Banish Bannon? Trump weighs his options
as top aides feud
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[August 16, 2017]
By John Walcott and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - For months,
U.S. President Donald Trump's national security adviser and his chief
strategist have battled for influence behind the scenes, and their feud
may force another shake-up at the White House.
The dispute between Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster and political
strategist Stephen Bannon has reached a level of animosity that is
destabilizing Trump's team of top advisers just as the administration
tries to regain lost momentum, three senior officials said.
Under pressure from moderate Republicans to fire Bannon, Trump declined
to publicly back him on Tuesday, although he left his options open.
"We'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon," he told reporters at Trump
Tower in New York.
Whatever Trump decides could chart the fate of a nuclear-weapons deal
with Iran, U.S. troop deployments to Afghanistan and White House
staffing decisions - all issues over which Bannon and McMaster have
Bannon has been in a precarious position before but Trump has opted to
keep him, in part because his chief strategist played a major role in
his election victory and is backed by many of the president's most loyal
"The president obviously is very nervous and afraid of firing him," a
source close to the White House told Reuters.
The source floated the possibility that Bannon could be demoted instead
of fired, noting that he might turn into a harsh critic of the
administration if he is forced out of the inner circle.
Two other senior officials, both supporters of McMaster who asked not to
be identified, said he blames Bannon for a series of attacks against him
by right-wing website Breitbart News, which Bannon used to lead, and
other far-right conservative groups.
In recent weeks, Breitbart has published a series of articles making a
case for McMaster's ouster on the basis that he is not a strong ally of
Israel and that he has staffed the National Security Council with
holdovers from the Obama administration.
One of the senior officials said McMaster’s anger over the campaign “is
known to the president” but declined to say whether the national
security adviser had told Trump directly or through General John Kelly,
an ally and the president's new chief of staff.
"McMaster isn't saying Bannon is the mastermind behind the campaign, but
he does think Bannon could stop it if he wanted to,” said one of
In a television interview on Sunday, McMaster repeatedly declined to
answer when asked if he could work with Bannon.
About their feud, Bannon declined to comment and McMaster was
unavailable for comment.
Instead of firing Bannon, Trump could move McMaster into a position
outside the White House, possibly back to an active military command
role, or keep both men where they are and insist on some form of truce.
Bannon has survived other White House power struggles this year and
established a detente with Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared
Kushner after a scolding from the president.
[to top of second column]
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon arrives aboard Air Force
One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., April 9, 2017.
The two senior officials who support McMaster said Kelly is angry
that the anti-McMaster campaign has made the White House appear
chaotic, reflecting badly on him as he was brought in as chief of
staff two weeks ago to restore order and discipline.
Bannon sees himself as the defender of Trump's nationalist base and
has advocated for both an end or renegotiation of trade deals and a
more isolationist approach to foreign affairs than McMaster.
He has pushed to scrap the 2015 nuclear-weapons agreement with Iran,
which McMaster argues should remain in place, and has also proposed
using contractors to fight the war in Afghanistan rather than
expanding U.S. forces there, as McMaster has advocated.
McMaster is part of a more pragmatic group that Bannon likes to
He drew the fury of Bannon's supporters by recently overhauling the
White House's National Security Council, pushing out four staffers
who were seen as close to Bannon.
Conservative commentator Mike Cernovich is a Bannon ally and has
been a vocal critic of McMaster, even leveling personal attacks
Cernovich says he does not talk directly to Bannon but praises him
as an important counterweight to McMaster.
He also warns that the president would alienate his most loyal
supporters if he fires Bannon.
"I don't think that people who like Trump are suddenly going to say,
'We're going to fight Trump.' Instead they'll say, 'What's the point
of supporting him?'" Cernovich told Reuters.
The conservative Jewish-American and pro-Israel group Zionist
Organization of America (ZOA), which also has close ties to Bannon,
has been one of McMaster’s sharpest critics, urging Trump to
reassign him away from policy areas dealing with Israel and Iran.
Trump has himself backed McMaster, saying he was a "good man and
A source close to the ZOA bristled at the suggestion that Bannon was
influencing its approach and said it would not tone down the
campaign against McMaster, despite entreaties by Bannon to do so.
“We find it remarkably offensive that anyone would suggest that
Steve Bannon or anyone else tells us what to say or what not to
say,” the source said. “It makes me feel awful that he’s getting
blamed for this, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Kieran Murray and
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