WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday dismissed his embattled chief strategist Stephen Bannon, an architect of his 2016 general election victory, in a major White House shake-up that follows a week of racial unrest, according to multiple administration officials.
Trump had been under mounting pressure to dispense with Bannon, who many officials view as a political Svengali but who has drawn scorn as a leading internal force encouraging and amplifying the president's most controversial nationalist impulses.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a Friday afternoon statement to reporters: "White House Chief of Staff John F. 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."
Some White House officials also said Friday they expect some of Bannon's allies inside the administration to exit with him. Bannon works closely with a number of White House officials, including national security aide Sebastian Gorka and assistant Julia Hahn.
Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News — a fiery, hard-right news site that has gone to war with the Republican establishment — had been expecting to be cut loose from the White House, people close to him said. One of them explained that Bannon was resigned to that fate and is determined to continue to advocate for Trump's agenda on the outside, according to the Washington Post.
Bannon has told associates in recent days that if he were to leave the White House, the conservative populist movement that lifted Trump in last year's campaign would be at risk. The Post reported that one person close to him said the coalition would amount to "Democrats, bankers, and hawks." Bannon also has predicted that Trump would eventually turn back to him and others who share the president's nationalist instincts, especially on trade.
John Kelly, the retired four-star Marine Corps general brought in late last month as White House chief of staff, has been contemplating dramatic changes to West Wing staffing that included firing Bannon, a right-wing populist who helped guide the president to victory in the final months of last year's campaign.
The decision to fire Bannon was made by Kelly, the Post reported. It came after almost exactly three weeks on the job as chief of staff, a position in which he was given unilateral power to overhaul the West Wing staff to staunch warring factions, aides and advisers going rogue, and repeated leaks to the news media.
This past week, as mainstream Republicans lambasted Trump for his handling of last week's deadly white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., many on the White House staff led a drum beat for the president to dismiss Bannon and any other aides who have connections of any kind to the white nationalist movement, the Post reported.
Kelly has no personal animus toward Bannon, according to the Post, which cited people familiar with his thinking, but was especially frustrated with Bannon's tendency to try to influence policy and personal matters not in his portfolio, as well as a negative media campaign he and his allies waged against national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
The president, meanwhile, had been upset about Bannon's participation in a book by a Bloomberg News reporter Joshua Green, "Devil's Bargain" - particularly the shared photo billing on the cover between Trump and his chief strategist.
This week, at a moment when even his allies and confidants agreed his job security was as precarious as it has ever been, Bannon further imperiled his own standing by giving an interview to the liberal American Prospect magazine, in which he sniped by name at his enemies within the White House including Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director, and publicly contradicted the administration's stance on North Korea.
Bannon confidants said he believed his conversation with the magazine was off the record, but the damage was done. Kelly, said two people familiar with his thinking, was most frustrated by his comments on North Korea, explaining that, as a general, he understands the human toll and the prospect of war with a hostile nation is not merely an intellectual exercise for him.
As Bannon waited to hear his fate in recent days, he was keeping in close touch with billionaire ally Robert Mercer and other longtime friends and benefactors in conservative politics and the right-wing media community, expressing a desire to stay in the White House while also musing about what his future could be outside of the federal government.
Associates said Bannon may partner on a new venture with the Mercer family, conservative mega-donors who served as his patrons in an array of enterprises before he joined the Trump campaign. One strong possibility: a new media entity.
Hedge fund executive Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah collaborated with Bannon on at least five ventures between 2011 and 2016, including Breitbart, which Bannon ran. He also served as vice president and secretary of the Mercer-funded Cambridge Analytica, a data science company that worked for Trump's campaign.
Bannon earned at least $917,000 in 2016, drawing at least $545,000 of that from four Mercer-backed ventures, according to a personal financial disclosure he filed in late March. At the time, he estimated that his assets were worth between $11.8 million and $53.8 million. Among his holdings: three rental properties and a strategic consulting firm he said was worth between $5 million and $25 million. The filing also showed that Bannon had significant cash reserves, reporting at least $1.1 million in three different U.S. bank accounts.