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Story highlights

President Donald Trump said Steve Bannon had nothing do with initial statement

The chief strategist for the White House is under sharp scrutiny

(CNN) —  

President Donald Trump on Tuesday declined to offer reassurances about the fate of chief strategist Steve Bannon inside the White House.

“We’ll see,” Trump said during an impromptu news conference at Trump Tower when asked about whether Bannon would remain in his position as one of his top advisers.

“I like Mr. Bannon. He’s a friend of mine,” Trump said. “He’s a good person and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly.”

Trump also insisted that Bannon had nothing to do with his own initial response to the violent confrontations and car attack sparked by a white supremacist rally that took place Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“I never spoke to Mr. Bannon about it,” Trump said, seeking to quiet suspicions that his chief strategist influenced his decision to not directly condemn white nationalists by name in his remarks Saturday.

Trump added that Bannon is “not a racist” and called him a “good man.”

But despite the defense, Trump’s refusal to offer reassurances about his chief strategist’s position inside a White House in the midst of restructuring since retired Gen. John Kelly joined the administration as chief of staff left questions swirling.

And Trump also once again sought to downplay Bannon’s impact on the movement that propelled him to the presidency, arguing that Bannon “came on very late.”

“I went through 17 senators and governors,” Trump said. “Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that.”

Kelly’s hire has prompted a renewed effort from Bannon’s rivals inside and outside the White House to try to secure the former Breitbart chief’s ouster.

The New York Times on Monday night reported that the conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch urged the President during a recent dinner to fire Bannon, as have others.

Trump made clear Tuesday that he has not yet made up his mind on Bannon’s fate, showing that he is not ready to cast aside his rabble-rousing chief strategist who has a keen understanding of Trump’s political base.