President Donald Trump reorganized his National Security Council on Wednesday, removing his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon....The official story is that this isn't a rebuke -- Bannon was there in a limited role:
Two senior White House officials said Bannon’s departure was in no way a demotion....And Bannon was there, we're told, to babysit Mike Flynn:
Bannon was there to “de-operationalize” the NSC from its Obama-era set-up, [one of the officials said], and he feels that has been accomplished with Flynn and his successor H.R. McMaster, and no longer feels the need to be part of the NSC.
“There was a concern when this administration came in that the national security council under the prior admin had grown too large and had taken on operational responsibilities that were not properly its role,” the second official said. Bannon was placed on the committee “to help return the NSC to its proper policy coordinating role.”
“Steve was put there as a check on [Mike] Flynn,” [a senior] official said, referring to the former national security adviser who was forced to resign in February over undisclosed contacts with Russia. With Gen. McMaster now in charge, “there was no longer a need [for Bannon] because they share the same views,” the official said.Do I believe this? I'm not sure. It seems as if Bannon is being taken down a peg -- but haven't we been told that he's been winning the Bannon-Priebus war? On the other hand, is he losing the Bannon-Kushner war? I can't keep up.
But I will point out that the portrait of Mike Flynn as a guy in need of adult supervision jibes with the backstairs gossip we were receiving in January, when Flynn was still in office. First, two days before Inauguration Day, there was this New York Times report about the National Security Council as Flynn was preparing to take charge of it:
The Obama administration has written 275 briefing papers for the incoming Trump administration: nearly 1,000 pages of classified material on North Korea’s nuclear program, the military campaign against the Islamic State, tensions in the South China Sea, and every other kind of threat the new team could face in its first weeks in office.Then, on January 29, there was this in the Times, just after Bannon was named to the NSC:
Nobody in the current administration knows whether anyone in the next has read any of it.
Less than three days before President Obama turns the keys to the White House, and the nuclear codes, over to President-elect Donald J. Trump, Mr. Trump’s transition staff has barely engaged with the National Security Council below the most senior levels.
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....In that story we read about Flynn's "penchant for talking too much" (Trump "appeared irritated" by something impolitic Flynn said while the president met with British prime minister Theresa May), and we're also told about Flynn's unwise decision to attend the alt-right "DeploraBall" inaugural celebration (others in the White House talked him out of that).
Mr. Flynn ... has gotten on the nerves of Mr. Trump and other administration officials because of his sometimes overbearing demeanor, and has further diminished his internal standing by presiding over a chaotic and opaque N.S.C. transition process....
... the episode that did the most damage to the Trump-Flynn relationship occurred in early December when Mr. Flynn’s son, also named Michael, unleashed a series of tweets pushing a discredited conspiracy theory that Clinton associates had run a child sex-slave ring out of a Washington pizza restaurant.
Mr. Trump told his staff to get rid of the younger Mr. Flynn, who had been hired by his father to help during the transition. But Mr. Trump did so reluctantly because of his loyalty during the campaign....
“I want him fired immediately,” Mr. Trump said in a muted rendition of his “You’re fired!” line in “The Apprentice,” according to two people with knowledge of the interaction.
So at the time Flynn wasn't seen as a Russian agent or dupe -- he was seen as an incompetent blowhard. New York magazine's headline for a post recounting the Flynn revelations in the January 29 Times story was "Mike Flynn Is Annoying Trump Because He Acts Just Like Trump."
At the time, I believed all that gossip; later on, I wondered whether it was intended as a diversion from the Russia problem that, we'd be told, made Flynn unemployable. It seems to me now that many in the White House would have wanted Flynn gone in any case because he really did need a minder. So maybe today's official story about Bannon is more or less the truth.
UPDATE: Now there's this:
According to John Roberts of Fox News, Trump has not been entirely happy with his political guru Bannon.Old gossip: Mike Flynn was overbearing and got on Trump's nerves. New gossip: Steve Bannon is hogging the spotlight in an overbearing way and got on Trump's nerves.
“We are also told that maybe the President was not particularly happy at the way Bannon had been grabbing the limelight,” Roberts reported before adding, “That may have played into all of this.”
But there are other theories:
Earlier in the day the son of former national security adviser Michael Flynn called the Bannon ouster a power play by the man who replaced his dad, tweeting, “Fact 1: Flynn/Bannon most loyal to DJT (both out at NSC),” he wrote on Twitter. “Fact 2: McMaster wont say ‘Radical Islam.’”And as commenter Squeaky Rat says:
I think the Bannon-Kusher war deserves some attention as an account of Bannon's defenestration. Trump's confidence in Kushner's quasi-Sec-of-State shtick seems almost unlimited, and Kushner cannot have liked having Bannon between the NSC and Trump's ear [on] security policy.
UPDATE: According to The New York Times, all the "nothing to see here" talk is Bannonite spin.