President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, appears to be consolidating power within the White House — and his machinations are alarming former officials who have worked there.
The former Breitbart News chief and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner have set up an internal think tank called the Strategic Initiatives Group that’s reportedly behind a proposal to force overseas visitors to reveal their social media contacts before entering the U.S., reported The Daily Beast.
The think tank — which answers to Bannon, Kushner and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus — is ostensibly intended to help an inexperienced president wield power in Washington, D.C. and connect industry leaders with the administration.
But sources told the website that Bannon may use SIG to sideline other government agencies, including the National Security Council he now sits on, as part of an internal power struggle with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the national security advisor.
Several former members of Republican administrations — who are all seeking jobs with the Trump team — blamed SIG for last week’s chaotic rollout of an executive order temporarily banning refugees and travelers from several majority-Muslim nations.
Those orders usually come from the National Security Council, but in this case, it appears to have originated from the think tank staffed by corporate heavyweight Christopher Liddell and former Breitbart writer Sebastian Gorka, the website reported.
“You can’t have a principals and deputies process and then have this other cabinet,” one former Bush staffer told The Daily Beast. “If this SIG starts spewing policy with no way to implement it, you’re going to have more and more incidents like this.”
A former Obama staffer was even more explicit about how the new quasi-governmental agency — and its overseer, Bannon — could infect White House policy.
“To put it bluntly, this is truly crazy,” the former Obama staffer told the website. “Being a racist and misogynistic political advisor is one thing, but when that person controls domestic and national security policy, it’s time to break glass because of emergency. I shudder to think what is next, once Bannon’s operation is fully staffed up.”
Gorka offered some clues about where Bannon’s operation was headed in an interview with The Counter-Jihad Report, his first on-the-record remarks since joining the White House staff.
“We are at war with global jihadism,” Gorka told the blog. “The fact is, we know that ISIS has declared in English, in its publications, in its videos, ‘We will use the refugee streams and mass migrations to insert our jihadis into your cultures.’”
He complained that federal authorities were unable to examine social media postings by one of the San Bernardino shooters, which suggests SIG might have proposed adding such an inquiry to Trump’s immigration policy.
“The federal authorities looking into her visa application couldn’t look at her public Facebook pages,” Gorka told the blog. “That was deemed an intrusion of privacy. That by itself tells you we have to review the system.”