- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 19, 2017

Combative political strategist Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House leaves President Trump without his top operative for countering the oppressive news coming out of the Russia probe.

Steve was the ‘big narrative’ guy who tired to tackle the Russia story,” a stunned international GOP communications strategist told the Washington Times on condition of anonymity late Friday. “With him gone — who knows where this all goes?”

While it has faded from the front pages amid the fallout from the Charlottesville clash between white supremacists and counter-protests, the Russia probe is still continuing, with Special Counsel Robert Mueller tasking a grand jury to aid in gathering information into Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election, and whether Trump campaign figures were involved.

Unlike other top Trump associates, Mr. Bannon never found his name seriously implicated in the probes and Mr. Trump turned to him to triage the damage.

A media rapid-response “war room” inside the White House manned by former Trump campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie was considered. Instead, Mr. Bannon pushed for an outside operation in an attempt to inoculate Pennsylvania Avenue.

He reportedly studied a similar effort President Bill Clinton launched to address Ken Starr’s Whitewater probe in the 1990s and even spoke to old Clinton associates for advice.

Bearing the Clinton model in mind, pit-bull lawyers were turned loose, including Mr. Trump’s personal attorneys, Marc Kasowitz, whom Mr. Bannon knew well from the campaign. Mr. Kasowitz began battling back against the Russia story, which Mr. Trump had described as a political “cloud” that hung over him.

Veteran GOP crisis-manager Mark Corallo also came aboard. He’d worked for the House team that actually investigated Mr. Clinton, in addition to serving as a spokesman for former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

But the operation began to unravel last month. Mr. Kasowitz and Mr. Corallo stepped aside, leaving Mr. Trump’s legal team of Ty Cobb, Jay Sekulow and John Dowd to soldier forward.

Without Mr. Bannon, the operation will need a new driving force.

Mr. Bannon, meanwhile, has returned to Breitbart News — which he led prior to joining the Trump campaign. But it’s not clear whether he will use his old base at the conservative news organization to help defend the White House, or to target his former boss and colleagues.

Before sunrise Saturday, Breitbart readers had declared their intentions by launching #WAR to go after Mr. Trump.

But the president was hoping for a more friendly parting.

“I want to thank Steve Bannon for his service,” the president tweeted Saturday. “He came to the campaign during my run against Crooked Hillary Clinton — it was great! Thanks S”

The White House portrayed Friday’s exit as a mutual parting.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

Mr. Bannon joined the Trump campaign amid one of the many crises that plagued the operation, and seemed to give more focused direction to the anti-establishment and nationalist message the candidate had staked out.

As chief strategist in the White House, he initially seemed to have an expansive reach, including being given a post on the National Security Council.

Mr. Trump would eventually revoke that. He salted the wound by explaining he — not Mr. Bannon — was the administration’s true strategist. He also told the Wall Street Journal Mr. Bannon was “just a guy who works for me.”

Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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