WASHINGTON — Controversial White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s final day working in the West Wing is Friday. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement to the press pool describing the move as a mutual decision between Bannon and White House chief of staff John Kelly earlier in the day.
“White House chief of staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best,” Sanders said.
The official word from the White House came after a slew of reports about Bannon’s departure. According to a New York Times report published shortly before Sanders’ statement, President Trump “told senior aides that he has decided to remove” Bannon. ABC News and other outlets reported that Bannon had already resigned.
Both the White House and Bannon failed to immediately respond to multiple requests for comment from Yahoo News. Breitbart News, which had previously employed Bannon as executive chairman, declared Friday evening that he had returned to the publication.
Prior to the Times report, the conservative journalist Matt Drudge, who enjoys a close relationship with the White House, declared on Twitter that Bannon’s time in the West Wing was coming to an end.
Trump’s White House had been infamously volatile, with a series of high profile departures. Bannon had regularly been involved in infighting with other top aides, and rumors of his potential dismissal swirled at multiple points. Kelly became White House chief of staff late last month after the departure of his predecessor, Reince Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chair, who had a tense relationship with Bannon. Though this shift saw Bannon lose one of his rivals, Kelly, a former Marine general, was tasked with instilling order in the chaotic West Wing and cracking down on leaks. Kelly reportedly immediately zeroed in on Bannon as a source of turmoil and leaks about internal disputes, leading to fresh speculation about the chief strategist’s standing.
The reports of a Bannon exit intensified after an he gave an extensive interview to the liberal American Prospect that was published on Wednesday. In it, Bannon described some of his disagreements with other top officials, including his desire to push out State Department staffers and his frustration with Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn.
Bannon also appeared to undermine the president’s position on North Korea when he indicated a military option was not on the table due to the immense casualties that would occur. His comments about North Korea were quickly contradicted by Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said that while military action would be “horrific,” it was still a potential option. White House National Security Council officials were alarmed by Bannon’s comments, believing they undermined the American negotiating position after Trump repeatedly indicated the military option was on the table.
Bannon was a key figure in Trump’s shocking upset victory in last year’s presidential election. Prior to joining Trump’s campaign, he ran the conservative news site Breitbart News, which he once proclaimed was the “platform for the alt-right.” At Breitbart, Bannon found a base for his philosophy of economic nationalism and staunch opposition to immigration and political correctness. His ideology led many to see him as a key architect of Trump’s victory, but it also drew criticism from liberals who saw him as a dangerous zealot.
His departure from the White House raised questions about his next move before Breitbart signaled his return. In recent days, he has reportedly met with his former colleagues at Breitbart and Robert Mercer, a hedge fund billionaire who has backed many of Bannon’s projects. By Friday evening, Breitbart’s White House correspondent said Bannon was back at the site running an editorial meeting.
Almost immediately after Bannon left the White House, his allies at the notoriously combative Breitbart quickly declared they were embracing a more combative role. An editor there there announced, “#WAR” leading to speculation that the Trump-friendly outlet could turn against the White House.
However, a source close to Bannon told Yahoo News he is “always a Trump ally.” Bannon further told Bloomberg reporter Joshua Green that he was “going to war for Trump against his opponents — on Capitol Hill, in the media and in corporate America.” But some in Trump and Bannon’s orbit suggested that, even if he remains loyal to the president, the pugnacious Bannon won’t be able to resist taking some shots from outside the West Wing at the aides he feuded with during his brief time inside.
This post was last updated at 8 p.m. ET.
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