Today is White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s last day in the Trump administration. It seemed the writing was on the wall over the past few weeks. Bannon had no allies. The president was reportedly upset over what he felt as Bannon taking credit for his 2016 win. So, he’s out, but was he fired or did he resign? That’s what we’re trying to figure out. Here’s what The New York Times reported, noting that Bannon submitted his resignation two weeks ago—August 7—but the events of Charlottesville delayed the announcement:
President Trump has told senior aides that he has decided to remove Stephen K. Bannon, the embattled White House chief strategist who helped Mr. Trump win the 2016 election, according to two administration officials briefed on the discussion.
The president and senior White House officials were debating when and how to dismiss Mr. Bannon. The two administration officials cautioned that Mr. Trump is known to be averse to confrontation within his inner circle, and could decide to keep on Mr. Bannon for some time.
As of Friday morning, the two men were still discussing Mr. Bannon’s future, the officials said. A person close to Mr. Bannon insisted the parting of ways was his idea, and that he had submitted his resignation to the president on Aug. 7, to be announced at the start of this week, but it was delayed in the wake of the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Va.
Mr. Bannon had clashed for months with other senior West Wing advisers and members of the president’s family.
Yet, Axios’ Jonathan Swan and CBS News’ Margaret Brennan reported how the "he submitted his resignation two weeks ago" narrative seems a bit shaky. Swan says Bannon was fired outright, while Brennan says the talks about his exit were anything but mutual and cordial. Also, as Ed pointed out, the only person to go on-the-record concerning the resignation angle was…Steve Bannon.
He was fired. They came to a face-saving agreement. https://t.co/HhII1486n6— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) August 18, 2017
None of the below. He was a goner, as we reported. Most snr staff against him. DJT telling ppl Bannon was a leaker. https://t.co/VLZzDOg8a8— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) August 18, 2017
I'm told Bannon was fired, not that he resigned.— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) August 18, 2017
Swan, who you should all follow, also reported that White House aides told him Bannon had no projects or responsibilities to hand over to anyone. During the impromptu presser at Trump Tower, where the president sparked more controversy over remarks about the violence that erupted in Charlottesville between white nationalists and far left protesters, Trump was asked about his confidence in his chief strategist [emphasis mine]:
“Well, we'll see. Look, look -- I like Mr. Bannon. 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's a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He's a good person. He actually gets 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.
The drama surrounding the negative stories emanating from Breitbart about National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster also didn’t help. Axios added that Bannon’s recent interview with liberal magazine The American Prospect also didn’t help, with him saying there is no military option to deal with North Korea, despite Trump’s threat of unleashing “fire and fury” upon the country. He also apparently didn’t think this was an on-the-record interview, so there’s that inexcusable drama all over again:
I'm told Trump stewed over Bannon's interview with American Prospect in recent days...— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) August 18, 2017
Bannon said he might consider a deal in which China got North Korea to freeze its nuclear buildup with verifiable inspections and the United States removed its troops from the peninsula, but such a deal seemed remote. Given that China is not likely to do much more on North Korea, and that the logic of mutually assured destruction was its own source of restraint, Bannon saw no reason not to proceed with tough trade sanctions against China.
Contrary to Trump’s threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten 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.” Bannon went on to describe his battle inside the administration to take a harder line on China trade, and not to fall into a trap of wishful thinking in which complaints against China’s trade practices now had to take a backseat to the hope that China, as honest broker, would help restrain Kim.
As for possible blowback, Trump is not a target, but McMaster, Kushner, and others with what’s said to be a “save Trump” mission. Breitbart, on the other hand, is prepared to go nuclear on the Trump White House over Bannon’s removal.
One theme I'm picking up: Bannon believes next battle is *not* w/ Trump but w/ Kushner/Cohn/Dina/HR McMaster. "Save Trump," as one R put it.— Robert Costa (@costareports) August 18, 2017
100% accurate https://t.co/cC86V6q54d— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) August 18, 2017
Joel is a Breitbart editor. They're going thermonuclear, I'm told. Story tk on Axios. https://t.co/92z4nrZnbT— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) August 18, 2017
Bannon friend says Breitbart ramping up for war against Trump. "It's now a Democrat White House," source says.— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) August 18, 2017
Bannon has told associates in recent days that if he leaves, Trump WH will be "Democrats, bankers, and hawks." Predicted POTUS would rebel.— Robert Costa (@costareports) August 18, 2017