Steve Bannon left his post as senior adviser on Friday, ending a turbulent tenure for the anti-immigration advocate and economic nationalist who clashed with other advisers since the beginning of President Trump's term.
"White House Chief of Staff John 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," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
Hours after parting ways with the White House, Breitbart News announced Bannon had returned to the media outlet as its executive chairman. With his return, Bannon even chaired the Friday evening editorial meeting, one Breitbart reporter tweeted.
The departure comes days of intense public pressure to remove him from his White House after clashes between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville last weekend – and just two days after the volatile senior adviser gave an extraordinary interview in which he attacked colleagues and undercut Trump's positions on China and North Korea.
Yet Bannon told the website Circa that he resigned two weeks ago. The Drudge Report, a supporter of Bannon, said "the populist hero" may return to his job running Breitbart News.
Since his prominent role in Trump's campaign, Bannon's alignment with the so-called alt-right movement that includes many white supremacists has made him a lightning rod for critics.
Trump is still facing a political firestorm for his response to the Charlottesville clashes, in which he said the left wing protesters were just as violent as white supremacists who held a rally to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. One alleged white nationalist plowed into a crowd of protesters, killing one 32-year-old woman and wounding 19 others.
Even as Republican members of Congress and business leaders sharply criticized Trump's response that "both sides" were to blame from the violence, Bannon said he was proud of Trump's response. While Bannon has denied he is a white supremacist, he has proudly called Breitbart News the “platform for the alt-right."
Bannon's departure triggered immediate speculation as to whether he would seek to retaliate against Trump and enemies inside the White House via Breitbart News or other outlets aligned with the now-former adviser.
Joel B. Pollak, an editor at Breitbart, tweeted out a single word in reaction to news Bannon was out: "#WAR."
Meanwhile, Bannon allies are denying suggestions that he is planning to feud with Trump from outside the White House. Bannon told close associates that he plans to remain an ally of the president, according to one who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Republican strategist Rick Tyler said Bannon's opinions of Trump will soon become apparent – especially if he returns to Breitbart.
"Bannon is not loyal to men but to ideas," Tyler said, "so he will continue his revolution, but without Trump and at the expense of Trump."
Civil rights groups and other administration critics, meanwhile, welcomed Bannon's ouster.
"Glad to see @WhiteHouse has fired the man who fanned the flames of intolerance from his time at Breitbart to his tenure" in the Trump administration, tweeted Jonathan Greenblatt, national director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.
The Democratic National Committee said there is now "one less white supremacist in the White House." And House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said that, while Bannon's firing is welcome, "it doesn’t disguise where President Trump himself stands on white supremacists and the bigoted beliefs they advance."
After the Charlottesville attack, social media lit up with calls for Bannon’s ouster, with the hashtag #FireBannon heating up on Twitter, and Trump appeared to distance himself from Bannon.
Though he described Bannon as a friend, Trump began to distance himself from Bannon, noting on Tuesday that he "came on very late" to the campaign, after the Republican convention.
"He is a good man. He is not a racist. I can tell you that. He is a good person. He actually gets a very unfair press in that regard," he said.
However, Trump offered an ominous caveat: "We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon."
This is at least the fourth high-level departure from the Trump administration, just seven months into his term. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus have also departed.
Bannon's interview with The American Prospect interview appeared to be the last straw.
"They're wetting themselves," Bannon said of his rivals within the administration, in an interview with an editor with the liberal-leaning journal that he apparently thought was off the record.
Bannon applauded Trump's comments about Charlottesville and said he welcomed Democratic critics who accused the administration of racism.
"The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” Bannon also criticized the white supremacist demonstrators in Virginia, calling them "a fringe element" and "a collection of clowns."
In other comments that angered the White House, Bannon also undercut Trump's positions on North Korea, saying the challenge of the nuclear-armed rival cannot be solved militarily.
"Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here," he said. "They got us.”
Analysts said Trump had little choice but to get rid of Bannon after the Prospect interview, lest it look like the senior adviser was untouchable.
"I think that if you contradict your boss that directly and publicly, and your boss is the president of the United States, you should expect to dust off your resume," said Republican consultant Bruce Haynes.
Since his appointment as senior adviser shortly after the election, Bannon has pushed for protectionist trade and hard-line immigration policies.
While Trump agrees with Bannon on those issues, the president has had to referee Bannon fights with former chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior adviser (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner, as each side accused the other of leaking negative information to the news media.
Kelly, the chief of staff who delivered the news to Bannon, also clashed with him – a rift that only deepened as some aides accused Bannon of leaking information targeting National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
Bannon and McMaster – a Kelly ally – have clashed over U.S. troop commitments in Afghanistan and National Security Council staffing.
Trump has also been annoyed by reports that Bannon was the true power behind the throne. He chafed at a Time magazine cover story in February that proclaimed Bannon as "The Great Manipulator." More recently, he criticized a book – Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency – that played up Bannon's important role in the campaign.
In the American Prospect interview, Bannon said he personally fought for a harder line against China on trade issues within the White House. "We're at economic war with China," he said, and talked about ousting rivals at the Defense and State Departments over this issue.
“I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. I’m getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State," Bannon said.
He also took shots at West Wing rivals like Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council.
“That’s a fight I fight every day here,” he said. “We’re still fighting. There’s Treasury and [National Economic Council chair] Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying.”
The campaign against Bannon has been as long as his tenure. Some officials said Trump has largely sidelined Bannon in recent months amid repeated complaints by aides.
Even close Trump associates such as Rupert Murdoch, the Fox News acting chief executive, have reportedly also urged Trump to fire Bannon.
And critics of the administration have long targeted Bannon, citing his ties to the alt right – an argument that was bolstered by people such as former Ku Klux Klansman leader David Duke, who said Bannon’s presence would give white nationalists a foothold in the White House.
Bannon's initial appointment was cheered by other Klan leaders and the American Nazi Party.
“As long as they have the likes of Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka in the White House they’re going to continue to feel emboldened,” Rev. Mark Thompson said of white supremacists on MSNBC in August.
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