Jan. 29 (UPI) — While most presidents put their spin of trusted advisers on the National Security Council, President Donald Trump still managed to surprise by giving two high-ranking officials the boot and inviting his chief political strategist to join all of the council’s meetings.
A reorganization of the National Security Council was signed Saturday by Trump that downgrades the director of national intelligence and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while boosting Stephen Bannon, chief strategist for Trump, into a full membership role with the group.
The National Security Council is a panel of officials, most of them cabinet level, who work with the president to determine the best course of action for security issues. While both positions have previously been downgraded by presidents, experts say, they have not been totally demoted from the council, and political operatives have typically been kept away the group as well.
“My biggest concern is there are actually, under the law, two statutory advisers to the National Security Council, and that’s the director of [national] intelligence, or the DNI, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Robert Gates, secretary of defense for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told ABC News. “They both bring a perspective and judgment and experience… that every president — whether they like it or not — finds useful.”
Aside from shuffling the permanent members of the council, and shifting others to simply being invited, Trump also has pared down his version of the council, to six deputy national security advisers, compared to the 23 on President Barack Obama’s council. Complaints about the length of the meetings and nano-management under Obama have also been addressed, according to the officials.
Trump has been highly critical of the intelligence community, making his downgrading of their voice in the meetings less than shocking, but the seeming downgrading of four-star Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford caught some off-guard.
Senior administration officials told The Washington Post the moves were made to help streamline policy formation, on nearly all of which Bannon is occupying a primary position based on Trump’s trust of his advice.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Bannon’s experience as “a former naval officer” offers knowledge and experience, and suggested the benefit of the president having his top strategist in national security council meetings would be a positive for Trump.
“[Bannon]’s got a tremendous understanding of the world and the geopolitical landscape that we have now,” Spicer said. “Having the chief strategist for the president in those meetings, who has a significant military background, to help make, guide, what the president’s final analysis is going to be, is crucial.”
Previously, political operatives have been kept away from the National Security Council for concern of political pettiness to interfere with decisions about safety and security. President George W. Bush barred his chief strategist and top adviser Karl Rove from the meetings, telling him he could “never” attend one.
“It wasn’t because he didn’t respect Karl’s advice or didn’t value his input,” said Josh Bolten, Bush’s former chief of staff. “But the president also knew that the signal he wanted to send to the rest of his administration, the signal he wanted to send to the public, and the signal he especially wanted to send to the military is that the decisions I’m making that involve life and death for the people in uniform will not be tainted by any political decisions.”