WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is getting blasted for reorganizing the National Security Council to oust the director of intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from always attending the Principals Committee — and installing one of his top political advisers on the key panel.
Trump’s order makes his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, a regular member of the Principals Committee. The committee is a Cabinet-level group of agencies that deal with national security that was established by President George H. W. Bush in 1989.
On Monday, former acting CIA chief Michael Morell sharply criticized the move, calling it “unprecedented” in an appearance on “CBS This Morning.”
“I have never been to a principals’ meeting where the views of the DNI and the views of the Chairman are not relevant,” said Morell, who advised Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. “Every principals’ meeting starts with an intelligence briefing by the DNI.”
He added, “Having somebody like Bannon in the room brings politics into a room where there should be no politics.”
Every version of it has included the Joint Chiefs chairman and the director of the CIA or, once it was established, the head of the DNI. DNI James Clapper was always included in Obama administration’s NSC principals’ meetings, CNN confirmed.
Bannon’s presence reinforces the notion he is, in essence, a co-chief of staff alongside Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and demonstrates the breadth of influence the former head of Breitbart News has in the Trump administration.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, offered praise for the administration’s national security team, but he expressed serious concerns about Bannon.
“I think the national security team around President Trump is very impressive,” McCain said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“I am worried about the National Security Council who are the members of it and who are the permanent members of it,” McCain added. “The appointment of Mr. Bannon is something which is a radical departure from any National Security Council in history. It’s of concern this … reorganization.”
The NSC is run by National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency until he was asked to step down in 2014 by senior intelligence leaders.
There has been running tension between the Trump administration and the intelligence community, though during a visit to the CIA Trump declared that “nobody feels stronger about the intelligence community than Donald Trump … I love you. I respect you.”
Before then, the President had argued that intelligence services were politically partisan, he dismissed their findings that Russia hacked Democratic targets during the campaign and referred slightingly to the intelligence community by tweeting with the word intelligence in quotes.
Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice retweeted another Twitter user, P.E. Juan, who said: “Trump loves and trusts the military so much he just kicked them out of the National Security Council and put a Nazi in their place.”
“This is stone cold crazy. After a week of crazy. Who needs military advice or intell to make policy on ISIL, Syria, Afghanistan, DPRK?” Rice, who served as Obama’s National Security Adviser, tweeted, with DPRK referring to North Korea.
Rice continued her tweetstorm: “Chairman of Joint Chiefs and DNI treated as after thoughts in Cabinet level principals meetings. And where is CIA?? Cut out of everything?”
And she noted a provision that would allow Vice President Michael Pence to chair NSC meetings if Trump isn’t available.
“Pence may chair NSC mtgs in lieu of POTUS,” Rice tweeted. “Never happened w/Obama.”
And she added the observation that Trump’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, was “sidelined from Cabinet and Sub Cab mtgs.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer told ABC News on Sunday that Rice’s comments were “clearly inappropriate language from a former ambassador.”
Priebus said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence are both “included as attendees anytime that they want to be included.”
In setting out the reorganization, Trump said that “security threats facing the United States in the 21st century transcend international boundaries. Accordingly, the United States Government’s decision-making structures and processes to address these challenges must remain equally adaptive and transformative.”
Regular members of the Principals Committee will include the secretary of state, the treasury secretary, the defense secretary, the attorney general, the secretary of Homeland Security, the assistant to the President and chief of staff, the assistant to the President and chief strategist, the national security adviser and the Homeland Security adviser.