WASHINGTON ― White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has been removed from the National Security Council, White House sources told The Huffington Post Wednesday.
Bloomberg first reported the news, which was part of a larger NSC shake-up revealed in a White House regulatory filing released Wednesday.
Bannon retains the highest national security clearance possible, aides to President Donald Trump told Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs, and he remains a top adviser with strong views. He was included in an NSC meeting Wednesday afternoon, an official told Jacobs.
“Bannon still has immense interest in national security and he’ll still offer advice,” said Alex Ward, an analyst at the Atlantic Council think tank who closely watches Trump’s foreign policy. “Bannon still cares deeply about Iran and ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ He will still offer his advice on how to curb Iran’s regional rise and defeat [the so-called Islamic State], among other terror groups. He’ll also offer more dovish recommendations regarding Russia.”
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, pushed for the change, according to The New York Times.
McMaster holds a more traditional view of the United States’ place in the world than hyper-nationalist Bannon and former national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign on Feb. 13 after misrepresenting contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. McMaster has been quietly filling out his team with mainstream conservative foreign policy experts, per The Washington Post ― a departure from Flynn’s approach of selecting military intelligence personnel he personally liked.
“They are diametrically opposed on foreign policy. McMaster is leading a pretty normal GOP foreign policy process where Bannon has more nationalist ideas,” Ward said.
Trump signed an executive order placing Bannon on the NSC’s principals committee in January, elevating him to sit alongside Cabinet-level officials. Experts, lawmakers in both parties and officials from previous Democratic and Republican administrations worried that the unusual move meant fringe politics espoused by Bannon, the former chief of Breitbart News, would now guide U.S foreign policy. Bannon developed ties with the white nationalist movement during his time at Breitbart, and he has used his White House perch to push policies such as Trump’s failed Muslim bans and reducing immigration.
The White House narrative about Bannon’s demotion, communicated in a statement from him and via background conversations he had with several reporters, is that he only temporarily held the post to monitor Flynn. In classic Trump administration style, Bannon’s statement said the NSC required his temporary assistance because of mismanagement by Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser and the new focus of pro-Trump efforts to distract from investigations into the president.
But Trump has reportedly been unhappy since February about granting Bannon the role.
And in recent weeks, the strategist has been implicated in an apparent White House effort to interfere with the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
Bannon personally intervened last month when McMaster tried to remove Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a Flynn pick, from his job at the NSC. He and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, protected Cohen-Watnick. Last week, Cohen-Watnick was revealed as one of the White House officials who gathered information that was later provided to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to try to bolster Trump’s claim that the Obama administration illegally spied on him. Cohen-Watnick remains on the NSC.
Allies of Bannon and Flynn portrayed the shake-up as a sign that Trump was selling out his true supporters.
Trump’s previous NSC plan also excluded the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence from meetings except when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.”
In the White House regulatory filing, Bannon’s role is no longer included in the principals committee, and the Joint Chiefs chair and the DNI are again regular attendees.
“Most interesting is the return of the top intelligence official to the NSC,” Ward said. “Maybe Trump is changing his tune on the intelligence community?”
This article has been updated with background about and reaction to the National Security Council changes. Paige Lavender, S.V. Date and Amanda Terkel contributed to this report.
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