Stephen Bannon in 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump on Saturday reshuffled his National Security Council, removing permanent seats on his most important Situation Room meetings previously reserved for his military and intelligence chiefs and offering one instead to his chief strategist.
That strategist is Steve Bannon, who before joining Trump’s presidential campaign last year ran Breitbart, a website he characterized as “the platform for the alt-right” movement.
Historically, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has served as the primary military adviser on the NSC principals committee – the president’s core national security team.
Going forward, that adviser, currently Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, will only attend meetings on a discretionary basis. The same goes for the director of national intelligence, who is tasked with coordinating all streams of intelligence collected by the government’s 17 intelligence agencies.
Trump has had a fractured relationship with the intelligence community ever since its leadership found that the Russian Federation actively campaigned to help elect him president.
Last year, at a forum on presidential transitions hosted by the Moody Series on Bipartisan Leadership, a top aide to former president George W. Bush explained the longstanding decision not to include political figures in national security meetings.
“The signal he wanted to send to the rest of his administration, the signal he wanted to send to the public, and the signal he especially wanted to send to the military is that the decisions I’m making that involve life and death for the people in uniform will not be tainted by any political decisions,” Josh Bolten, Bush’s former chief of staff, said.
Explaining Bannon’s appointment to the council, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said his qualification is that “he’s a former naval officer.”
Bannon is credited for shaping Trump’s populist, anti-immigrant and ethno-nationalist image that helped fuel his unlikely political rise to the White House. Bannon helped draft Trump’s inauguration speech, as well as his recent executive order on refugees.
In an interview last summer, Bannon called himself “a Leninist” who wants to “destroy the state.”
“I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment,” he said.
In an interview after the election with The Hollywood Reporter, Bannon further explained his vision as avowedly populist and nationalist.
“Darkness is good,” he said. “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”
Speaking on Sunday, Sen. John McCain said he was “worried” about the move to add Bannon.
This is “a radical departure from any national security council in history,” said McCain, who serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on CBS’s Face the Nation.Reuters contributed to this report.