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Bannon’s reach extends to Trump national security team

While the world watched the US refuse entry to Muslims1 on Saturday, President Donald Trump restructured his National Security Council in a move that further empowered Steve Bannon2, his increasingly influential White House consigliere. Mr Trump issued a presidential memorandum which stated that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the top military adviser to the president, and the director of national intelligence, head of the intelligence community, would no longer be automatically invited to meetings of the principals committee, the most senior grouping of national security officials . They would participate only when issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed . But in a move that pointed to the rising influence of Mr Bannon, the former head of the far-right Breitbart News media group was appointed to the committee . Mr Bannon joined the Trump campaign as chief executive last August . The move was controversial because the former Goldman Sachs 3banker ran a media group that pushed stories catering to white nationalists . Mr Bannon has denied that he is racist, arguing that he is just an economic nationalist . But the disheveled former naval officer who compares himself to Darth Vader has drawn the wrath of critics who see his hand guiding Mr Trump s racially tinged populism. The administration just added Steve Bannon with his ties to a news organisation that traffics in anti-Semitism and white supremacy to the National Security Council

Mr Bannon s role in helping the New York businessman win the election by letting Trump be Trump has made him ever more influential . Including Mr Bannon in the most senior NSC meetings makes him arguably one of the two most influential aides in the Trump inner circle, along with Jared Kushner, the president s son-in-law . The other key power centres inside the White House are Mike Pence, the vice-president, Kellyanne Conway, a special adviser and informal spokesperson, and Reince Priebus, the chief of staff.

When Mr Trump appointed James Mattis4, a respected retired four-star marine general, as secretary of defence, and tapped John Kelly, another retired general, to run the homeland security department, some of his critics saw the moves as a sign that he would surround himself with experienced people . But Democrats lambasted the decision to give Mr Bannon, who has no government or national security experience, such a prominent role . He was recently criticised for describing the media as the opposition party , a view to which Mr Trump subscribes. Tim Kaine, the Virginia senator who served as Hillary Clinton s running mate, said he had voted for Mr Mattis and Mr Kelly because of the importance of the NSC, and castigated the decision to give Mr Bannon such an influential position . The National Security Council sadly has some really questionable people on it . The national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, is a pro-Russian conspiracy theorist . The administration just added Steve Bannon with his ties to a news organisation that traffics in anti-Semitism and white supremacy to the National Security Council. Susan Rice, former national security adviser to Barack Obama, described the move to exclude the DNI and the chairman of the joint chiefs from some meetings as stone cold crazy . On Twitter, she continued: After a week of crazy .

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As part of the NSC, the principals committee includes the secretaries of state, defence and homeland security . It is one of the most powerful groupings since it serves as the forum where cabinet secretaries debate national security issues for presidential action. Sean Spicer5, White House spokesman, said Mr Trump wanted to make the NSC less bureaucratic and more focused on providing relevant intelligence. Asked on ABC television why Mr Bannon was being put on the committee, Mr Spicer said he was a former naval officer with a tremendous understanding of the world and the geopolitical landscape that we have now . During the Obama administration, and particularly during the tenure of Ms Rice as national security adviser, the NSC was often criticised for holding endless meetings to debate issues, which resulted in delayed decisions on policy. Eric Edelman, a Republican who served as the number three official in the Pentagon during the administration of George W Bush, said that while Mr Bannon appeared to have played a large role in the first week of the Trump administration, it was too early to draw conclusions, given that many cabinet officers including Rex Tillerson, the former chief executive of ExxonMobil nominated for secretary of state had not yet been confirmed or installed. Mr Edelman said Mr Bannon s NSC role was not unlike Mr Obama allowing senior political advisers such as David Axelrod to attend meetings . He said Mr Bush did not involve Karl Rove, his closest political adviser, in the NSC to avoid the appearance of allowing politics to be involved in national security . But he pointed out that top political aides tend to play a bigger role during the period that administrations are being formulated.

Over time it is not at all clear they continue to play that equally important role . The balance of power can shift quite a bit over time, said Mr Edelman . People want to jump to gigantic conclusions here but that is probably not warranted yet.

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo and Sam Fleming on Twitter: @dimi and @sam1fleming

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References

  1. ^ Muslims (www.ft.com)
  2. ^ Steve Bannon (www.ft.com)
  3. ^ Goldman Sachs (www.ft.com)
  4. ^ Mattis (www.ft.com)
  5. ^ Sean Spicer (www.ft.com)