President Donald Trump stopped short of giving Steve Bannon a ringing endorsement when asked if he still has confidence in his top strategist — as reports suggest the adviser remains mired in the discord dividing the White House's inner circle.
Trump, in an interview with the New York Post for Wednesday's edition, went as far as downplaying Bannon's role as chief architect of his campaign victory.
"I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late," Trump said. "I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary."
In another interview Wednesday, in the Wall Street Journal, the president referred to Bannon as “a guy who works for me.”
A source close to the president described his comments to the Post as a "warning shot," highlighting that the president "doesn't say these things in haste."
Multiple sources characterize the president as frustrated with the constant squabbling in the White House and subsequent media coverage of it.
As NBC has reported, Trump wants the infighting to stop and to focus on the agenda. A source close to Bannon said the "infighting has stopped — simple." The source described Bannon's role as "same as always" — despite the National Security Council demotion, still fighting for the populist promises he made on the campaign trail.
When asked if Bannon is worried about his job, a source close to him said: “Of course not.”
Bannon, a former Breitbart News executive, joined Trump's campaign last August as the CEO. Trump's lukewarm comments Wednesday were a departure from the praise he gave Bannon after the election when he called him one of his "highly qualified leaders" who will "work to make America great again."
Bannon has reportedly been in a power struggle with Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and senior economic adviser Gary Cohn.
Sources close to Bannon, however, told NBC News on Saturday that he "ain't going anywhere."
Trump, at least, appears be putting his foot down amid any in-fighting.
"Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will," the president told the Post.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to downplay the reports of acrimony Wednesday, saying that there was a "very spirited debate" among the president's top advisers but ultimately "that's a very healthy thing."
"But I think that's very healthy for the president, that he's not getting a monolithic group of advice that says you only should do this and here’s how this is. He gets a lot of opinions and ideas and policy shifts that help guide his ultimate decision-making," Spicer told MSNBC's Greta Van Susteren during a forum at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
Earlier this month, Bannon's influence was called into question when he was removed from the National Security Council — a position that Democrats and even some Republicans voiced concern about him holding. A senior White House official denied to NBC News that his ouster was the result of any "power struggle" within the administration.
The official said Bannon was only in the role as a check against National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who ended up resigning in February after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with a Russian ambassador. With Flynn gone, the official added, Bannon was no longer needed on the council.
Sources told NBC News that Bannon and other key players on Trump's team are working to create a united front, and held a meeting Friday that included Kushner and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Sources familiar with the conversation say the roughly hour-long meeting was a "bury the hatchet" session.