In a reversal, President Trump removed chief strategist Stephen Bannon on Wednesday from a permanent seat on the White House National Security Council and restored top intelligence and military officials to regular positions on the NSC.
The president withdrew Mr. Bannon from the principals’ committee, the main policymaking group for national security, less than three months after his appointment to the post had raised criticism about potential politicization of the NSC.
The change was sought by new National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who took over the job last month for the fired Michael Flynn.
In the reorganization, Mr. Trump also upgraded the status of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. to “regular attendees” of the principals’ committee, reversing another earlier decision. And he downgraded the role of Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert on the NSC, according to a presidential memorandum.
Mr. Bannon said he was removed from the NSC because it was no longer in danger of being “operationalized,” as he asserted had been the case under former Obama National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice. He said Mr. McMaster “has returned the NSC to its proper function.”
“Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration,” Mr. Bannon said in a statement. “I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized.”
Mr. Bannon’s statement suggested that he had been put on the NSC to monitor Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, Mr. Flynn. The president fired Mr. Flynn in February after he acknowledged misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the extent of his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential transition.
Ms. Rice has resurfaced prominently this week to defend herself against accusations that she “unmasked” Trump officials who were mentioned in classified intelligence documents while she was working at the White House. She said such “unmaskings” internally are routine, and denied that she leaked the identities of Trump associates whose names were later mentioned in press reports as having their conversations with Russian officials caught up in U.S. surveillance.
It was the second significant staff shakeup in the White House in two weeks. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh announced her resignation last week to help build support for the president’s agenda with outside groups; she was also described as frustrated with dysfunction in the West Wing.
Mr. Bannon’s inclusion in the principals committee at the start of Mr. Trump’s presidency drew criticism from some outside the White House as a potential for political interference on the NSC.
White House officials say Mr. Bannon will still be able to attend NSC meetings — he reportedly had attended only one — and that the move doesn’t change his status as one of the president’s most influential advisers.
While the White House portrayed Mr. Bannon’s shift as an effort to ensure de-politicization of national security, some Democrats said he should not have had a seat on the NSC in the first place.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, commented on Twitter, “Bannon says he was put on NSC to ‘de-operationilize’ it. Think the word he was looking for was ‘dysfunctionalize.’ Mission accomplished.”
House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said Mr. Trump’s initial decision to give Mr. Bannon a permanent spot on the NSC “put politics ahead of national security.”
“His removal was long overdue,” Mr. Hoyer said.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the removal of Mr. Bannon from the NSC came a few days after committee Democrats asked the White House to reveal the names of all presidential staffers involved in dealings with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes.
The California Republican visited the White House last month as part of his investigation into President Trump’s claims that the Obama administration conducted surveillance on Trump campaign officials.
“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,” Mr. Cummings said.
“We asked the White House to tell us by this Friday whether National Security Advisor McMaster or White House Counsel [Don] McGahn was personally aware of these activities and whether anyone else at the White House was involved.”
He said Mr. Bannon’s post on the NSC was “a role he was wholly unqualified for.”
“We need to know what in the world is going on,” Mr. Cummings said.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, said Mr. Bannon’s removal from the NSC is “welcome news.” She noted on Twitter that she called on Mr. Bannon in January to “write himself out” of the council.
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