President Donald Trump won’t say whether he plans to keep Steve Bannon, a top adviser and key campaign strategist, in the White House.
“We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” the president said at an impromptu Tuesday news conference in Trump Tower.
Bannon, the former leader of alt-right Breitbart News website, has been a contentious figure in the White House for months and has been viewed as on the outs before. But in recent days, some of Trump’s closest advisers have returned to pressing the president to fire Bannon. The anti-Bannon campaign comes as President Trump is facing heated criticism for not immediately condemning by name white supremacists and other hate groups after deadly violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Trump’s less-than-enthusiastic defense called into question Bannon’s own assessment: He had been telling people that he believed his job was safe, following a conversation in recent days with new chief of staff John Kelly, according to a White House official who demanded anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
The decision whether to oust Bannon is more than just a personnel matter. The media guru is viewed in some circles as Trump’s connection to his base and the protector of Trump’s conservative agenda.
Ned Ryun, a conservative strategist who occasionally advises the White House, wrote on Twitter, “Cannot tell you how bad a signal it would be to @realdonaldtrump’s base if Bannon is forced out.”
But Bannon’s high profile and puppet-master image have at times irked a president who bristles at the suggestion that he needs a liaison to his base.
In April, President Trump diminished Bannon’s role to that of “a guy who works for me.”
The president doubled down on that dismissiveness at Tuesday’s press conference, distancing Bannon from his unexpectedly successful presidential campaign. But he emphasized that he likes Bannon and believes Bannon gets unfair treatment from the media.
In response to a reporter’s question, “Do you still have confidence in Steve?” Trump replied:
“Well, we’ll see. Look, look – I like Mr. Bannon. He’s a friend of mine. But 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’s a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He’s a good person. He actually gets very unfair press in that regard. But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. But he’s a good person, and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly.”
Bannon’s supporters say Trump is being pressed by advisers such as chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell.
Gen. Kelly has also expressed concerns to Trump about Bannon, and is said to be particularly angry with a flood of negative stories about national security adviser H.R. McMaster that some in the White House believe are being leaked by Bannon. That’s according to two people briefed on the personnel discussions taking place in New Jersey and New York who are not authorized to speak publicly.
Gen. Kelly has grown weary of the conservative attacks on McMaster and believes that even if Bannon is not personally responsible for them, he has not done enough to quell them. Bannon has denied being behind the anti-McMaster campaign.
Updated Tuesday, August 15, 2017 at 7:14 pm