Major Trump backer distances himself from Steve Bannon

President-elect Donald Trump looks toward the media as he arrives at a costume party at the home of hedge fund billionaire and campaign donor Robert Mercer in Head of the Harbor, New York, Dec. 3, 2016.

Reuters/Mark Kauzlarich

Last Updated Nov 2, 2017 6:00 PM EDT

Robert Mercer, a major GOP donor and Trump administration ally, announced Thursday that he is stepping away from his hedge fund and selling his stake in Breitbart, the right-wing news outlet headed by former White House strategist Steve Bannon.

Mercer, a billionaire who originally supported Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 Republican primary, became a major donor and adviser to President Trump's campaign. His daughter Rebekah also became a key player on Mr. Trump's campaign.

In a statement, Robert Mercer distanced himself from Bannon, who is supporting primary challenges against a number of Republican incumbents. "The press has also intimated that my politics marches in lockstep with Steve Bannon's," Mercer says in the statement. "I have great respect for Mr. Bannon, and from time to time, I do discuss politics with him. However, I make my own decisions with respect to whom I support politically. Those decisions do not always align with Mr. Bannon's."

The statement was tweeted out by Bloomberg Businessweek's Joshua Green.

Mercer also criticized Milo Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart editor who became a popular and controversial speaker on college campuses. Explaining that he originally supported Yiannopoulos' "expression of views contrary to the social mainstream" and "spotlighting of the hypocrisy of those who would shut down free speech," Mercer now says he believes that Yiannopoulos "has caused pain and divisiveness undermining the open and productive discourse that I had hoped to facilitate."

"I was mistaken to have supported him," Mercer continues, "and have been in the process of severing all ties with him."

Yiannopoulos left Breitbart earlier this year after a video was unearthed in which he stated his approval of sexual relationships between minors and adults. A Buzzfeed News story from early October revealed that Yiannopoulos had cultivated relationships with white nationalists while at Breitbart, including Richard Spencer, a leader of the racist protests in Charlottesville last summer that left one dead.

Mercer concludes his statement saying that he is selling his stake in Breitbart to his daughters for "personal reasons."