How Steve Bannon Rose To The Top Of Trump's Power Structure
On Saturday night, President Trump signed an executive order promoting Chief Strategist Steve Bannon to the “principals committee” of the National Security Council — while, according to the New York Times, downgrading the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence, who will now attend only when the council is considering issues in their direct areas of responsibilities. The move puts Bannon, a former Navy surface warfare officer, admiral’s aide, investment banker and media executive, on the same level as Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
The rapid rise of Bannon has come as a shock to many political pundits even though he played a key role throughout Trump’s campaign and is thought to be the key architect behind several of the recent executive orders signed by the new administration as well as Trump’s fiery inaugural address. In an interview last week attacking the media, Bannon clearly demonstrated the brash attitude that likely ingratiated him with the President and secured him a top spot in the Trump White Hosue.
“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while … I want you to quote this … The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States. … The elite media got it dead wrong, 100 percent dead wrong … The mainstream media has not fired or terminated anyone associated with following our campaign … Look at the Twitter feeds of those people: They were outright activists of the Clinton campaign … That’s why you have no power … You were humiliated.”
Of course, it didn’t take long for various political pundits to criticize Trump’s decision to add a political strategist to the National Security Council with Leon Panetta saying “the last place you want to put somebody who worries about politics is in a room where they’re talking about national security.”
“The last place you want to put somebody who worries about politics is in a room where they’re talking about national security,” said Leon E. Panetta, a former White House chief of staff, defense secretary and C.I.A. director in two Democratic administrations.
“I’ve never seen that happen, and it shouldn’t happen. It’s not like he has broad experience in foreign policy and national security issues. He doesn’t. His primary role is to control or guide the president’s conscience based on his campaign promises. That’s not what the National Security Council is supposed to be about.”
That opinion was shared by President George W. Bush’s last chief of staff, Josh Bolten, who barred Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s political adviser, from N.S.C. meetings. A president’s decisions made with those advisers, he told a conference audience in September, “involve life and death for the people in uniform” and should “not be tainted by any political decisions.”
Bernie took to twitter to call the move “dangerous and unprecedented” while saying that “he must be removed.”
Steve Bannon sitting on the National Security Council is dangerous and unprecedented. He must be removed.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 30, 2017
Meanwhile, even Susan Rice, who gained fame by going on numerous talk shows in the wake of the Benghazi attacks to blame an offensive YouTube video for the death of a U.S. ambassador, among others, decided to chime in on the decision:
This is stone cold crazy. After a week of crazy. Who needs military advice or intell to make policy on ISIL, Syria, Afghanistan, DPRK? https://t.co/Mmyc139w3M
— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) January 29, 2017
While all the motives behind Bannon’s promotion are not clear, many in the media are speculating the move is designed to diminish the role of Nation Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, whose son was previously fired from the Trump campaign after publicly embracing the PizzaGate conspiracy theory.
People close to Mr. Bannon said he is not accumulating power for power’s sake, but is instead helping to fill a staff leadership vacuum created, in part, by Mr. Flynn’s stumbling performance as national security adviser.
Mr. Flynn still communicates with Mr. Trump frequently, and his staff has been assembling a version of the Presidential Daily Briefing for Mr. Trump, truncated but comprehensive, to be the president’s main source of national security information. During the campaign, he often had unfettered access to the candidate, who appreciated his brash style and contempt for Hillary Clinton, but during the transition, Mr. Flynn privately complained about having to share face time with others.
Mr. Flynn “has the full confidence of the president and his team,” Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, said in an email. Emails and phone calls to Mr. Flynn and his top aide were not returned.
Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon still regard Mr. Flynn as an asset. “In the room and out of the room, Steve Bannon is General Flynn’s biggest defender,” said Kellyanne Conway, another top adviser to the president.
But it is unclear when the maneuvers to reduce Mr. Flynn’s role began. Two Obama administration officials said Trump transition officials inquired about expanded national security roles for Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner at the earliest stages of the transition in November — before the younger Mr. Flynn became a liability — but after Mr. Flynn had begun to chafe on the nerves of his colleagues on the team.
So, what is the over/under on Flynn surviving the first two years?