One has to read beyond the headlines about Steve Bannon and his role in the President Donald Trump administration to understand that he remains a senior adviser to the president with top security clearance and is welcome to attend any National Security Council meeting.
In fact, his changing role in the Trump administration was planned, according to Bannon.
“Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration,” Bannon said in a statement. “I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized.”
“General [H.R.] McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function,” Bannon said, referring to Trump’s National Security Adviser.
Although the headlines about Bannon used terms like “removed” and “booted” in stories about the new structure of the NSC, the facts are buried in most of the news coverage.
Bloomberg, which was the first to report on the development, equated not having a “permanent seat” on the NSC as being removed, but later in its coverage explained Bannon’s changing role in the White House:
A White House official portrayed the change as a natural progression rather than a demotion for Bannon. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, contended that Bannon was placed on the committee in part to monitor Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and never attended a meeting. He’s no longer needed with McMaster in charge of the council, the official said.
The New York Times used the headline “Trump Removes Stephen Bannon From National Security Council Post, “but did report halfway through the story that this development was “a logical evolution”:
A senior White House official presented the move as a logical evolution, not a setback for Mr. Bannon. He had originally been put on the principals committee to keep an eye on Mr. Flynn and to ‘de-operationalize’ the National Security Council after the Obama administration, this official said on condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics. This official said that process had been completed.
Another official close to Mr. Bannon insisted the move was not in any way a sign that the president had lost confidence in him or wanted to reduce his portfolio. And as evidence he will still play a role in national security decisions, the aide said that Mr. Bannon still maintains the highest level of security clearance in the West Wing.
The Washington Post used “removed” in its Bannon story headline, but explained early on that not having a “permanent seat” on the council in no way diminishes Bannon’s role in the Trump White House — after reporting that critics have long said Bannon has no national security experience and that some high-ranking national security personnel were left out of the NSC. According to the Post:
The White House strongly disputed that characterization, saying that Trump chose to change the structure of the committee from the one in place during the Obama administration to reduce the number of meetings in which senior intelligence officials were required to participate if they did not pertain to their areas of expertise.
Instead, one of the officials said, Bannon was put on the council early in the administration to guide and keep watch over then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was tasked with reshaping the operation. That official and a second official said Bannon did this from afar, attending one or two meetings of the group.
“Bannon was there to “de-operationalize” the NSC from its Obama-era setup, the official added, and he feels that has been accomplished with Flynn and his successor H.R. McMaster and no longer feels the need to be part of the NSC.
Bannon retains his title and position and remains a confidant of the president who is working closely with other advisers on domestic and foreign policy.
Fox News followed the media’s lead but did add this fact to its reporting:
“Bannon is still permitted to go to NSC meetings,” Fox reported.
Online talk radio host Bill Mitchell joined the social media rant on the Bannon story and tweeted this:
“My take on Bannon leaving the NSC. Rice weaponized the NSC. Trump put Bannon in to fix that. He did. Now, other fish to fry.”
My take on Bannon leaving the NSC. Rice weaponized the NSC. Trump put Bannon in to fix that. He did. Now, other fish to fry.
— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) April 5, 2017
The memorandum that is posted in the Federal Register explains that “senior officials” can participate in NSC meetings. It says, “The security threats facing the United States in the 21st century transcend international boundaries. Accordingly, the United States Government’s decision-making structures and processes to address these challenges must remain equally adaptive and transformative. Both Councils are statutory bodies that the President will continue to chair. Invitations to participate in specific Council meetings shall be extended to those heads of executive departments and agencies, and other senior officials, who are needed to address the issue or issues under consideration. When the President is absent from a meeting of either Council, the Vice President may preside at the President’s direction.”