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Steve Bannon, the White House chief strategist, has left the Trump administration and returned to Breitbart News, the right-wing website he led before joining President Donald Trump’s campaign last year.
The conservative internet news mogul Matt Drudge first reported on Friday that Bannon was leaving the White House, tweeting that he “had one hell of a run.”
The White House confirmed the story Friday afternoon.
“White House chief of staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”
Breitbart’s White House correspondent Charlie Spierling tweeted Friday that Bannon returned to Breitbart News as executive chairman, and chaired the outlet’s evening editorial meeting.
Rumors of Bannon’s departure had reached a fever pitch in recent days.
Citing two administration officials briefed on the conversation, The New York Times reported shortly after Drudge’s tweet that Trump had told senior aides he decided to remove Bannon. The Times added, however, that a person close to Bannon insisted the departure was Bannon’s idea. The source said Bannon submitted his resignation on August 7, to be announced earlier this week, but it was pushed back after the violent protests led by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the past weekend.
After Trump’s Tuesday press conference, in which he said some of the protesters in Charlottesville were “very fine people,” Bannon gave a series of on-the-record interviews and comments to publications including The Times, The American Prospect, and The Washington Post.
It was in those interviews, particularly with The Prospect, that Bannon appeared to seal his fate, if he hadn’t already tendered his resignation.
Bannon lashed out National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, contradicted the president on North Korea, and called white nationalists a “collection of clowns” and “losers.” He also said he hoped Democrats “talk about racism every day.”
“The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em,” Bannon told The Prospect. “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
That interview irked Trump, CNN reported. The president was also upset with Bannon’s participation in Josh Green’s book “Devil’s Bargain,” which painted Trump and Bannon as equally responsible for Trump’s election win in November. Trump was also reportedly annoyed by a Time magazine cover in February that depicted Bannon as “The Great Manipulator.”
Asked during his Tuesday press conference about Bannon’s status in the administration, Trump said, “We’ll see.”
“Look, look – I like Mr. Bannon,” Trump said. “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 continued. “He’s a good man. He is not a racist. I can tell you that. He’s a good person. He actually gets a 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 told some close associates that he did not believe his conversation with The Prospect’s Robert Kuttner was on the record, but he told others that the interview was strategic. He told the Daily Mail on Thursday that it was good for the White House because it “drew fire away” from the president.
Earlier on Friday, Axios reported that Kelly was reviewing Bannon’s status and a decision was “imminent.” A source close to Bannon told the news website that Bannon would defend Trump from the outside and unleash “fire and fury” on opponents of Trump’s agenda.
“Get ready for Bannon the barbarian,” the source told Axios.
Bannon was the leading nationalist figure in the White House. While Bannon often found himself in Trump’s doghouse, the president was often most closely aligned with Bannon’s viewpoints on issues, even as other top administration officials tried to get him on another side.
As the executive chairman of Breitbart, Bannon helped lead what he once called “the platform of the alt-right,” the movement that brought together white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and other fringe groups on the right. Democrats and Republicans have long called for his removal, and his appointment as chief strategist was one of the most – if not the most – controversial hires on Trump’s team.
“Steve will do exactly what he has been doing from Day 1 – try to ‘bring everything crashing down,'” Kurt Bardella, a former Breitbart spokesman, told Business Insider of what he believed Bannon would do next. “He will continue to use his weapon of choice, Breitbart, to attack his adversaries inside the West Wing – mainly Jared, Ivanka, Cohn, etc.
“He will relentlessly attack congressional Republican leadership like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell,” he continued. “In many ways, I think Steve will feel liberated. Free from the limitations of ‘serving’ or ‘answering’ to somebody. It’s not in Steve’s DNA to work for anybody but himself. He likes being the dictator. Now he will be able to operate openly and freely to inflict as much damage as he possibly can on the ‘globalists’ that remain in the Trump administration.”
Bannon’s departure comes during a period of massive turnover in the White House. Within the past month, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, and Anthony Scaramucci have either resigned or been fired as press secretary, chief of staff, and communications director, respectively.