President Trump's controversial chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is leaving the White House, The New York Times reported Friday. Bannon had been a long-time supporter of the president, having run Breitbart News, a far-right website that frequently boosted Donald Trump's candidacy, before becoming the chief executive of his campaign in the last run of the 2016 election and joining him in the White House as a top adviser.
But the two had recently clashed, reportedly due to feelings from the president that Bannon was insufficiently loyal, self-promoting, and using his proximity to the presidency to pursue his own agenda, not the president's. Some points of contention between the two included attacks on National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster coming from Breitbart, months of fights between Bannon and his allies and allies of Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Bannon's heavy involvement with Joshua Green's book about him and the president, Devil's Bargain (the president was reportedly annoyed that the cover gave Bannon and himself equal billing), and concern that he was leaking to the press.
The worry that Bannon was leaking to the press and pursuing his own agenda was likely exacerbated when Bannon did just that earlier this week, calling up Robert Kuttner, an editor for the left-leaning magazine The American Prospect, and discussing his views on foreign policy, which didn't align well with the official line from the administration. Bannon reportedly didn't think the call was an interview, though the former chief executive of a media company never made clear that his conversation with a journalist was off-the-record. (Note: As a reporter, assume that if you talk to me in a professional context, I'm taking notes, unless you tell me otherwise.)
“There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it," Bannon told Kuttner, directly undermining his boss's threats against the East Asian pariah state. "Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 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, they got us.” In the same interview, Bannon discussed his plans to fight back against perceived opponents in the executive branch.
According to Circa reporter Sarah Carter, Bannon tendered his resignation two weeks ago, which conflicts with numerous other media reports about Bannon's job situation over that time period, and makes the phone call with the Prospect even stranger.
Bannon had been viewed by many as the ideological force behind the Trump administration, connecting Trump with the far-right and nationalist forces that had helped buoy him into office. When Bannon was first named an adviser to the president, there was opposition from many who believed he'd bring racism into the administration.
It's unclear where Bannon will end up now. And with him just the latest departure from the administration of top advisers who had been with the president since the inauguration, it seems the already embattled White House may be left even more directionless.