President Donald Trump made some changes in his National Security Council on Wednesday. He removed chief strategist Stephen Bannon from his position and restored roles of top intelligence and defense officials, according to someone close to the administration and a notice published in the Federal Register.
The New York Times reports:
The shift was orchestrated by Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who was tapped as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser after the resignation of Michael T. Flynn, who stepped down in February after being caught misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador.
General McMaster inherited an organizational scheme for the National Security Council that stirred protests because of Mr. Bannon’s role. The original setup made Mr. Bannon, the former chairman of Breitbart News, a member of the principals committee that typically includes cabinet-level officials like the vice president, secretary of state and defense secretary. The original order also made the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence only occasional participants as issues demanded.
Critics said Mr. Bannon’s presence in a national security policy-making structure risked politicizing foreign policy.
A new order issued by Mr. Trump, dated Tuesday and made public on Wednesday, removes Mr. Bannon from the principals committee, restores the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and intelligence director and also adds the energy secretary, C.I.A. director and United Nations ambassador.
A senior White House official presented the move as a logical evolution, not a setback for Mr. Bannon. He had originally been put on the principals committee to keep an eye on Mr. Flynn and to “de-operationalize” the National Security Council after the Obama administration, this official said on condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics. This official said that process had been completed.
Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, is one of Trump’s most trusted and controversial advisers. He channeled the populist and nationalist sentiment that propelled Trump’s presidential campaign. His placement on the NSC committee drew criticism from some members of Congress and Washington’s foreign policy establishment who said it risked politicizing the security advice provided to the president.
A White House official portrayed the change as a natural progression rather than a demotion for Bannon. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, contended that Bannon was placed on the committee in part to monitor Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and never attended a meeting. He’s no longer needed with McMaster in charge of the council, the official said.
Still, his departure from the NSC role was applauded by some Republicans as well as Democrats. Republican Represenative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida called it “welcome news” in a tweet.
Bannon had been added to the NSC’s “Principals Committee” to make sure that former Nationaal Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn followed through with directive to depoliticize the NSC, according to Fox News.
“[Obama administration National Security Adviser] Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration,” Bannon said in a statement. “I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized. [National Security Adviser] General [H.R.] McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function.”
Bannon will still be allowed to go to NSC meetings, but with McMaster replacing Flynn, Trump believes that he was no longer needed in that position, according to the Fox News source.
“They are gonna continue to play important policy roles,” Vice President Mike Pence said.
According to Pence, the move was “just a natural evolution to ensure the National Security Council is organized in a way that best serves the president in resolving and making those difficult decisions.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who had no issue with Muslim Brotherhood-tied national security advisers like Mohammad Elibiary, said that Brannon was “wholly unqualified” to be on the NSC and asked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes if he had any dealings with Bannon while investigating the surveillance claims of Trump.
“We need to know what in the world is going on,” Cummings said.
Among other changes in the Trump administration, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Energy Secretary Rick Perry were also added to the NSC.
Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert’s role was also reduced. He remains on the Principals Committee and can attend NSC meetings and can call Homeland Security Council meetings.