Stephen Bannon was unexpectedly removed from the National Security Council this week, according to an official filing, with no warning and without any immediate public explanation from the White House.
The Donald Trump presidential admission thus far has increasingly been defined by chaos and division. Bannon’s surprise ousting from the council, which was first reported by Bloomberg, only exacerbated those characteristics. Within minutes, several versions of why Bannon was removed were ricocheting around the Washington, DC commentariat, many of them contradictory and some completely implausible.
It is former National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s fault. This is the official version from Bannon himself, who remains White House chief strategist, which he issued in a statement:
Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration. I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function.
No one seems to know what this means. The NSC’s functions vary depending on each president’s wants and desires. Sometimes it functions as a virtual traffic cop that directs intelligence and advice from agencies to the Oval Office, in other administrations it acts more as a trusted advisor that recommends actions and policy. Because the NSC’s top officials automatically change with each administration, the idea that Bannon would need to facilitate this change makes little sense. As a result, this statement is being widely mocked.
Bannon was put on the council early in the administration to guide and keep watch over then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was tasked with reshaping the operation.
Flynn has been gone from the NSC—and the administration—since mid-February, making this explanation somewhat implausible. The White House has yet to put out a statement on Bannon’s departure, and instead held a private briefing with a handful of journalists, which did not include the “press pool” journalist of the day, who is responsible for covering press opportunities.
He didn’t really go to meetings anyway. This explanation has also been told to several news outlets, perhaps as part of the same private briefing. Bannon has only attended one meeting since he was appointed to the elite group, so his departure isn’t a big deal, unnamed White House officials say. His appointment to the council, which is normally not open to political advisors, was hugely controversial. It makes little sense that the President would do so and then Bannon wouldn’t attend.
There’s something nefarious going on. Democrats have even suggested he might be mixed up somehow in the leaking of information to a House investigation into Russian involvement in the US election. As representative Elijah E. Cummings, a Democratic member of the House Oversight Committee, asks:
One key question is whether Mr. Bannon was involved in any way with the dealings between NSC staffers and Chairman Nunes or his trip to the White House.
The Oversight committee has asked the White House to answer questions about Bannon’s interactions with Devin Nunes, who is leading the House investigation into Russian involvement.