Bannon was put on the NSC’s “Principals Committee” as a check on former National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn to make sure Flynn carried through with a directive to depoliticize the NSC, a senior administration official told Fox News.
"[Obama administration National Security Adviser] Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration," Bannon said in a statement. "I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized. [National Security Adviser] General [H.R.] McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function."
Bannon only attended one meeting of the Principals Committee and Flynn was fired from his role in mid February after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had with a Russian official.
With McMaster replacing Flynn, Trump saw no need for Bannon to stay on the committee as a check on Flynn, the official said.
Bannon is still permitted to go to NSC meetings.
On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News' Martha MacCallum the move was not a demotion for Bannon.
"They are gonna continue to play important policy roles," Pence said, adding the move was "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."
Bannon's promotion to a regular NSC seat proved to be a contentious move, with detractors questioning why a political adviser was being given a permanent voice on security issues.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., released a statement Wednesday soon after the news came out. He called Bannon "wholly unqualified" to have been placed on the NSC in the first place and questioned if House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes had any dealings with Bannon during his investigation of possible surveillance of the Trump team.
"We need to know what in the world is going on," Cummings said.
Wednesday's reconfiguration also promotes the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to “regular attendees.” Those roles had previously been downgraded.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Energy Secretary Rick Perry were also added to the NSC.
Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert also had his role reduced in the shakeup; however, Bossert can still call a meeting of the Homeland Security Council, remains on the Principals Committee and can attend NSC meetings, the administration official said.
|Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump's chief strategist, at the White House on Monday. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times|
Trump Removes Stephen Bannon From National Security Council Post
WASHINGTON — President Trump reshuffled his national security organization on Wednesday, removing his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, from a top policy-making committee and restoring senior military and intelligence officials who had been downgraded when he first came into office.
The shift was orchestrated by Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who was tapped as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser after the resignation of Michael T. Flynn, who stepped down in February after being caught misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador.
General McMaster inherited an organizational scheme for the National Security Council that stirred protests because of Mr. Bannon’s role. The original setup made Mr. Bannon, the former chairman of Breitbart News, a member of the principals committee that typically includes cabinet-level officials like the vice president, secretary of state and defense secretary. The original order also made the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence only occasional participants as issues demanded.
Critics said Mr. Bannon’s presence in a national security policy-making structure risked politicizing foreign policy.
A new order issued by Mr. Trump, dated Tuesday and made public on Wednesday, removes Mr. Bannon from the principals committee, restores the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and intelligence director and also adds the energy secretary, C.I.A. director and United Nations ambassador.
A senior White House official presented the move as a logical evolution, not a setback for Mr. Bannon. He had originally been put on the principals committee to keep an eye on Mr. Flynn and to “de-operationalize” the National Security Council after the Obama administration, this official said on condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics. This official said that process had been completed.
Another official close to Mr. Bannon insisted the move was not in any way a sign that the president had lost confidence in him or wanted to reduce his portfolio. And as evidence he will still play a role in national security decisions, the aide said that Mr. Bannon still maintains the highest level of security clearance in the West Wing.
But the reorganization seemed a clear victory for General McMaster as he struggles to assert control over national security. In addition to the changing membership of the principals committee, the new order also puts the Homeland Security Council under General McMaster rather than making it a separate entity, as Mr. Trump’s original order had done.
General McMaster had envisioned making these changes shortly after taking the job in February, but proceeded slowly to avoid inflaming an already volatile situation. Mr. Bannon and his allies initially insisted his position would not change under any reorganization by General McMaster, but eventually the president was convinced that it was wiser to take him off the principals committee.
The principals committee, led by the national security adviser, is the primary policy-making body for national security, and decides questions that do not rise to the level of the president himself. The committee also debates issues that will get sent to the president, and frames the choices for him.
Political advisers traditionally have not served on the committee. President George W. Bush kept his senior adviser, Karl Rove, out of sensitive national security meetings. President Barack Obama permitted his senior adviser, David Axelrod, to sit in on some, but he was not given formal status and he has said he merely observed and did not participate.
In addition to giving Mr. Bannon formal membership, the original national security organization reduced the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and national intelligence director, stipulating that they would attend only “where issues pertaining to their responsibilities are to be discussed.”
Members of Mr. Trump’s team said they did not mean to downgrade them; they simply took Mr. Bush’s original order and cut and pasted language into theirs, not realizing that the two officials had been upgraded under Mr. Obama.
What Steve Bannon's demotion tells us about the Trump White House
President Trump's decision to remove chief strategist Steve Bannon from the National Security Council's principals committee suggests a potentially significant change in the power balance among the four top White House advisers.
Bannon's placement on the principals committee at the start of the Trump administration drew criticism not only from Democrats but also from many Republicans and prominent members of the intelligence community. The idea that Bannon, who, prior to his hiring as the chief political strategist to Trump's campaign, had been the CEO of a conservative news website, would sit on a committee typically reserved only for the upper echelon of the military, raised questions about the scope of his influence within the White House.
It was part of a broader ascension of Bannon within the West Wing; he was widely regarded in the early days of the administration as a first among equals in a group that included chief of staff Reince Priebus, counselor Kellyanne Conway and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
That ascension has clearly faltered. The removal of Bannon from the NSC comes in the wake of a series of other moves -- most notably the arrival of Trump's daughter, Ivanka, in the West Wing -- that suggest that the president is moving away (at least for the moment) from the more hard-line ideological bent of Bannon.
"I always believed Steve would be first senior adviser to leave the White House," said one former Trump aide granted anonymity to speak candidly. "He's an ideologue. Trump is not. He has to get frustrated."
The Trump White House sought to spin the Bannon decision not as a demotion but rather a natural conclusion to his initial appointment to the principals committee. But, that doesn't really check out. If Bannon's position on the NSC was always meant to be temporary why not say that from the outset?
It's hard not to see the Bannon move in the broader context of Trump's first 75 days in office, which have been, to put it mildly, chaotic. The attempt to overhaul the Affordable Care Act ended before it ever started, an 18-day debacle that showed that Trump's challenges within his own party were far larger than he seemed to believe. He continues to labor under a self-inflicted controversy regarding his unproven allegation that President Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 campaign. The numerous ties between senior campaign aides and Russian intelligence officials -- as well as the ongoing Justice Department investigation into these ties -- show no signs of being knocked off front pages.
All of it has created a toxic political environment for Trump. His approval rating in Gallup's daily tracking poll is mired in the mid 30s; it's at 37% in the three-day rolling average today. That marks a historic low for a president so new to the office. The lowest approval number Gallup measured for Obama in his first year was 49% in November 2009. For George W. Bush it was 51% in September 2001.
While Trump -- like all politicians -- is loathe to admit a change of direction is needed or that mistakes have been made, it's hard to look at his current position and conclude anything else.
To be clear: Bannon will remain in the White House -- and in a senior role. But the diminution of his power -- and in such a public way -- is a clear sign that a shakeup in the Trump power structure is under way.
Trump, of course, is mercurial. Bannon may have fallen out of favor -- for now. But, almost nothing is set in stone in the world of Donald Trump so in a month or two we could be talking about Bannon's reassertion of primacy in the Trump orbit. But, that's not the story today.