(SL) – President Trump on Wednesday removed controversial White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon from the National Security Council, part of a sweeping staff reshuffling that elevated military, intelligence and Cabinet officials to greater roles on the council and left Bannon less directly involved in shaping the administration’s day-to-day national security policy.
The Washington Post reports, the restructuring reflects the growing influence of national security adviser H.R. McMaster, an Army three-star general who took over the post after retired general Michael Flynn was ousted in February and who is increasingly asserting himself over the flow of national security information in the White House.
McMaster has become a blunt force within the administration who has made clear to several top officials and the president that he does not want the NSC to have any political elements.
Two senior White House officials said that Bannon’s departure was in no way a demotion and that he had rarely attended meetings since being placed on the council. They and others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
In conversations Wednesday afternoon, several Trump associates described Bannon as overstretched, with multiple portfolios within the White House, and said the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has been paying close attention to how to better use Bannon’s skills as the administration works to recover from a rocky and dramatic first few months.
In a statement, Bannon framed his removal as the culmination of an effort to change the makeup of the NSC as it operated under President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, whose tenure was heavily criticized by Republicans.
“Susan E. Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration,” Bannon said. “I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function.”
Trump’s NSC became embroiled in the controversy over Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Washington Post reported last week that three officials from the NSC — including Cohen-Watnick — collected and distributed documents to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), whose panel is investigating contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials during the election. Nunes later held a news conference and briefed the president on those documents, which he said suggested that Trump associates were the subjects of incidental and legal surveillance by the Obama administration.
McMaster, who has become a conduit for foreign diplomatic leaders, has kept a low public profile since joining the administration, avoiding interviews and speeches. But inside the White House, he has gained significant influence and his plans for the council have largely been encouraged by the president’s closest aides.
A key part of McMaster’s résumé is his 1997 book, “Dereliction of Duty,” which highlighted the failure of military leaders to give candid advice to the president in the lead-up to the Vietnam War and sets a high bar for advisers to the president.
“He was very critical of the Joint Chiefs and how they didn’t speak up more forcefully against the war,” Cancian said. “He put a mark on the wall here, and he has to live up to it.”
“It’s going to drive him to be very clear and pointed in his advice, particularly if he disagrees with the president or other elements of government,” he added.