WASHINGTON: Donald Trump parted ways with his controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon on Friday (Aug 18) as the White House reels from the fallout over the president's response to a violent white supremacist rally.
But the 63-year-old Bannon - a hero of the so-called "alt right" but bete noire of centrists whose departure caps one of the most disastrous weeks of the young presidency - vowed to keep fighting for Trump's agenda from outside the White House.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Bannon made clear he remained fully committed to the nationalist-populist policies that carried Trump to power.
"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," said the far-right firebrand.
Within hours of his departure, Breitbart News - the provocative right-wing outlet which Bannon headed before joining Trump's team - announced he had returned to his former home, as executive chairman.
"The populist-nationalist movement got a lot stronger today," declared Breitbart News editor-in-chief Alex Marlow.
Bannon's presence at the White House had been contested from the start, and with Trump under fire for insisting anti-racism protesters were equally to blame for violence at a weekend rally by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, the president faced renewed pressure to let him go.
Trump, who rose to political prominence by casting doubt on whether Barack Obama, America's first black president, was born in the United States, did condemn neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan on several occasions this week but many across the political spectrum say he did not go far enough.
FIVE TOP AIDES OUT
Trump was at meetings with his national security advisers at the presidential retreat Camp David to discuss the situation in Afghanistan when the White House announced that Bannon was leaving.
The White House did not specify whether he had resigned or - as was widely reported - been forced out.
"White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve's last day," spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. "We are grateful for his service and wish him the best."
Bannon joined the Trump campaign less than three months before the November 2016 vote and was credited with playing a major role in the upset victory over Hillary Clinton.
He went on to become the nucleus of one of several competing power centers in a chaotic West Wing, and reportedly fell into disfavor for allegedly leaking stories about colleagues who he felt did not sufficiently adhere to his populist agenda.
The president's new chief of staff, Kelly, a no-nonsense former Marine general, had reportedly warned he would not tolerate what he saw as Bannon's behind the scenes maneuvering.
And Trump was reportedly furious about an interview in which his aide contradicted his own position on North Korea.
Since taking office in January, Trump has lost five top aides: Bannon, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, press secretary Sean Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus and communications director Anthony Scaramucci.
The latest departure came as former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney added his voice to those criticizing the president over last weekend's events, telling Trump in a Facebook post he was facing a "defining moment" and needed to apologize "for the good of the country."
The woman whose daughter was killed when an avowed white supremacist rammed his car into protesters in Charlottesville said she would not meet with Trump following his comments equating the likes of her daughter with white supremacists.
"You can't wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying 'I'm sorry,'" Susan Bro, the mother of 32-year-old victim Heather Heyer, said in an interview on ABC.
Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger warned Trump he has "a moral responsibility to send an unequivocal message that you won't stand for hate and racism."
And James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox whose tycoon father Rupert has been a Trump ally, pledged to donate $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League, which combats anti-Semitism.
"What we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the President of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people," Murdoch said.
In other developments on Friday, a statue of a US Supreme Court justice who was behind a racist ruling was taken down in Maryland and all 16 members of a presidential committee on arts and the humanities resigned to protest what they called Trump's "hateful rhetoric."
The statue of justice Roger Taney is the latest monument to topple in a growing campaign to remove symbols of the pro-slavery Confederacy.
Trump called the movement "foolish" on Thursday and said US culture and history were being "ripped apart."
In the letter to Trump announcing their mass resignation, the members of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities said "ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions."
The first letter of each paragraph spelled out the word "R-E-S-I-S-T."