Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s besieged chief strategist, came into the White House in late January with a core group of right-wing allies and ideological fellow travelers, including senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and presidential assistant Julia Hahn.
But in recent months, Hahn and Miller have soured on Bannon, according to multiple sources in and outside the White House with direct knowledge of the situation.
“They’ve turned on Steve,” as one White House official put it.
Officials spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to discuss internal White House drama and dynamics.
The deterioration of the relationship between the two aides and Trump’s chief strategist predates news over the past week of Bannon’s job being once again on the chopping block, according to their colleagues and sources close to the three officials.
Months ago, Miller and Hahn started to vent privately about Bannon’s penchant for self-promotion. One senior official said they have described Bannon as a “glory hog.” The two have been said to vacillate on the notion that the White House would run smoother with less of the leaking and infighting that they attribute to Bannon. They have been alarmed by his determination to carry out vendettas in secret.
Bannon has consistently denied these allegations and has insisted that he’s not behind an aggressive leak and smear campaign against perceived foes like national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
Miller, four West Wing officials said, has also begun to view the shenanigans surrounding Bannon as a distraction toward the goal of implementing the president’s agenda. In recent months, Miller has notably repositioned himself to take on projects with aides such as Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump—figures in the Trump administration whose more moderate worldviews do not reflect his own.
Some of Bannon’s close friends and allies in the administration told The Daily Beast that they believe any “distancing” that Hahn or Miller may be doing is rooted in a belief that the chief strategist is potentially on his way out. Others insisted that everything was fine between Bannon and his ideological kindred spirits. “It’s Javanka fake news what you’re doing,” one source close to all three said, without responding to follow-up questions about what was supposedly “fake.”
On Wednesday afternoon after this story had published, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders provided the following statement, denying The Daily Beast’s article. The Daily Beast stands by its reporting. “These claims made by ‘anonymous sources’ regarding Stephen Miller and Julia Hahn are categorically false and are nothing but a transparent attempt to undermine the President’s agenda and the tireless work his Administration is doing every day to serve the American people,” Sanders’s statement read.
Several hours after Sanders contacted The Daily Beast on Wednesday, the White House comms office sent along the following on-record comment attributed to Miller: “This story is 100 percent fiction and falsehood. My friendship with Steve is stronger than ever.” Miller had declined to go on the record for this story multiple times since Tuesday. Obviously, something had changed internally.
Hours after that, at 11:04 p.m. ET on Wednesday evening, the White House press office sent yet another on-record comment, a single sentence attributable to Hahn, reading, "everything in this story is completely and totally untrue." Again, Hahn and White House spokespeople declined to go on the record on this story when reached by The Daily Beast on Tuesday. The White House conveyed it was standing by a policy of not dignifying what they see as "fake" palace-intrigue stories with on-record response. Apparently, something changed over the course of a couple work days.
Bannon, for his part, has privately sounded more optimistic about his job prospects than news reports of his precarious standing would suggest. He has recently told associates and friends that he believes Trump and newly installed chief of staff John Kelly are not itching to sack him, but that his adversaries—such as McMaster and senior administration officials and Trump family members Ivanka and Kushner—are cheerleading his demise. And if his allies are turning him, he may not fully know it. Recently, when Miller’s name was floated as a possible White House communications director, Bannon offered his blessing for the idea, according to two senior White House officials.
Still, Bannon’s isolation within the West Wing is worsening. On Tuesday, Trump called him a “friend” but made a point of stressing that he came “very late” to the campaign before offering only a vague timeline for his future in the White House. “We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” Trump told reporters at Trump Tower, “and I think the press treats him very unfairly.”
Bannon now must wait through that timeline without the full backing of his ideological comrades inside the White House.
Miller and Bannon have known each other for years. Miller was Bannon’s guest on the radio show the chief strategist hosted back when he ran Breitbart, the influential pro-Trump website. The pair worked closely on President Trump’s original “Muslim ban,” which was almost immediately tied up in court and provoked a strong backlash and protests. Furthermore, Bannon has described Miller’s former boss, now Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as his “mentor.”
Hahn is a Bannon protégée. She worked for Bannon as a writer at Breitbart, covering immigration and the Republican Party. In a short New Yorker profile published shortly after Trump was inaugurated, Hahn was described as “Steve Bannon’s Bannon” and “President Bannon’s Bannon.”
Bannon, Hahn, Miller, and the White House comms shop did not respond to requests to comment on the record for this story.
Over the past few days, Bannon had found his job security in jeopardy in a far more serious way than before. Kelly, in his various conversations with other White House aides, has heard from at least three White House officials that “Bannon is a problem,” according to colleague of Bannon’s. Moreover, the president himself is said to be annoyed by Bannon’s alleged shenanigans and pervasive public image as Trump’s grand puppet master.
Kelly and Trump haven’t initiated the official process of ousting Bannon—and there are some Trump advisers and close allies who are actively concerned about the kind of damage a disgruntled Bannon could do if put into exile, given the cred he wields among prominent pro-Trump media outlets and heavy-hitter Republican donors such as the Mercer family.
“There are some who are genuinely worried about what he could do from the outside, if thrown out,” one White House official told The Daily Beast late last week.
Updated 8/16 2pm to add statement from the White House.