President Donald Trump on Friday dismissed his embattled chief strategist Stephen Bannon, an architect of his 2016 general election victory, in a major White House shake-up that follows a week of racial unrest, according to multiple administration officials.
Trump had been under mounting pressure to dispense with Bannon, who many officials view as a political Svengali but who has drawn scorn as a leading internal force encouraging and amplifying the president’s most controversial nationalist impulses.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a Friday afternoon statement to reporters: “White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”
Some White House officials also said Friday they expect some of Bannon’s allies inside the administration to exit with him. Bannon works closely with a number of White House officials, including national security aide Sebastian Gorka and assistant Julia Hahn.
Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News – a fiery, hard-right news site that has gone to war with the Republican establishment – had been expecting to be cut loose from the White House, people close to him said. One of them explained that Bannon was resigned to that fate and is determined to continue to advocate for Trump’s agenda on the outside.
“No matter what happens, Steve is a honey badger,” said this person, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. “Steve’s in a good place. He doesn’t care. He’s going to support the president and push the agenda, whether he’s on the inside or the outside.”
Bannon has told associates in recent days that if he were to leave the White House, the conservative populist movement that lifted Trump in last year’s campaign would be at risk. One person close to him said the coalition would amount to “Democrats, bankers, and hawks.” Bannon also has predicted that Trump would eventually turn back to him and others who share the president’s nationalist instincts, especially on trade.
John Kelly, the retired four-star Marine Corps general brought in late last month as White House chief of staff, has been contemplating dramatic changes to West Wing staffing that included firing Bannon, a right-wing populist who helped guide the president to victory in the final months of last year’s campaign.
The decision to fire Bannon was made by Kelly, officials said. It came after almost exactly three weeks on the job as chief of staff, a position in which he was given unilateral power to overhaul the West Wing staff to staunch warring factions, aides and advisers going rogue, and repeated leaks to the news media.