The Cable

In Reversal, Trump Banishes Bannon from National Security Council

National Security Advisor McMaster asserts his control in a shake-up of the NSC, but Bannon remains a powerful voice inside the White House.

White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon leaves after a press conference in the East Room of the White House March 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon leaves after a press conference in the East Room of the White House March 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump removed Stephen Bannon, his top strategist, from the National Security Council on Wednesday as part of a reorganization of the policymaking body that also restored top intelligence and military leaders to their customary roles.

The move signals that Trump’s national security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, has managed to assert his authority by ending an unorthodox arrangement that raised concerns among lawmakers and foreign-policy experts from both parties.

Critics saw Bannon’s elevation to the NSC in the early days of the Trump administration as a sign that the White House was eager to inject partisan politics and an ideological agenda into crucial deliberations over military action and foreign policy. Former officials also warned that the structure could generate debilitating internal conflict and confusion as to who was in charge of framing national security decisions for the president.

The reshuffling of the NSC was outlined in a memorandum issued Tuesday and published Wednesday. The White House declined to comment on the order.

McMaster’s predecessor, retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who resigned in February after misleading the vice president about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, had introduced the controversial structure for the NSC that installed Bannon, the former head of the white nationalist website Breitbart News, as a member of the principals committee. That committee usually is comprised of cabinet-level officials. The original setup also marginalized the country’s top intelligence and military officers, who were to attend the principals committee only when the topics on the agenda required it.

Under the new arrangement, the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, “shall also be regular attendees” on the principals committee, the memorandum said. The president’s order adds the CIA director, the energy secretary, and the United Nations ambassador to the principals committee.

McMaster, who took over in February and unlike Flynn had no ties to Trump’s presidential campaign, also scored another bureaucratic victory in the reshuffle. The Homeland Security Council is now under McMaster’s authority instead of operating as a separate body.

A senior White House official told some news outlets that Bannon was initially put on the NSC to oversee Flynn and ensure that the body was streamlined and operating more efficiently. That goal had been accomplished and Bannon did not feel he needed to remain on the NSC, the official said.

“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 was quoted as saying by Yahoo News.

With zero experience in foreign policy or government, coupled with his profile as a fervent ideologue opposed to immigration and with links to far-right parties in Europe, Bannon’s presence on the NSC had alarmed former officials and sparked sharp criticism from Democrats in Congress.

Despite the changes on the NSC, Bannon — who ran Trump’s campaign in the closing months of the race remains a powerful figure in the White House with walk-in privileges in the Oval Office. Ultimately, shuffling the deck chairs inside the National Security Council may do little to erode his influence on the president.

Instead of having to defer to senior officials inside the Situation Room, Bannon will now be able to discuss issues “alone with Trump” in the Oval Office, tweeted Michael McFaul, who served as ambassador to Moscow and as a senior White House advisor in the Obama administration.

Political advisors have rarely been given any formal role on the National Security Council. Edwin Meese, when he was counselor to the president, served on the NSC in the Reagan administration.

One Democratic lawmaker expressed relief at the decision, but said Bannon had no place in any White House.

“While I am relieved that Steve Bannon’s sick ideology will no longer infect the National Security Council, his continued presence in this administration is alarming to millions of Americans,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). “I urge President Trump to show Steve Bannon the door and purge his administration of dangerous extremists.”

Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

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