Trump Administration & National Security

Written by  //  April 5, 2017  //  Government & Governance, U.S.  //  No comments

5 April
Trump Removes Stephen Bannon From National Security Council Post
By PETER BAKER, MAGGIE HABERMAN and GLENN THRUSH
(NYT) behind the scenes, White House officials said, the ideologist who enjoyed the president’s confidence became increasingly embattled as other advisers, including Mr. Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, complained about setbacks on health care and immigration. Lately, Mr. Bannon has been conspicuously absent from some meetings. And now he has lost his seat at the national security table.
It was one more drama in a White House consumed by palace intrigue, where officials jockey for the ear of the president, angle for authority and seek to place blame for political defeats. Even as Mr. Bannon lost a national security credential, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, seems to be acting as a shadow secretary of state, visiting Iraq and taking on China, Mexico and Middle East portfolios.
Mr. Trump initially supported Mr. Bannon’s take-it-or-leave-it final message to holdouts in the House Freedom Caucus. But, needing a win, the president grew skeptical and authorized Mr. Pence to resume health care talks, with Mr. Bannon playing more of a supporting role, according to three people close to Mr. Trump.
Mr. Bannon has also been at odds with Gary Cohn, the president’s national economics adviser. Mr. Cohn is close with Mr. Kushner, who has said privately that he fears that Mr. Bannon plays to the president’s worst impulses, according to people with direct knowledge of such discussions.
Moreover, Mr. Bannon’s Svengali-style reputation has chafed on a president who sees himself as the West Wing’s only leading man. Several associates said the president had quietly expressed annoyance over the credit Mr. Bannon had received for setting the agenda — and Mr. Trump was not pleased by the “President Bannon” puppet-master theme promoted by magazines, late-night talk shows and Twitter.
Yet there is a risk for Mr. Trump in appearing to minimize Mr. Bannon, a hero to the nationalist, anti-immigration base that helped drive Mr. Trump to an Electoral College victory. With his approval ratings at historic lows for so early in a presidency, he is counting on the same people who see Mr. Bannon as their champion — just as Mr. Bannon is counting on Mr. Trump to retain his place in the White House inner circle. (emphasis added)
Bannon Taken Off Trump National Security Council in Shake-Up
(Bloomberg)  … The realignment increases the influence of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, whose public stances were sometimes at odds with those of Bannon. In addition to gaining greater control over the NSC, McMaster will have the Homeland Security Council under his authority.
The change downgrades the role of Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert, who had been given authority to convene or chair the NSC’s principals committee under Trump’s original structure. He’ll serve those roles now as delegated by McMaster, according to a presidential memorandum dated Tuesday.
The national intelligence director, Dan Coats, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, are again “regular attendees” of the principals committee, as in the Obama administration.
The secretary of energy, the Central Intelligence Agency director and the United Nations ambassador also were added to the principals committee under Wednesday’s revisions.
Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon stripped of national security council role
(The Guardian) … the substantive impact of the shakeup remains to be seen. A parallel security structure in the Eisenhower executive office building, known as the Strategic Initiatives Group, reports to Bannon, whose close relationship with Trump suggests continued influence in this administration.
While the White House on Wednesday pushed back against the perception that Bannon had been demoted, McMaster’s camp described Bannon’s removal and the restoration of joint chiefs chairman Gen Joseph Dunford and intelligence chief Dan Coats to the council as a key objective for the national security adviser.

22 February
McMaster May Reorganize Trump’s Foreign Policy Team Once Again
(NYT) Just days after arriving at the White House, Mr. McMaster is weighing changes to an organization chart that generated consternation when it was issued last month.
One proposal under discussion would restore the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to full membership in a cabinet-level committee, according to two officials who discussed internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity.
Another likely change would reincorporate the Homeland Security Council under the National Security Council, the way it was during the administration of President Barack Obama, the officials said.
Left uncertain is what, if anything, will happen regarding Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, who has played a major role in shaping foreign policy
21 February
Trump’s new security advisor differs from him on Russia, other key issues
(Reuters) U.S. President Donald Trump has shown little patience for dissent, but that trait is likely to be tested by his new national security adviser, Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.
McMaster is joining the White House staff with views on Russia, counterterrorism, strengthening the military and other major security issues that diverge not only from those of the Trump loyalists, but also from those the president himself has expressed.
A military intellectual whose ideas have been shaped more by experience than by emotion, more by practice than by politics, and more by intellect than by impulse may also find himself in political terrain that may be as alien, and perhaps as hostile, to him as the sands and cities of Afghanistan and Iraq were.
McMaster will not be alone, however. His prominent administration allies include Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; as well as many of the soldiers who have served with him.
20 February
hr-mcmaster-trump-kelloggGeneral known for sharp questions will be Trump’s new top security adviser
(Reuters) U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday named Lieutenant General Herbert Raymond McMaster as his new national security adviser, choosing a military officer known for speaking his mind and challenging his superiors.
McMaster is a highly regarded military tactician and strategic thinker, but his selection surprised some observers who wondered how the officer, whose Army career stalled at times for his questioning of authority, would deal with a White House that has not welcomed criticism.
Trump also named Keith Kellogg, a retired U.S. Army general who has been serving as the acting national security adviser, as chief of staff to the National Security Council. John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will serve the administration in another capacity, Trump said.
Kellogg and Bolton were among those in contention as Trump spent the long Presidents Day weekend considering his options for replacing Flynn. His first choice, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, turned down the job last week.
(NYT) General McMaster is seen as one of the Army’s leading intellectuals, first making a name for himself with a searing critique of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their performance during the Vietnam War and later criticizing the way President George W. Bush’s administration went to war in Iraq.
As a commander, he was credited with demonstrating how a different counterterrorism strategy could defeat insurgents in Iraq, providing the basis for the change in approach that Gen. David H. Petraeus adopted to shift momentum in a war that the United States was on the verge of losing.
General McMaster’s challenge now will be to take over a rattled and demoralized National Security Council apparatus that bristled at Mr. Flynn’s leadership and remains uncertain about its place in the White House given the foreign policy interests of Stephen K. Bannon, the former Breitbart News chairman who is the president’s chief strategist.
15 February
The Atlantic summarizes Flynn Fallout: The saga surrounding the former national security adviser’s firing took another twist last night with reports that Trump aides were in contact with Russian intelligence during the campaign. Congressional Democrats are calling for an investigation, but the minority party may not have the leverage it needs, and the pressure to respond is mounting for Republican leaders. For his part, on Twitter, Trump is directing criticism toward the officials who leaked information, arguing that such revelations are “just like Russia” and “very un-American!” In some respects, the leaks actually illustrate the power of American institutions to check the president. But on the other hand, this form of bureaucratic resistance could have dangerous consequences.
14 February
Richard Wolffe: Mike Flynn might be done – but Trump’s nightmare has just begun
This resignation and scandal is not a surprise. After all, we have a president who is too careless to handle a national security incident in a confidential manner
(The Guardian) We have barely begun to scrape the surface of Trump’s fatal compromises with Russia. It was only last week that US officials say they corroborated some of the communications in the famous British dossier detailing those compromising situations.
Trump can pretend all he likes. He can bluster his way through TV interviews and at the presidential podium about everything from the tiny crowds at his inauguration to supposed illegal voting by non-citizens.
But sooner or later, the presidency – and the constitution it is supposed to defend – catches up with you. A commander-in-chief can’t compromise his own nation’s security and expect to keep his job.
The Atlantic summarizes: Michael Flynn: Trump’s national security adviser resigned last night after admitting he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his talks with Russia’s ambassador. The White House’s explanation of how that happened has been shifting—it’s unclear whether Trump, his adviser Steve Bannon, or Flynn himself made the call. But here’s a full timeline of the private meetings and public statements that ultimately led to Flynn’s ouster. Though the FBI has investigated whether Flynn violated the Logan Act by talking to a foreign government representative before Trump took office, his possibly compromising relationship with Russia poses a much more serious problem. And meanwhile, conflicts among Trump’s closest advisers may paralyze the administration. For now, here are the five most pressing questions raised by Flynn’s departure.
13 February
Michael Flynn resigns amid uproar over Russia ties
(Business Insider) National Security Adviser Michael Flynn abruptly resigned Monday evening, amid an uproar over conversations with a Russian ambassador to the US and his broader dealings with Russia.
The news comes after an earlier report that Flynn could be susceptible to Russian blackmail, according to an assessment from the Department of Justice that was compiled late last month, and after he faced new scrutiny over a call with Russia’s ambassador during which the pair apparently discussed US sanctions.
President Donald Trump named Lt. Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg the acting national security adviser.
A report from The Washington Post on Monday night said former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that Flynn had misled officials about his correspondence with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak.
Yates was fired by Trump at the end of January after she defied him on his now-suspended travel ban.
See Trump is ‘evaluating the situation’ surrounding Michael Flynn posted early Monday morning.
… the White House sent mixed signals about his future in the job. One of Trump’s top advisers said he still had “full confidence” in his national security adviser, but the White House press secretary said later that Trump was “evaluating the situation.”
From Trump’s Mar-a-Lago to Facebook, a National Security Crisis in the Open
(NYT) President Trump and his top aides coordinated their response to North Korea’s missile test on Saturday night in full view of diners at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida — a remarkable, public display of presidential activity that is almost always conducted in highly secure settings.
The scene — of aides huddled over their computers and the president on his cellphone at his club’s terrace — was captured by a club member dining not far away and published in pictures on his Facebook account. The images also show Mr. Trump conferring with his guest at the resort, Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister.
Missile crisis by candlelight: Trump’s use of Mar-a-Lago raises security questions
Trump handled news of North Korea’s missile launch at his private club, rather than the situation room, raising an array of ethical and national security issues
12 February
Turmoil at the National Security Council, From the Top Down
(NYT) These are chaotic and anxious days inside the National Security Council, the traditional center of management for a president’s dealings with an uncertain world.
Three weeks into the Trump administration, council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump’s Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them. Most are kept in the dark about what Mr. Trump tells foreign leaders in his phone calls. Some staff members have turned to encrypted communications to talk with their colleagues, after hearing that Mr. Trump’s top advisers are considering an “insider threat” program that could result in monitoring cellphones and emails for leaks.
… A number of staff members who did not want to work for Mr. Trump have returned to their regular agencies, leaving a larger-than-usual hole in the experienced bureaucracy. Many of those who remain, who see themselves as apolitical civil servants, have been disturbed by displays of overt partisanship.
10 February
michael-flynnAmerica’s So-Called National Security Adviser
(NYT Editorial) From the start, Michael Flynn, a retired army lieutenant general, was a disturbing choice as President Trump’s national security adviser. He is a hothead with extremist views in a critical job that is supposed to build consensus through thoughtful, prudent decision-making. The choice is now growing more unnerving every day.
A conspiracy theorist who has stoked dangerous fears about Islam, Mr. Flynn was fired by the Obama administration as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and led anti-Hillary Clinton chants of “lock her up” at the 2016 Republican Convention. He raised eyebrows by cultivating a mystifyingly cozy relationship with Russia, which the Pentagon considers a major threat.
Now we have learned that in the weeks before the inauguration, Mr. Flynn discussed American sanctions on Russia, and areas of possible cooperation, with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak. They spoke a day before President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia for hacking the Democrats’ computers, probably in an effort to sway the election in Mr. Trump’s favor.
Michael Flynn’s Debacle
Trump’s national security adviser’s potentially false statements about his pre-inauguration contacts with Russian officials are a major scandal.
(The Atlantic)… one of that scandal’s proximate causes … is a national security adviser who sees his role as that of foreign policy operative. This vision of the role sort of worked when the deft and cunning Henry Kissinger headed an NSC staff of 40. Since then the NSC has grown into a quasi-agency in its own right, some 400 people in the White House or seconded from other departments. And Michael Flynn is no Henry Kissinger.
Flynn’s maladroitness in fact is the one thing that may have saved the administration from an even worse scandal: His reported lie was exposed so quickly that the uproar will thwart any project to lift early the sanctions on Russia for its role in the 2016 election. He has given the Trump administration an opportunity to localize what is really a much larger scandal.
They can now try to load all the blame for all the various sinister connections between the Trump campaign and Russian spy agencies onto one man, in an effort to protect everybody else implicated in the scandal, including the president himself.
31 January
Steve Bannon’s role in inner circle of Trump team raises fears of security crisis
(The Guardian) Donald Trump’s chief strategist and ideologue will be party to all discussions on the White House National Security Council unlike military and intelligence chiefs
The formal inclusion of Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist and ideologue in the small circle of top officials who decide US national security policy, sparked alarm among former officials who described it as an unprecedented politicisation of decisions that could mean the difference between peace and war.
Bannon, a former executive of the rightwing Breitbart news site, will be a permanent fixture of the “principals committee” of the National Security Council (NSC), the White House announced, but said that the director of national intelligence and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff would only attend if the “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed”.
… “What is striking about it is it is such an explicit rejection of the well-entrenched principle that when it comes to matters of national security that politics doesn’t have any place in the room,” said James Steinberg, former deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration. “It is a flat rejection of what has been a shared view of Republican and Democratic administrations.”
29 January
Trump Administration Defends Bannon’s Role on Security Council
The Trump administration defended on Sunday a reorganization of the National Security Council that elevates the president’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon — a political adviser with no direct national security role — to full membership and downgrades the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
(NYT) Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said Sunday that Mr. Bannon’s past service as a Navy* officer merited his attendance at all meetings … he is a former naval officer … He’s got a tremendous understanding of the world and the geopolitical landscape that we have now.”
Current and former military officials said they suspected that the decision, in part, was prompted by the national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, who retired as a three-star general after he was dismissed during the Obama administration as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. It was the previous director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, who delivered the news to Mr. Flynn that he was being removed from his post. Throughout the transition, Mr. Flynn was reportedly hesitant to place many people around the National Security Council table who had outranked him in the military.
*Bannon was an officer in the United States Navy for seven years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, serving on the destroyer USS Paul F. Foster as a Surface Warfare Officer in the Pacific Fleet and stateside as a special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon. (Wikipedia)

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