White House

White House fears Bannon may go on the attack

White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon listens at right as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on cyber security in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon listens at right as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on cyber security in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. AP

Steve Bannon might be more dangerous to Donald Trump on the outside than he was on the inside.

As Republicans cheered the controversial strategist’s ouster from the White House, fear began to rise among some administration officials that Bannon, who returned to the far-right site Breitbart Friday, would launch attacks that could undermine the president with a critical segment of his supporters.

Bannon’s targets would likely include a trio of top aides he clashed with at the White House: Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council and a registered Democrat who is one of the less conservative voices in the White House; National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster; and Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser for strategy, said several former Trump advisers familiar with the situation who asked for anonymity to speak freely.

“If Gary Cohn and his pals think things will get better, they are only worse,” said one former Trump adviser. “There will be a degree of consternation from some in that wing.”

But, they agreed, Bannon is unlikely to go after Trump directly — unless the president deviates sharply from policies he espoused on the campaign trail.

Any criticism of Trump and his aides lodged by Bannon would just be another headache in a presidency already bogged down by multiple controversies, including multiple investigations into the Trump team’s connections to Russian operations that meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Bannon told Bloomberg Friday evening that he will be “going to war” on Trump’s behalf as he pushes his populist message with the political and corporate establishment. No word if that included forces inside the White House.

“If there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I’m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents — on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America,” Bannon said.

In recent days, as it became clear he would leave the White House, Bannon gave an uncharacteristically and exceedingly candid interview to American Prospect, undermining the president’s authority on his most serious national security threat, North Korea, slamming his colleagues in the administration, and boasting he would oust a top State Department envoy to Asia.

“They’re wetting themselves,” Bannon said of Trump officials at the State and Treasury departments and Pentagon who opposed his tougher trade policies with China.

It’s that kind of talk that has some bracing for the worst from Breitbart or elsewhere. “He certainly could do it...Lord knows someone will give him the avenue to do so,” said a second former adviser.

Bannon is also joining mega donor Robert Mercer, co-CEO of the investment management company Renaissance Technologies, and his daughter, Rebekah, in a new venture, perhaps on a new outside group, according to a former Trump campaign staffer who was in touch with him Friday.

Breitbart, founded in 2007, already has been extremely critical of some White House aides in recent weeks. McMaster has been the subject of numerous stories accusing him of being hostile to Israel, promising former Obama aide Susan Rice she could keep her security clearance and linking him to billionaire George Soros, a wealthy supporter of liberal causes.

Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist who worked for George W. Bush and is close to people in the Trump White House, said the problem wouldn’t be what Bannon writes about the White House — but rather how Trump reacts to what he writes.

“How is the president going to react to ramped up criticism of his remaining advisers?” Jennings asked. “He is affected by what he sees or what he reads. It doesn’t really matter what Breitbart writes unless the president is affected by it.”

The undisciplined president could take to Twitter, which he does nearly daily, to lash out at anyone who criticizes him or respond by firing more staffers.

Another Republican close to the White House said Bannon won’t win if he attempts to attack the administration.

“If Bannon attempts an assassination campaign against White House staffers he considers are globalists and his America First policies over trade, immigration and national security, it could backfire big time,” the person said. “The president sides with his team being attacked from either within or outside the Oval Office and (that's) what contributed to Bannon’s ouster.”

Vera Bergengruen contributed reporting.

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