Donald Trump

White House Reacts to Steve Bannon Comments

Trump passed up an opportunity this week to offer a public vote of confidence in Bannon, his chief strategist

A White House spokeswoman says Steve Bannon's comments "stand on their own" after his interview with a liberal publication, The American Prospect, when President Donald Trump's chief strategist said there's no military solution to the threat posed by North Korea. Just last week, Trump vowed to respond "with fire and fury" to North Korean aggression.

Bannon later told the that his comments to The American Prospect "drew fire away from" Trump. He says he successfully changed the media "narrative" around Trump with the earlier interview.

Asked about the white supremacist movement, whose march on Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend led to deadly violence, Bannon dismisses them as "losers," ''a fringe element" and "a collection of clowns."

Bannon also spoke to The New York Times.

A representative for Bannon did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the American Prospect interview, viewed as unusual from one of the most contentious members of Trump's inner circle who is again facing an uncertain future in the White House.

Trump passed up an opportunity this week to offer a public vote of confidence in Bannon, who was a key campaign adviser during the general election and has become a forceful presence in a divided White House. But the former leader of the conservative Breitbart News has drawn fire from some of Trump's closest advisers, including son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The latest anti-Bannon campaign comes as Trump finds himself increasingly isolated, except among his core supporters, for insisting that white supremacist groups and those who opposed them were both at fault in Charlottesville.

Others believe Bannon is behind a campaign conservative groups and the Breitbart website are waging against national security adviser H.R. McMaster, arguing he is insufficiently supportive of Israel and soft on Iran. Trump recently issued a rare public statement of support for McMaster.

Bannon defended the American Prospect interview to the Daily Mail Thursday, saying he "drew fire away from the president," changing the narrative in the media.

And he told the Times Wednesday that widespread criticisms over Trump's support for monuments to Confederate leaders — the planned removal of one led to the white nationalist rally, where violence came from multiple sides, according to Trump — played into Trump's hands politically.

"The race-identity politics of the left wants to say it's all racist," Bannon told the newspaper. "Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can't get enough of it."

Trump continued to support keeping the statues in a series of tweets Thursday morning.

Bannon's comments on North Korea, which contradict Trump's tough approach, could add to pressure on the president to fire him. Bannon has survived earlier rounds of having fallen out of favor with Trump, who is irked by perceptions that Bannon was the mastermind of Trump's winning campaign and that he guides policy in the White House.

"There's no military solution (to North Korea's nuclear threats), forget it," Bannon says. "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."

Trump tweeted early Wednesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "made a very wise and well-reasoned decision" by backing down after heightening fears of nuclear conflict in a series of combative threats, including against the U.S. territory of Guam.

Bannon also outlined his push for the U.S. to adopt a tougher stance on China trade — without waiting to see whether Beijing will help restrain Kim as Trump has pressed China's leader to do. Trump also has lamented U.S. trade deficits with China.

"The economic war with China is everything," Bannon says. "And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover."

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said Thursday that both sides have benefited from trade.

Asked at a regular news briefing about Bannon's comments, Hua said "there is no winner in a trade war. We hope the relevant people can refrain from dealing with a problem in the 21st century with a zero-sum mentality from the 19th or the 20th century."

Hua appealed for dialogue to "preserve the sound and steady growth of China-U.S. relations."

In the interview, Bannon muses about getting rid of administration officials who disagree with his stance on China and North Korea and replacing them with "hawks."

"We gotta do this. The president's default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy," Bannon says. "Don't get me wrong. It's like, every day."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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