Trump strategist Bannon contradicts President on North Korea and far-right groups, lashes out at critics

Chief strategist and senior counselor Stephen K. Bannon at a meeting that President Donald Trump had with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Chief strategist and senior counselor Stephen K. Bannon at a meeting that President Donald Trump had with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - If President Donald Trump is considering whether to fire his chief strategist Stephen Bannon, as has been rumoured for weeks, Mr Bannon just gave him several new reasons.

In an interview published on Wednesday (Aug 16) by a liberal journalist, Mr Bannon contradicted the President's position on North Korea, bad-mouthed his colleagues in the administration, vowed to oust a woman diplomat at the State Department and mocked Trump officials who fear the consequences of radically changing trade policy, saying they are "wetting themselves".

He also described far-right groups as "losers" and "clowns", in the wake of the Charlottesville violence which Mr Trump has blamed on the far-left and far-right.

People close to Mr Bannon said they believed the comments were part of an off-the-record conversation with Mr Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect, which he initiated.

Still, they come as Mr Bannon's adversaries are aggressively seeking his ouster from the White House because of his links to Breitbart News, his feuding with other White House aides and a suspicion that he is the source of leaks about internal chaos inside the West Wing.

Mr Bannon's critics intensified their efforts after last weekend's racial unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Outraged over Mr Trump's insistence that "both sides" were to blame for the violence that erupted during a white nationalist rally, leaving one woman dead, human-rights activists demanded that the President fire so-called nationalists working in the West Wing. That group of hard-right populists in the White House is led by Mr Bannon.

On Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York, Mr Trump refused to guarantee Mr Bannon's job security, but defended him as "not a racist" and "a friend". "We'll see what happens with Mr Bannon," he said.

In the American Prospect article, titled Steve Bannon, Unrepentant, the President's strategist appears eager to lash out at his ideological rivals in the administration, bragging about his ability to defeat those who oppose a more aggressive posture towards China on trade policy.

"That's a fight I fight every day here," Mr Bannon said. "We're still fighting. There's Treasury and Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying." Mr Cohn is the director of the National Economic Council at the White House.

Mr Bannon also specifically named Ms Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs division at the State Department, as someone he will dispatch.

"I'm changing out people at East Asian Defence; I'm getting hawks in," he said. "I'm getting Susan Thornton out at State."

Just a week after the President repeatedly threatened North Korea with military action in response to Pyongyang's nuclear missile program, Mr Bannon mocked that position as nonsensical.

"There's no military solution, forget it," he said. "Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about, there's no military solution here, they got us."

Speaking on Tuesday, the same day that Mr Trump was being assailed for his response to the Charlottesville protests, Mr Bannon also dismissed the right-wing fringe as "a collection of clowns".

He said the more liberals talk about "identity politics", the easier it will be for Mr Trump to defeat Democrats by focusing on economic nationalism.

Mr Bannon told friends that he did not believe that his conversation was on the record. But he is a savvy media operator who rarely speaks without a clear understanding of the rules.

Mr Kuttner said the issue of whether the call was on the record never came up.