshua Green, as well as perceptions that his senior aide was behind leaks to the media. Scaramucci, who was fired last month after less than two weeks on the job, said repeatedly earlier this week he believed Bannon was a leaker.