Bannon out as Trump chief strategist

Fifth high-profile casualty in Trump's inner circle in just six months

Afp August 19, 2017
Steve Bannon exits an elevator in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON DC: Donald Trump parted ways with his controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon on Friday as the White House reels from the fallout over the president's response to a violent white supremacist rally.

As Bannon became the fifth high-profile casualty in Trump's inner circle in just six months, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and James Murdoch, son of conservative media tycoon Rupert, added their voices to those criticising the president. And the woman whose daughter was killed when an avowed white supremacist rammed his car into a group of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, said she would not meet with Trump.

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Trump was at meetings with his national security advisers at the presidential retreat Camp David to discuss the situation in Afghanistan when the White House announced that Bannon was leaving.

Seen as the driving force behind Trump's nationalist-populist agenda -- making him a hero of the so-called "alt right" and a bete noire for centrists -- Bannon's presence at the White House has been contested from the start.

With Trump under fire from all sides for insisting anti-racism protesters were equally to blame for violence at the weekend rally staged by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, the president faced renewed pressure to let go of his firebrand aide.

In announcing the 63-year-old Bannon's departure, the White House did not specify whether he had resigned or -- as was widely reported -- been forced out.

"White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve's last day," spokesperson Sarah Sanders said. "We are grateful for his service and wish him the best."

Since taking office in January, Trump has lost five top aides: Bannon, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, press secretary Sean Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus and communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

Bannon, the former head of ultra conservative outlet Breitbart News, joined the Trump campaign less than three months before the November 2016 vote and was credited with playing a major role in the upset victory over Hillary Clinton.

He went on to become the nucleus of one of several competing power centers in a chaotic West Wing, and reportedly fell into disfavour for allegedly leaking stories about colleagues who he felt did not sufficiently adhere to his populist agenda.

The president's new chief of staff, Kelly, a no-nonsense former Marine general, had reportedly warned he would not tolerate what he saw as Bannon's behind the scenes maneuvering. And Trump was reportedly furious about an interview in which his aide contradicted his own position on North Korea.

Bannon's departure came as the president faces fierce criticism over his failure to unequivocally rebuke white supremacists for the violence in Charlottesville that claimed the life of a 32-year-old protester, Heather Heyer.

Trump who rose to political prominence by casting doubt on whether Barack Obama, America's first black president, was born in the United States, did condemn neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan on several occasions this week but many across the political spectrum say he did not go far enough.

Romney on Friday became the latest prominent Republican to admonish the president and was joined by former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Romney, in a Facebook post, told Trump he was facing a "defining moment" and needed to apologise "for the good of the country."
Schwarzenegger told Trump that he has "a moral responsibility to send an unequivocal message that you won't stand for hate and racism."

James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox whose father Rupert has been a Trump ally, pledged to donate $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League, which combats anti-Semitism.

"What we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the President of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people," Murdoch said.

Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, said the White House had reached out but that she would not meet with Trump following his comments equating protesters like her daughter with white supremacists. "You can't wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying 'I'm sorry,'" she said in an interview on ABC.

In other developments Friday, a statue of a US Supreme Court justice who was behind a racist ruling was taken down in Maryland and all 16 members of a presidential committee on arts and the humanities resigned to protest what they called Trump's "hateful rhetoric."

The statue of justice Roger Taney is the latest monument to topple in a growing campaign to remove symbols of the pro-slavery Confederacy. Trump called the movement 'foolish' on Thursday and said US culture and history were being "ripped apart."

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With Trump in Camp David, it was left to his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to address the racial issues roiling the country.

"We condemn racism, bigotry in all its forms. Racism is evil; it is antithetical to America's values," Tillerson said at an event called to promote diversity at the State Department.

In the letter to Trump announcing their mass resignation, the members of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities said "ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions." The first letter of each paragraph in the letter spelled out the word 'R-E-S-I-S-T.'


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