Tribune Washington Bureau
Posted with permission from Tribune Content Agency

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has removed his controversial chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, from the powerful National Security Council in a staff reshuffle that consolidated the power of the White House national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

During the first weeks of his presidency, Trump was sharply criticized for authorizing his political adviser to attend all National Security Council meetings, a move that gave Bannon outsized influence over key military and intelligence decisions from the policy-making body.

The reorganization, which also affected several other key aides, largely brings a traditional structure back to the White House national security system. The changes were disclosed in a notice published Wednesday in the Federal Register.

Trump is hardly the first president to shift key advisers early in his administration, but the backbiting and intrigue in the Trump White House has been especially intense.

The revamp reduced the role of Trump's homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, and restores Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as regular attendees at NSC meetings.

White House officials denied that Bannon, a divisive figure in the Trump orbit, had been essentially demoted. They said he had not attended many NSC meetings since he was given a regular seat on Jan. 28, shortly after Trump took office.

"There was no shakeup," a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Bannon believed that President Barack Obama's national security aides had gotten too involved in the day-to-day operations of the U.S. security apparatus, and he wanted to "de-operationalize" the council to make it more of an advisory body in the White House, the official said.

That fix has occurred under McMaster, the official said. Trump named McMaster, an Army lieutenant general, to the post in late February after his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador.

Bannon helped select McMaster and the reorganization was intended to streamline McMaster's control so the council can advise Trump in a more nimble way, the official said. Bannon can still attend the high-level meetings when he is invited.

Bannon, the former head of the far-right website Breitbart News, is widely seen as a disruptive force in the White House.

He has advocated for upending long-standing diplomatic and military alliances with allies, and was closely involved in Trump's failed attempts to ban travelers from six mostly-Muslim countries from entering the U.S., orders that have been repeatedly blocked in federal courts.

The changes may reflect Bannon's decision to pick his battles within the West Wing.

Early in the Trump administration, Bannon was at Trump's side for nearly every meeting, serving as the unofficial conscience of the Trump voter, pushing for the travel ban and increased deportations, said a White House official who has been in dozens of Oval Office meetings.

But in recent weeks, Bannon has been less ubiquitous, the official said.

In the past month, Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has gained increasing influence with Trump on setting Middle East policy and maintaining relations with China, arguably America's most important bilateral relationship.

Partly as a result, Bannon has stepped back from areas where Kushner has Trump's ear.

He has focused his energies instead on restructuring trade deals, rolling back government regulations, jousting with Congress on replacing the Affordable Care Act and protecting Trump's restrictive policies on immigration.