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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Trump thanks ousted chief strategist Steve Bannon

It came just hours after a New York megachurch pastor announced he was stepping down from the US president's evangelical advisory board, becoming the first religious adviser to join a wave of resignations amid the Charlottesville fallout

US president Donald Trump talks to chief strategist Steve Bannon during a swearing-in ceremony for senior staff at the White House on January 22, 2017. Carlos Barria / Reuters
US president Donald Trump talks to chief strategist Steve Bannon during a swearing-in ceremony for senior staff at the White House on January 22, 2017. Carlos Barria / Reuters

Donald Trump on Saturday thanked Steve Bannon for his "service", a day after the US president parted ways with his controversial former chief strategist and key campaign ally.

A champion of the nationalist-populist agenda that carried Mr Trump to power last November, Mr Bannon, 63, was the fourth senior White House figure to depart within five weeks. He left behind an administration reeling from the fallout over the president's response to a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last weekend.

Just hours after the news broke that Mr Bannon was leaving, a New York megachurch pastor announced he was stepping down from Mr Trump's evangelical advisory board, becoming the first religious adviser to join a wave of resignations amid the Charlottesville fallout.

"I had to fully disengage myself," AR Bernard, who leads the 37,000 registered members of the Christian Cultural Center, said on Friday.

Mr Bernard, who is black, is so far alone among the 25-member evangelical advisory board in deciding to step down.

"I think that as time progressed, you look for change. You look for consistency. You look for responsibility in leadership. And I didn't see consistency in a set of core values that influence and shaped his thinking," he said.

"And when he (Mr Trump) vacillated over the last week, especially over Charlottesville, I had come to the point where I had to make a decision to more than just step away. I had to fully disengage myself."

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Mr Bernard's resignation on Friday came as all 16 members of the president's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities announced that they were stepping down.

"Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions," they told the president.

Mr Trump had come under fire from Republicans and Democrats alike after insisting that white supremacists and anti-racism protesters were equally to blame for the deadly outbreak of violence at the rally in the university town of Charlottesville.

The president's remarks led many CEOs to resign from White House business advisory panels. In the end, the president simply dissolved two of them altogether.

Mr Bernard said he felt Mr Trump had crossed a line with the comments.

"I would love to be Christian first. But America has created an environment where I'm forced to be a black man living in America first, and I'm a Christian. That's my reality. You understand? And that is not the same reality that many of the white evangelical leaders experience," he said.

On Saturday, Mr Trump tweeted his thanks to Mr Bannon.

"I want to thank Steve Bannon for his service. He came to the campaign during my run against Crooked Hillary Clinton — it was great! Thanks," he wrote.

Mr Bannon, a hero of the so-called "alt right" whose presence in the West Wing was controversial from the start, had become the nucleus of one of several competing power centres in a chaotic White House.

With Mr Trump under fire over his response to the Charlottesville violence, the president faced renewed pressure to let Mr Bannon go.

It remains to be seen what role he will continue to play from outside the White House, but Mr Bannon himself vowed to keep pushing the presidents right-wing agenda, as he returned to his former home at the ultra-conservative website Breitbart News.

"If there's any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I'm leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents — on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America," Mr Bannon said in an interview within hours of leaving the White House.