Trump dumps controversial chief
strategist Bannon in latest upheaval
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[August 19, 2017]
By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON/HAGERSTOWN, Md. (Reuters) -
President Donald Trump on Friday fired his chief strategist Steve Bannon
in the latest White House shake-up, removing a far-right architect of
his 2016 election victory and a driving force behind his nationalist and
Bannon's firing, a year and a day after Trump hired him as his campaign
chief, put an abrupt end to the rabble-rousing political provocateur's
tumultuous tenure in a White House riven with rivalries and
back-stabbing during which he clashed with more-moderate factions.
He was instrumental in some of Trump's most contentious policy moves
including the ban on people from several Muslim-majority countries,
abandoning the Paris climate accord, tearing up international trade
agreements and cracking down on illegal immigration. He was no friend of
the Republican political establishment and was loathed by liberals but
was a darling of some of the president's hard-line conservative
White House officials said Trump had told new Chief of Staff John Kelly
to crack down on the bickering and infighting, and that Bannon's fate
was sealed by comments published on Wednesday in the American Prospect
liberal magazine in which he spoke of targeting his adversaries within
Trump, seven months into his presidency, has become increasingly
isolated over his comments following white supremacist violence in the
Virginia college town of Charlottesville last Saturday and his attacks
on fellow Republicans. Some Republicans had even begun questioning
Trump's capacity to govern.
As Trump came under fire from Republicans including two former
presidents, and from business leaders and U.S. allies abroad, he faced
mounting calls for Bannon's ouster. Critics had accused Bannon of
harboring anti-Semitic and white nationalist sentiments.
"White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually
agreed today would be Steve's last day," White House spokeswoman Sarah
Sanders said in a statement.
Bannon returned to his post as executive chairman of right-wing
Breitbart News on Friday afternoon, the website said. Prior to joining
the Trump campaign, he had spearheaded Breitbart's shift into a forum
for the "alt-right," a loose online confederation of neo-Nazis, white
supremacists and anti-Semites.
Bannon said his departure from the White House signals a major shift for
the Trump agenda. "The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is
over," Bannon told the conservative Weekly Standard.
"I just think his ability to get anything done - particularly the bigger
things, like the wall, the bigger, broader things that we fought for,
it's just gonna be that much harder," Bannon said.
He said he would use Breitbart to attack opponents of the populist and
nationalist agenda he championed, including establishment Republicans.
"I am definitely going to crush the opposition," Bannon said.
He became the latest key figure to abruptly depart a Trump White House
that has been chaotic from its first days and already has lost a chief
of staff, a national security adviser, two communications directors and
a chief spokesman.
Trump's presidency also has been dogged by ongoing investigations in
Congress and a special counsel named by the Justice Department into
potential collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia,
something both Trump and Moscow deny.
Bannon, 63, is a former U.S. Navy officer, Goldman Sachs investment
banker and Hollywood movie producer.
He had been in a precarious position before but Trump opted to keep him,
in part because he had played a major role in Trump's November 2016
election victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton and was backed by many of
the president's most loyal rank-and-file supporters.
Democrats cheered Bannon's departure.
"Steve Bannon's firing is welcome news," said Nancy Pelosi, the top
House of Representatives Democrat. "The Trump Administration must not
only purge itself of the remaining white supremacists on staff, but
abandon the bigoted ideology that clearly governs its decisions."
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President Donald Trump talks to senior staff Steve Bannon during a
swearing in ceremony for senior staff at the White House in
Washington, DC January 22, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Wall Street indexes and the U.S. dollar ended a volatile session
lower after a week of drama in Washington intensified doubts about
Trump's ability to deliver on policy objectives such as tax cuts.
After a late-morning boost following reports of Bannon's ouster, the
dollar and U.S. equities lost ground.
Bannon felt a close ideological connection to Trump's populist
tendencies and "America First" message. Like Trump, he has also
expressed deep skepticism concerning ongoing American military
involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The decision to fire Bannon could undermine Trump's support among
far-right voters but might ease tensions within the White House and
with party leaders. Republicans control the White House and both
chambers of Congress but have been unable to pass major legislative
goals including a healthcare overhaul.
Trump ran into trouble after saying anti-racism demonstrators in
Charlottesville were as responsible for the violence as the
neo-Nazis and white supremacists who instigated the protests, and
that there were "very fine people" among both groups.
Those remarks sparked rebukes from fellow Republicans, top corporate
executives and some close allies.
Bannon's departure removes a large source of friction on the White
House staff, but does not herald a significant shift by Trump toward
the center on major policy issues, three administration officials
"A good deal of what was attributed to Bannon, for example on China
trade and restricting immigration, and the border wall, all came
before Bannon joined the campaign and would have happened without
him," said one White House official, speaking on the condition of
Bannon has been a hawk on China, urging a tougher line on trade to
correct a huge trade imbalance and dismissive of recent efforts to
try to elicit Beijing's help to rein in North Korea. In his comments
to American Prospect, Bannon said the United States was in an
economic war with China.
A second official said the biggest winners from Bannonís departure
are national security adviser H.R. McMaster; Gary Cohn, Trumpís
chief economic adviser; and Trumpís daughter Ivanka and her husband,
Bannon's departure cast a cloud over the future of the group of
allies he had brought into the White House, such as Sebastian Gorka.
Some conservative activists expressed disappointment in Bannon's
ouster. Republicans were largely quiet, though moderate Republican
congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she was glad Bannon was out
but that the administration "must work to build bridges, not destroy
By the time Trump had hired Bannon as campaign manager, the real
estate magnate had already vanquished his Republican opponents for
the party's presidential nomination.
Asked about Bannon on Tuesday, Trump called him "a friend of mine"
but downplayed his contribution to his election victory.
"Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. I went through 17
senators, governors and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on
very much later than that. And I like him. He is a good man. He is
not a racist," Trump said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by
Makini Brice, Susan Heavey, John Walcott, david Brunnstrom, Megan
Davies, Justin Mitchell, Mohammad Zargham and David Alexander;
Writing by Will Dunham and Eric Beech; Editing by James Dalgleish
and Diane Craft)
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