Steve Bannon, US President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, has lost his seat on the powerful National Security Council in a high-level White House shakeup.
Trump’s elevation of Bannon to a permanent spot on the NSC had been widely criticized as injecting politics into White House deliberations on sensitive defense, foreign policy and intelligence matters.
The move revealed Wednesday was seen as a setback for Bannon, the controversial former head of the right-wing website Breitbart, who is one of Trump’s most trusted advisors.
And it appeared to boost recently appointed National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who is putting his own stamp on the crucial advisory body.
Trump made no statement on the shift, but Bannon described it as part of a process of getting the council under control after it grew rapidly under president Barack Obama’s national security advisor, Susan Rice.
“Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration so I was put on NSC to ensure it was ‘de-operationalized.’ General McMaster has NSC back to its proper function,” Bannon said in a statement.
Vice President Mike Pence said Bannon would continue to play an important role in policy and played down the shake-up as routine.
“This is just a natural evolution to ensure the National Security Council is organized in a way that best serves the president in resolving and making those difficult decisions,” Pence said.
A Trump confidant also said Bannon remained as influential as ever.
“He is still involved in everything and still has the full confidence of the president but to be fair he can only do so much stuff,” the confidant said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The White House official said Bannon was no longer needed on the NSC after the departure of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Normally out of the news, the NSC has been the focus of uncommon controversy in the first months of the administration.
Flynn was forced out in February after he made misleading statements about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak after the election.
The White House then struggled to replace Flynn, with potential candidates wary of political infighting and staffing issues. On February 20 Trump tapped respected Army lieutenant general McMaster, promising him “full authority” to hire his own staff.
As chief White House strategist, Bannon has helped shape into policy the nationalist and anti-government ideas that helped propel Trump to the White House.
He is closely tied to the sharp turn away from several decades of an expansive, globalist US foreign policy since Trump became president on January 20.