Trump strategist Bannon dropped from National Security Council

Paul HANDLEY
1 / 3
US President Donald Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon was dropped from the National Security Council on April 5, 2017

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's chief strategist, has lost his seat on the powerful National Security Council in a high-level White House shakeup.

Trump's elevation of Bannon to a permanent spot on the NSC had been widely criticized as injecting politics into White House deliberations on sensitive defense, foreign policy and intelligence matters.

The move revealed Wednesday was seen as a setback for Bannon, the controversial former head of the far-right media website Breitbart, who is one of Trump's most trusted advisors and sometimes dubbed the real power in the White House.

And it appeared to boost recently appointed National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who is putting his own stamp on the crucial advisory body.

Trump made no statement on the shift, but Bannon described it as part of a process of getting the council under control after it grew rapidly under president Barack Obama's national security advisor, Susan Rice.

"Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration so I was put on NSC to ensure it was 'de-operationalized.' General McMaster has NSC back to its proper function," Bannon said in a statement.

Normally out of the news, the NSC has been the focus of uncommon controversy in the first months of the administration.

Trump's first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, was forced out in February after he made misleading statements about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak after the election.

The White House then struggled to replace Flynn, with potential candidates wary of political infighting and staffing issues. On February 20 Trump tapped respected Army lieutenant general McMaster, promising him "full authority" to hire his own staff.

- Power figure behind Trump -

As chief White House strategist, Bannon has helped shape into policy the nationalist and anti-government ideas that helped propel Trump to the White House.

He is closely tied to the sharp turn away from several decades of an expansive, globalist US foreign policy since Trump became president on January 20.

Bannon's inclusion in the NSC at the end of January raised concerns that the critical reports and recommendations that US spy and defense agencies present to the president could be politicized. The move had come as Trump leveled strong attacks on the intelligence community over leaks to the media.

Little seen or heard from in public, Bannon appeared to have an impact on most aspects of administration policy. One of his mantras has been to "blow up Washington," which he viewed as a city of calcified elites.

"What we are witnessing now is the birth of a new political order," he told the Washington Post as the new government took office.

Critics assailed his influence. Time magazine called him "The Great Manipulator" and others dubbed him "President Bannon."

Despite the loss of his NSC seat, he will likely remain a powerful figure behind Trump. He was reportedly working this week on a new health care plan after Congress failed to repeal Obama's landmark Affordable Care Act, as Trump has promised.

- Return to order -

In a presidential order issued Tuesday, Bannon's position, assistant to the president and chief strategist, was removed from the list of NSC members and its principals committee, which includes several top cabinet, military and intelligence officials.

At the same time, the director of National Intelligence, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Energy were restored to the principals committee after being left out in the January configuration.

The move to drop Bannon garnered approval from both political parties. Republic Senator John McCain told Politico it was a "good move."

"I said at the time that I didn't think a political adviser should be a member of that body because it's never been, so I think it's the right thing to do," he said.

Democratic Representative Eliot Engel called the move "long overdue."

"Steve Bannon should never have been on the National Security Council in the first place," he said.