The arrival of Mike Flynn’s replacement, Gen. H.R. McMaster as Trump’s new national security advisor could mean sweeping changes of the White House foreign policy team, giving him control of Homeland Security and guarantee full access to the military and intelligence agencies. In a report by the NYT, Mr. McMaster is said to be weighing changes to an organization chart that generated consternation when it was issued last month.
According to one proposal, McMaster would restore the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to full membership in a cabinet-level committee.
Another likely change would involve the Homeland Security Council which would reform under the National Security Council, the way it was during the administration of President Barack Obama. The NYT notes that they were only left out because the Trump team copied a Bush-era organizational chart without realizing that President Obama had made both positions full members of the committee: “Mr. Trump’s team did not intend to reduce the role of the intelligence director or Joint Chiefs chairman, officials said. In crafting their organization order, the officials said, Mr. Trump’s aides essentially cut and pasted language from Mr. Bush’s organization chart, substituting the national intelligence director for the C.I.A. director, who back then was the head of the nation’s spy agencies.”
The decision to separate the Homeland Security staff, they said, was primarily a way to diminish the power of McMaster’s predecessor, Michael T. Flynn, who resigned last week. Now that Flynn is out and Mr. McMaster is in, both councils may report to him.
But the most notable proposed change has to do with the fate of Steve Bannon on the NSC, who may be removed from the principals committee: “Under the original organization plan last month, Mr. Bannon was invited to attend any National Security Council meeting led by the president and was made a regular member of the so-called principals committee of cabinet secretaries. One senior official supportive of Mr. Bannon’s position said it would not change under any reorganization. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said this week that Mr. McMaster would have full authority to organize his staff, but that any change in Mr. Bannon’s status would have to be approved by the president.”
However, the NYT notes, that veterans of past administrations and members of Congress from both parties criticized the decision to put Mr. Bannon on the principals committee, saying that it risked injecting politics into national security. President George W. Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove, was generally kept out of sensitive national security meetings. Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, attended some national security meetings but was not given formal status.
But Mr. Trump was surprised by the intensity of the blowback to the initial order, and complained that Mr. Flynn had not made him understand the significance of the changes or how they would be perceived, according to senior officials.
The NYT explains that White House officials were talking about revising the organization chart even before Mr. McMaster’s appointment, but the issue came to a head after Mr. Trump asked for Mr. Flynn’s resignation last week because Mr. Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about what he discussed with Russia’s ambassador in a December phone call.
Since arriving this week, Mr. McMaster has made a point of going door to door through the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where most national security aides work, to introduce himself and build relations, current and former officials said. He is planning an all-hands staff meeting on Thursday.
As for Bannon, who may be cut from the NSC, Trump’s decision will be carefully watched as such a move would be potentially perceived as a relaxation of Bannon’s influence over Trump, a topic which has been of material focus for the press in recent weeks.