According to White House sources, President Donald Trump reorganized his National Security Council (NSC) on Wednesday, removing his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, from the council. Trump also downgraded the role of his Homeland Security Adviser, Tom Bossert, and restored the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence to the council.
Bloomberg reports that Trump gave Lt. General H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, the responsibility of setting the agenda for NSC and Homeland Security Council meetings. Trump also placed the Homeland Security Council under McMaster, instead of leaving it as a separate entity, and authorized McMaster to delegate his authority at his discretion to the Homeland Security Adviser, Tom Bossert.
Trump appointed McMaster as his national security adviser to replace retired General Mike Flynn, who was forced to step down from the position in February after he was found to have lied to the Vice President and White House officials about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Flynn violated existing regulations by reportedly discussing foreign policy matters with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, before the inauguration of Trump’s administration and before he was appointed as national security adviser to the president.
Flynn resigned his position as national security adviser to the president on February 13.
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Trump’s appointment of Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, as his chief strategist, and his inclusion in the National Security Council’s principals committee last January had been controversial. Democrats, as well as Republicans, criticized the decision, saying it tended to blur the distinction between political appointments and issues that are purely about national security.
In the opinion of critics of the administration, Trump, by his action, risked politicizing national security and related foreign policy issues.
The National Security Council’s principals committee is usually made up of cabinet-level officials, such as the defense secretary, the secretary of state, the vice president, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence.
But when Trump came to office, he demoted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence from the principals committee, allowing them to attend only when matters related to their respective responsibilities and expertise were being discussed.
But in the new order issued through a memo on Tuesday and made public on Wednesday, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Dan Coats, the national intelligence director, will once again be full members of the NSC’s principals committee.
The New York Times reports that the memo issued on Tuesday also named the energy secretary, CIA director and the UN ambassador as members of the NSC’s principals committee.
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While opponents of the administration construed Bannon’s removal from the NSC’s principals committee as a setback, a White House official told Bloomberg that his removal from the committee was not a demotion. He was appointed to the committee partly because Trump wanted him to monitor Flynn, the former national security adviser. But Bannon actually never attended NSC meetings, and since Flynn stepped down and McMaster replaced him, Trump no longer needed Bannon’s presence at NSC meetings.
The New York Times also reports that a White House source said his removal from the NSC’s principals committee should not be construed as a setback for the former Breitbart executive because he was put in the committee only to watch Flynn and to “de-operationalize” the NSC.
Bannon had fulfilled the purpose of his inclusion on the committee and was no longer needed, thus his removal.
But other analysts argued that the move was a victory for McMaster because it will help him to establish authority and control over the national security.
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