Jonathan Swan
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Trump's Breitbart endorsement could soon backfire

President Trump promoted Breitbart on Twitter this afternoon setting it up as a real news source in opposition to the rest of what he calls the fake, mainstream media. "Steve Bannon will be a tough and smart new voice at @BreitbartNews...maybe even better than ever before. Fake News needs the competition!" he tweeted.
Why this could create challenges: The president is positioning Breitbart as Real News and they're about to ramp up a relentless campaign against half the West Wing — including the "globalists" and the "West Wing Democrats." That's Bannon-speak for Ivanka and Jared, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster and Dina Powell.
Mark down this prediction: Within a few weeks' time - actually probably sooner -West Wing officials will be anonymously telling reporters that Breitbart is a joke and its hit pieces shouldn't be taken seriously.
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Sheldon Adelson privately supports anti-McMaster campaign

Kin Cheung / AP

Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson has privately told one of his allies that he supports a campaign that depicts H.R. McMaster as anti-Israel and seeks to remove him from his post as national security adviser.
In an email to Mort Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Adelson writes: "Now that I have talked to somebody with personal experience with McMaster, I support your efforts."
Why this matters: Adelson is arguably the most influential donor in Republican politics, spending tens of millions of dollars each election season. He also funds the ZOA, which has been relentlessly attacking McMaster and leading an outside campaign to remove him from his post.

Adelson's spokesman Andy Abboud told Axios recently that Adelson had nothing to do with ZOA's campaign against McMaster and was "perfectly comfortable" with the job McMaster was doing.

Abboud was correct about Adelson being unaware of the campaign, though Adelson makes clear in his email to Klein that he was never "comfortable" with McMaster because he knew nothing about him.
What changed: Adelson tells Klein he spoke with Safra Catz, the Israeli-born CEO of Oracle. Adelson says Catz told him about a dinner she had recently with McMaster and "it certainly enlightened me quite a bit."
But Adelson also makes clear in his email that he doesn't want to be publicly associated with the campaign against McMaster. (Klein never claimed Adelson was supporting it, and while he accepts funding from Adelson he is known as an independent Israel hawk who cannot be corralled, even by his major donor.)
The pushback: A White House source points out that the Israel team at the White House, including noted right winger Ambassador Friedman, "feel McMaster is remarkably pro-Israel and he just had a meeting with senior Israeli officials where he won plaudits from them for understanding their unique security needs."
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Bannon plots Fox competitor, global expansion

Sam Jayne / Axios

Unshaven and working from home in cargo shorts as he moves into "Bannon the Barbarian" mode, Steve Bannon is thinking bigger than Breitbart.

Axios' Jonathan Swan hears Bannon has told friends he sees a massive opening to the right of Fox News, raising the possibility that he's going to start a network.

  • Bannon's friends are speculating about whether it will be a standalone TV network, or online streaming only.
  • Before his death in May, Roger Ailes had sent word to Bannon that he wanted to start a channel together. Bannon loved the idea: He believes Fox is heading in a squishy, globalist direction as the Murdoch sons assume more power.
  • Now he has the means, motive and opportunity: His chief financial backer, Long Island hedge fund billionaire Bob Mercer, is ready to invest big in what's coming next, including a huge overseas expansion of Breitbart News.

On Day 1, Bannon declared he's taking his West Wing infighting to the outside, telling Bloomberg Businessweek's Josh Green that he's "going to war for Trump against his opponents — on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America."

  • The reality is that Bannon will go nuclear on former colleagues he calls "West Wing Democrats": economic adviser Gary Cohn, Jared and Ivanka ("Javanka," as he calls them) and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell.
  • The revved-up Breitbart operation is also likely to target Speaker Ryan, as it did before Trump.

Why it matters: The country's national political conversation is about to get even uglier, if you can imagine. It's going to be dark, and toxic, with a fight on the right that may be more bitter and personal than hostilities between Republicans and Democrats.

  • Bannon signaled his subtle approach in a for-the-ages Weekly Standard interview: "The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over … I feel jacked up … Now I'm free. I've got my hands back on my weapons. … I am definitely going to crush the opposition. There's no doubt. I built a f***ing machine at Breitbart. And now … we're about to rev that machine up."
  • His restoration as executive chairman of Breitbart News was announced less than five hours after the White House confirmed his "mutually agreed" departure as chief strategist. (Translation: He was told he wasn't long for the West Wing.)
  • Bannon made a "conqueror's return" to a Breitbart editorial conference call last night, and laid out the battle ahead for the staff.
  • Josh Green — author of "Devil's Bargain," the book that helped get Bannon fired because Trump hates sharing the spotlight — tweeted: "Bannon sounded like he'd just consumed 40 Red Bulls … At least [he] didn't say he's leaving to spend more time with his family."

Around the corner: Expect Bannon to use Breitbart to engage aggressively in September's policy fights. Watch for Bannon to pressure Trump to veto any government funding bill that doesn't include money to fund the building of that big, beautiful wall he promised along the southern border with Mexico.

Watch for a real fight over the debt ceiling. In other words: Buckle up.

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Trump: "Who the f@&$ does this guy think he is?"

Bannon didn't bother to go to work yesterday. He knew it was over.

At the end, Trump was beyond fed up, viewing Bannon as a self-aggrandizer who had built a personal narrative as the grand puppetmaster.

  • "Who the f**k does this guy think he is?" Trump has said incredulously to associates.
  • Axios' Jonathan Swan tells me it's no surprise Trump didn't issue a farewell message on Friday: The president can't stand Bannon at the moment. (Trump tweeted a belated "Thanks S" about Bannon on Saturday morning.)
  • But few people are ever really gone from Trumpworld, and we bet it won't be long before Bannon is regularly gossiping with Trump and counseling him.

That'll produce a huge tension: Bannon is more ideologically aligned with Trump than are the other members of the inner circle. So Bannon will be in his head and in his ear, while top advisers are counseling moderation.

A big irony: Bannon got personally crossways with the president at a time when nationalist policies were ascendant with POTUS. Trump agreed with Bannon's formula for confronting China on trade, although he later succumbed to the effort of other officials to dial that back. And Bannon egged on Trump with the view of Charlottesville that later drew such a backlash.

The post-Bannon presidency: West Wing sources expect that with Bannon gone, the administration will be less likely to use trade as a weapon, and more likely to flex military muscle against bad actors.

Be smart: A huge tension that'll unfold beginning this fall is that Trump is more ideologically aligned with Bannon than he is with the more moderate officials who now surround him in the West Wing.

So Steve Bannon will remain in the president's ear and in his head, telling Trump to be Trump. And that's a message this president has never been known to resist.

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Conservative leaders ready to defend Dina Powell

Molly Riley, Evan Vucci, Nati Harnik / AP

As Steve Bannon plans his outside war against his "globalist" enemies in the administration, some high-profile conservative movement leaders are signaling they'll vouch for one of his targets — deputy national security adviser Dina Powell.

  • The influential social conservative leader Ralph Reed tweeted on Friday: "Sloppy reporting falsely claims Dina Powell is a moderate or liberal in the WH. Wrong. She is a solid conservative & a woman of faith."
  • Ken Mehlman, co-chair of the American Enterprise Institute followed: ".@ralphreed is right. Have known Dina Powell for 22 yrs. Reagan conservative from the beginning & pushing peace through strength on NSC..."

Why this matters: Bannon tells friends that Powell belongs to a group of "globalists" or "West Wing Democrats" that have taken over the West Wing and threaten President Trump's agenda. Breitbart is sure to continue its war against Powell — in fact, it's only going to ramp up — but she's spent years in Republican politics and will have high-profile defenders across the conservative movement.

Other conservative leaders and prominent Republicans who've previously supported Powell:

  • Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich: "Worked with Dina Powell on the Contract with America and @Scaramucci is right." (Referring to a similarly supportive tweet from Anthony Scaramucci.)
  • Senior Trump campaign official David Urban: "I have known/worked with Dina for 20 years - she is a Patriot! on the Hill, at RNC, or in the WH, America is lucky she is willing to serve!"
  • Hawkish Republican Sen. Tom Cotton: "Dina Powell is an outstanding choice for deputy national security adviser. She has years of experience working both in the business world and at many different levels of government, including Congress, the White House, and the State Department. In that time, she has earned the deep respect of her colleagues..."
  • Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: "Congrats to my friend Dina Powell on being appointed Deputy National Security Advisor. Experienced, very smart, and very talented."
  • Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "Dina Powell is a wonderful addition to the President's National Security team. She is experienced as a diplomat and one of the most talented people with whom I have ever worked. Great choice!"
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Bannon's billionaire meeting to plot a path forward

Evan Vucci / AP

Bob Mercer and Steve Bannon had a five hour meeting Wednesday to plot out next steps, said a source with knowledge of the meeting.

They plotted strategy going forward — both political and media strategy. The meeting was at Mercer's estate on Long Island. Mercer had dinner the next night at Bedminster with President Trump and a small group of donors. The source said Mercer and Bannon "remain strong supporters of President Trump's and his agenda."

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Joe Manchin quashes Energy Secretary speculation

Scott Applewhite/AP

Sen. Joe Manchin has ended the speculation that the Trump administration would appoint him Energy Secretary as a possible way of securing the elusive 50th vote needed to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Jonathan Kott, spokesman for the West Virginia Democrat, tells me Manchin opened a town hall today at the state fair in Lewisburg, WV, by saying he wouldn't be Energy Secretary.

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Bannon is out

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Steve Bannon is out at the White House.

  • President Trump decided to push out Bannon: Top sources tell Axios that Bannon is telling people he resigned on August 7th to be effective on August 14th, his 1-year anniversary with Trump. (He joined the campaign in August of 2016).
  • Today is Bannon's last day, per the White House: "White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve's last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best."
  • From a senior White House official: "Steve was made aware he was going to be asked to leave... he was given the opportunity to do it on his own terms. He was told the decision had been made and that he would no longer be serving at the WH."

Axios reported earlier Friday that a decision on Bannon's future was imminent.

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Bannon, backed by billionaire, prepares to go to war

Win McNamee / AP

Steve Bannon's next moves will be all about the billionaire Mercer family. I'm told Bannon, who visited New York this week, met with Bob Mercer and together they will be a well-funded force on the outside.
  • Bannon has felt liberated since it became clear he was being pushed out, according to friends. He's told associates he has a "killing machine" in Breitbart News, and it's possible he returns to lead their editorial operation.
  • A source familiar with Breitbart's operations told me they would go "thermonuclear" against "globalists" that Bannon and his friends believe are ruining the Trump administration, and by extension, America.
  • Watch for Breitbart's Washington Editor Matt Boyle to be a central figure in this war — which has already begun — against White House officials like HR McMaster, Dina Powell, Gary Cohn, and Jared and Ivanka.
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White House review nears end: Officials expect Bannon firing

Carolyn Kaster / AP

A decision is imminent from White House chief of staff John Kelly on whether Steve Bannon will keep his job, according to administration officials with knowledge of the situation:

  • Bannon, who has run afoul of Trump in the past, is now suspected by the president of leaking about his West Wing colleagues. And Trump resents the publicity Bannon has been getting as mastermind of the campaign.
  • Many West Wing officials are now asking "when," not "if," Bannon goes.
  • Chief of Staff General John Kelly has been reviewing Bannon's position.
  • A recent deluge of media coverage of Bannon — including Bannon's explosive conversation with the American Prospect — have not escaped either the president's or Kelly's attention.

One White House source twists the knife: "His departure may seem turbulent in the media, but inside it will be very smooth. He has no projects or responsibilities to hand off."

Why Bannon might still survive:

  • Trump often sends mixed signals about his personnel plans, and makes decisions — both to keep and dismiss people — on whim.
  • Bannon, with his close connection to the president's base, is the one West Wing official who could do authentic damage to Trump on the outside.
  • We're told that Bannon's friendship with the billionaire Mercer family, who has been an important Trump ally, is a factor in the president's decision and could be part of the strategist's survival package.

Bannon is unfazed, according to friends and confidants:

  • That's readily apparent from his media appearances. He seems unburdened, giving on the record interviews to publications including the New York Times, where he's unapologetically defending Trump's controversial comments in the fallout from the racist carnage in Charlottesville.
  • One senior White House official said it seemed like Bannon was setting himself up to be a martyr — the nationalist hero fired by the "globalists."
  • He'd return to the outside world, a leader in the populist nationalist movement worldwide, with a partner in hedge fund billionaire Bob Mercer, who has deep pockets and would make Bannon even more of a force to be reckoned with on the outside. Plus he has the killing machine of Breitbart to return to.

Bannon has felt freed this past week and has told friends that he is ready to go "medieval" on enemies of Trump and his populist agenda both in and out of the White House.

  • A source close to Bannon: "This week is a good window into what Bannon outside the [White House] would look like: A strong defense of POTUS and 'fire and fury' for enemies of The Trump agenda."
  • "Get ready for Bannon the barbarian."