Allies of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who were intensifying their battle to oust National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster just two weeks ago — but now, it’s Bannon who has apparently been pushed out.
“White House chief of staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement on Friday. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”
When Kelly was appointed to replace former chief of staff Reince Priebus, Bannon found himself facing off with a retired four-star general who had reportedly assured McMaster that he would not be forced out.
The tension rose further when the editorial board of the The Wall Street Journal, a conservative outlet, wrote an op-ed blaming Bannon for the “mini-drama” playing out between McMaster and Breitbart — the right-wing news outlet run by Bannon until he was hired as Trump’s chief strategist.
Trump started suspecting in June that Bannon was planting negative stories about his enemies in Breitbart, Politico reported earlier this month. The president reportedly told Bannon to “knock it off,” and Priebus advised him to “get people to stop writing this s— because people know it’s you.”
The drama spilled out into the open when McMaster began to assert more control over the National Security Council and fired officials appointed by his immediate predecessor, Michael Flynn.
The dismissals of Ezra Cohen-Watnick, Rich Higgins, and Derek Harvey exacerbated friction between McMaster and the White House’s more nationalist wing, which was led by Bannon until Friday.
Early reports indicated that Bannon had Trump’s ear, and that McMaster was increasingly isolated. But Trump was effectively forced to release a statement reiterating his support for the general amid a far-right social media campaign to #FireMcMaster and leaks by anonymous administration officials accusing McMaster of being “anti-Israel.”
“General McMaster and I are working very well together,” the statement read. “He is a good man and very pro-Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country.”
Ultimately, Kelly appears to have convinced Trump that Bannon was largely responsible for the perception that the White House was in chaos.
Bannon appeared to seal his fate earlier this week, when he gave a series of on-record interviews to The New York Times, The American Prospect, and The Washington Post.
Trump was reportedly particularly irked by Bannon’s comments to the Prospect, according to CNN. In the interview, Bannon lashed out at National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn, contradicted the president on North Korea, and called the white nationalist movement a “collection of clowns” and “losers.” He also said he hopes Democrats “talk about racism every day.”
The president was also reportedly upset with Bannon’s participation in Josh Green’s book “Devil’s Bargain,” which painted Trump and Bannon as seemingly equal in causing Trump’s win last November. Trump was also reportedly annoyed by a Time magazine cover that depicted Bannon as “The Great Manipulator.”
It is not clear what Bannon will do next — but some say it’s likely that he’s already plotting revenge.
“Steve will do exactly what he has been doing from Day 1 — try to ‘bring everything crashing down,'” Kurt Bardella, a former spokesperson for Breitbart, told Business Insider‘s Allan Smith on Friday. “He will continue to use his weapon of choice, Breitbart, to attack his adversaries inside the West Wing — mainly Jared, Ivanka, Cohn, etc.”
Allan Smith contributed reporting.
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