Trump diminishes, but does not dismiss, Bannon

Infighting causes clashes in Trump White House
Infighting causes clashes in Trump White House

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Infighting causes clashes in Trump White House 01:10

Story highlights

  • Bannon is Trump's chief strategist
  • Trump gave a recent interview on him

Washington (CNN)The ball is now in Steve Bannon's court.

President Donald Trump will make the ultimate decision whether his chief strategist keeps his role, but the President has made clear the choice will hinge on whether Bannon starts cooperating with others in the West Wing and changes his style.
The President had the opportunity to give Bannon his full vote of confidence in an interview on Tuesday with the New York Post, but he did not do so. Instead, Trump diminished the role Bannon played in winning the White House and delivered an extraordinarily tepid assessment about his one of his most visible advisers.
"The President is taking the reins on this and wants people to know he's in charge," a person close to the White House said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the ever-percolating tensions inside the administration.
Trump delivered a stern order late last week at his Mar-a-lago resort in Florida, when he bluntly told his top advisers to "work this out."
The message was directed at Bannon, the bomb-throwing former Breitbart News executive, and Jared Kushner, the President's senior adviser and son-in-law.
"Steve is a good guy," Trump told the New York Post, "but I told them to straighten it out or I will."
It's clear that Bannon's fate -- nearly a week later -- still hangs in the balance.
Repairing the rift from his dustup with Kushner is going to be a heavy lift for Bannon. And it's an open question how motivated Bannon is to repair the relationship.
"You don't take on the boss' family," a Republican close to the White House said.
In conversations with several Republicans close to the White House and senior administration officials, a sense of bewilderment arose over the President's comments on Tuesday to New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin. Particularly striking, they said, was how Trump incorrectly downplayed how long he knew Bannon and how he diminished his role in the election.
"I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late," Trump said. "I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn't know Steve."
In fact, Bannon was one of Trump's earliest and loudest cheerleaders in his role leading the ultra-conservative and nationalist Breitbart News web site. To suggest that he didn't know Bannon dramatically misrepresents the connection between the two men.
A White House spokeswoman confirmed the President's comments to the New York Post, saying they were accurate and did not warrant clarification.
While Trump once thrived amid the chaotic backbiting beneath him, he has grown exhausted with infighting among his staff.
Bannon no longer on National Security Council
Bannon no longer on National Security Council

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"I think the President needed to say, staff are there to serve the President of the United States. They're not there to serve themselves," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a rival-turned-supporter of Trump, said on CNN's "New Day."
"I know Steve. Steve is a very bright guy," Christie said. "I got to work with him during the campaign. I think he was a big help to the President during the campaign and everything I saw he was involved in, but staff are there to serve the principle."
But several people familiar with the internal workings of the West Wing say Bannon is well aware of that and is trying to keep a low profile, mend things with Kushner and maintain his foothold in the White House.
Yet it is also a risky proposition to push Bannon out, given his prominence and popularity among much of Trump's base and his far-right megaphone that still exists at Breitbart News.
"You can't have him become an enemy," a Republican close to the White House said.
For all of the questions surrounding Bannon's future, his bond with the President seems far from irreparably frayed.
As several top advisers headed back to Washington last Friday, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, Bannon remained at Mar-a-Lago through the weekend. He flew back on Air Force One with the President, along with Stephen Miller, his top protégé in the West Wing.