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Ex-Trump strategist: White House aides must defend president

FILE - In this April 29, 2017, file photo, Steve Bannon, chief White House strategist to President Donald Trump, tours The AMES Companies, Inc., with the president in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s ex-strategist is blasting White House aides who publicly distance themselves from the president’s response to Charlottesville — yet stick it out in the West Wing.

Steve Bannon, in a CBS interview weeks after he was pushed out from the administration, singled out Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn, saying, “If you don’t like what he’s doing and you don’t agree with it, you have an obligation to resign.”

Cohn, in an interview with The Financial Times, had sharply denounced Trump for saying that “many sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and criticized the administration’s response to incident.

Bannon’s take: “You can tell him, ‘Hey, maybe you can do it a better way.’ But if you’re going to break, then resign. If you’re going to break with him, resign.”

Asked if Cohn should have quit, Bannon said: “Absolutely.”

Bannon, a favorite among the farther-right in the GOP, was jettisoned from his post in August after a turbulent seven months in the West Wing. He returned to Breitbart News, which he led before joining Trump’s campaign.

Calling himself a “street fighter,” Bannon said “that’s why Donald Trump and I get along so well. I’m going to be his wing man outside for the entire time.”

In the interview, he accused the Republican establishment of trying to “nullify the 2016 election,” identifying Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “and, to a degree, Paul Ryan,” as trying to prevent Trump’s “populist, economic nationalist agenda to be implemented.” He said they’d be held accountable if they don’t support Trump.

Bannon also used the “60 Minutes” interview to criticize the Roman Catholic church, after church leaders denounced Trump’s decision to end a program that protected hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation. He said bishops “need illegal aliens to fill the churches.”

Bannon, who is Catholic, said the bishops, “have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration. … This is not doctrine at all.”

That drew a sharp response from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which said it was “preposterous to claim that justice for immigrants isn’t central to Catholic teaching.”

“Our pro-immigration stance is based on fidelity to God’s word and honors the American dream. For anyone to suggest that it is out of sordid motives of statistics or financial gain is outrageous and insulting,” said James Rogers, a spokesman for the conference.

Kevin Appleby, who oversaw migration policies for the U.S. bishops for 16 years, said their position is, in fact, rooted in “2,000 years of church teaching.”

“For them, this is ultimately a justice issue,” said Appleby, now with the Center for Migration Studies, a think tank and advocacy organization started by a Catholic religious order.

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AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this report.

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