(UPI) — President Donald Trump reorganized the National Security Council, booting two high-ranking officials and inviting his chief political strategist to join the council’s meetings.
Trump signed the reorganization Saturday, removing the director of national intelligence and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff posts, while adding his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon.
The council is a panel of officials, most of them Cabinet level, who work with the president to determine the best course of action on security issues. While the DNI and joint chiefs 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 from the group.
“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.”
Trump also has pared the council to six deputy national security advisers, compared to the 23 on Obama’s council. Complaints about the length of the meetings and micro-management under Obama have also been addressed, according to the officials.
Trump has been highly critical of the intelligence community, but the downgrading of four-star Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, caught some off-guard.
Senior administration officials told The Washington Post the moves were made to help streamline policy formation.
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 over concern that political pettiness would 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.”
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