WASHINGTON — The White House announced on Wednesday that chief strategist Steve Bannon is leaving his position on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. White House officials explained the move as part of a planned “realignment” of the NSC, which is a group of top officials that advises the president on national security and foreign policy.
Bannon became the chief executive of Trump’s presidential campaign last August. He was previously the chairman of the conservative media outlet Breitbart News. Bannon’s association with the firebrand conservative site, which has delighted in flouting political correctness, attacking the Republican establishment, and promoting nationalist anti-immigration policies, made his role in Trump’s administration controversial. Bannon’s position on the NSC was announced shortly after Trump’s inauguration in January. The move immediately drew vocal opposition from Democrats including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who called Bannon a “white supremacist.”
The White House announced Bannon’s departure in a regulatory filing that made two other changes to the NSC. Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs was first to report on the filing.
A senior White House official told reporters Bannon was initially put on the NSC to supervise Trump’s National Security Adviser Mike Flynn’s efforts to “deoperationalize,” or streamline, the council. Since that process is now concluded and Flynn is no longer in the administration, the official said Bannon’s presence was no longer necessary.
“Look, Steve was put on the NSC from the get-go as a check on Mike Flynn,” the official said.
Flynn was fired from his position as national security adviser in February after it was revealed he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. Earlier this week, his attorney indicated Flynn might be willing to testify in the ongoing investigations into Russian interference in last year’s election and Trump aides’ contacts with officials from that country.
According to ABC News, “The removal of Bannon comes as part of a makeover of the NSC led by Flynn’s national security adviser replacement, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. The positions of energy secretary (Rick Perry), director of national intelligence (Dan Coats), CIA director (Mike Pompeo) and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford) were added to the principals committee as ’regular attendees.’”
Despite the questions currently swirling around Flynn, the senior White House official dismissed the idea that Bannon was serving as a “check” on him due to a lack of trust. Rather, the official said, it was simply to ensure that the mission of “deoperationalizing” the NSC was successful. The official said the council had become “bloated” and “bureaucratic” under Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, and that the number of people reporting directly to the head of the council, more than 25, has been reduced to four “tunnels.”
“Everything is much more streamlined so that decision making is much more deliberative and it doesn’t take months to get a decision,” the official said.
Flynn was replaced by Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. The White House official said the other parts of the regulatory filing were organizational changes requested by McMaster. The official further said part of the reason Bannon was no longer needed was that his “philosophy” was in sync with McMaster’s.
“Steve was very instrumental in bringing on McMaster. Since McMaster basically shared his vision and view, there was no need for Steve to stay on,” the official said.
The official attempted to cut off speculation there was a clash between McMaster and Bannon, claiming Bannon attended only one NSC meeting and citing this as proof his role was only intended to involve initial supervision.
“I know how some people are going to interpret this. For what it’s worth, just to prove the point, since day one, Steve has only ever attended one NSC meeting. … This was never meant as he’s going to sit in there,” the official said.
The senior White House official declined to comment on who ultimately decided to remove Bannon from the NSC.
“I’m not going to get into the decision making,” the official said.
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