WASHINGTON — The White House said today that the director of national intelligence and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are welcome to attend National Security Council principals meetings after a weekend presidential memorandum limited their roles.
The memo stated that the council’s Principals Committee “shall have as its regular attendees the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, 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 Advisor, and the Homeland Security Advisor.”
That’s the first time the president’s chief strategist has a seat on the council. President George W. Bush excluded Karl Rove from the meetings, with transition documents indicating Bush wanted a distinct separation between security policy and domestic politics. President Obama’s strategist David Axelrod occasionally attended National Security Council meetings but did not have a seat on the council.
Trump’s memo further states, “The Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shall attend where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed. The Counsel to the President, the Deputy Counsel to the President for National Security Affairs, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget may attend all PC meetings.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at the daily briefing that Trump would be amending the memo to add the CIA back into the Principals Committee, and pushed back on former National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s tweets calling the reorganization “stone cold crazy.”
“After a week of crazy. Who needs military advice or intell to make policy on ISIL, Syria, Afghanistan, DPRK?” Rice tweeted. “Pence may chair NSC meetings in lieu of POTUS. Never happened under Obama. UN Ambassador sidelined from Cabinet and Sub cabinet level mtgs. Chairman of Joint Chiefs and DNI treated as after thoughts in Cabinet level principals meetings. And where is CIA?? Cut out of everything?”
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told ABC on Sunday that “adding people to the National Security Council never really bothers me,” but his “biggest concern is there are actually, under the law, only two statutory advisers to the National Security Council and that’s the Director of Central Intelligence, or the DNI, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
“I think pushing them out of the National Security Council meetings, except when their specific issues are at stake, is a big mistake,” Gates said. “I think that they both bring a perspective and judgment and experience to bear that every president, whether they like it or not, finds useful.”
Former Acting CIA Director Mike Morell told CBS today that the reorganization was “unprecedented.”
“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. “Every principals’ meeting starts with an intelligence briefing by the DNI. Having somebody like Bannon in the room brings politics into a room where there should be no politics.”
Spicer said today that “if there’s a principals meeting that is outside their scope, a homeland — a domestic issue that doesn’t pertain to the military, they’re not required but certainly welcome to be in attendance.”
“The suggestion that he would downgrade the important role that the chairman plays in matters of national security reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the tremendous respect that the president holds for both the chairman himself and the joint chiefs as a whole,” he added.
Spicer said Bannon’s addition to the council “shows… that this administration’s being rather transparent.”
“That it’s putting on the — out in the public, who’s going to be going in and out of those meetings. Not just letting people go in willy-nilly,” he said. “I think it shows that this administration’s trying to make sure that we don’t hide things and wait for them to come after the fact. So it recognizes the role that he’s going to play. But Steve’s not going to be in every meeting, like Axlerod, he’ll come in and out when needed. But I think we wanted to be upfront about it and make sure that that was stated so it wasn’t a story when he did.”
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, opined that “this arrangement could hardly be more ominous for the U.S. national security decision-making process and the security of our friends and allies” as “an unprecedented step to politicize the NSC.”
“We should not be going down this road,” Smith said. “Congress will have no choice but to question the integrity of the NSC’s recommendations going forward.”