This afternoon, after first noting how may “likes” President Trump’s last web address had gotten on social media, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, seen above waving papers frantically, assured reporters that there was nothing newsworthy in the fact that, through executive action, the President had removed the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the National Security Council, replacing them with his chief White House strategist, the controversial head of the Breitbart News Network, Steve Bannon, the man who has taken credit for bringing the alt-right (read “white nationalism”) into the mainstream.
Insisting that the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were welcome to attend the meetings whenever they liked, and that Trump had just removed them from the list of regular members in recognition of how valuable their time was, Spicer then went on to repeatedly raise and lower two handfuls of highlighted papers, claiming that, if we were to read them, we’d see that the Trump and Obama administrations organized the National Security Council in almost exactly the same way. The language in the two organizing documents, he told reporters, is “100 percent identical, except we add the word ‘also’.” This, as NPR points out in an article that places the two documents side by side, simply is “not true.” The reality is, the Trump administration is drastically changing the National Security Council, politicizing it in a way that’s never been done before. Spicer, when asked about this… when asked why Bannon, a known propagandist, was given a seat at the table… essentially said that Obama had done the same thing with his chief political advisor, David Axelrod. According to Spicer, the Trump administration is just being more honest and transparent about it.
Axelrod, as you might expect, sees things differently. The following is from his op-ed for CNN.
…As a senior adviser to President Obama in 2009, I had the opportunity to witness the fateful deliberations of his National Security Council Principals committee over the strategy the U.S would pursue in the war with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I was not a member of the committee. I did not speak or participate. I sat on the sidelines as a silent observer with [former White House press secretary Robert] Gibbs because we would be called upon to publicly discuss the president’s decision on that critical matter and the process by which he arrived at it.
We knew our presence chagrined some of the principals but, acting on the president’s instructions, we were there to gain a thorough understanding of what would be one of the most important judgments he would make as commander-in-chief. Our access also came with limits. We were barred from some of the most sensitive meetings on the Afghanistan-Pakistan policy review so as not to inhibit discussions. Beyond that, Gibbs and I did not attend regular meetings of the NSC Principals committee or their deputies nor were we invited to weekly meetings on terrorist threats…
In elevating Bannon to sit with the Secretaries of Defense and State and other key national security figures on the NSC principals committee, President Trump has blazed new ground. Bannon will exercise authority no political adviser has had before. He will be a full participant, not an observer, in national security deliberations.
Under the president’s announced structure, Bannon has eclipsed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence on the National Security Council. Indeed, Bannon already has emerged as the president’s most trusted adviser on global affairs, an area in which Trump has little expertise. It was Bannon who guided the drafting of Trump’s controversial immigration order. According to reports, the Secretary of Defense and director of Homeland Security were not consulted; the State Department was caught unawares…
Ten days in, this much is clear: Steve Bannon is playing a role in national security and foreign policy for which there is no precedent. And for better or worse, he already is making an impact.
Thankfully, more members of the press are beginning to focus Bannon and his rapid ascent to power within the Executive branch, as Trump’s inner circle tightens and others get pushed aside. The following is from an article just posted by Politico.
…“He’s telling Trump that he can do everything he said he would do on the campaign trail,” said a person close to the administration.
That’s won Bannon the president’s favor, and endeared him to his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. Rather than telling Trump what he can’t do, Bannon — a self-made multimillionaire whom Trump sees as a peer rather than as an employee, according to people familiar with their relationship — has positioned himself alongside the president as an enemy of the Washington establishment, including the Republican Party.
During the transition, Bannon stayed away from many of the lower-level hiring decisions and avoided staff meetings that others attended, and focused instead on shaping the Cabinet. He was “integral” in the process of selecting Trump’s appointees, one person close to the team said.
Unlike some of Trump’s other advisers, Bannon doesn’t often appear on television or go to Washington dinners. He swears frequently and often dresses more casually than most White House staff, and generally seems most comfortable huddling with Trump privately or standing off to the side during large meetings.
“He has a great understanding of the American public and why Trump won the election, and he tells Trump about what people are really upset about and what they’re really concerned about,” said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. And, Giuliani added, “Trump generally agrees with him.”…
Fortunately, though, it looks as though we may have an opportunity to intercede. According to MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter, an obscure law exists that would require Bannon, because he doesn’t fit into an existing category for a seat on the National Security Council, to go through a Senate confirmation hearing before taking his seat at the table. So, while Trump was able, by presidential edict, to bring the controversial Bannon into the White House without the advice and consent of the Senate, it looks as though we might now have an opportunity to ask him, under oath, about his work disseminating fake news at Breitbart, his role in bringing white nationalism into the mainstream, the stories of his anti-semitism, and the allegations of domestic abuse in his past. So, if you have a moment, call your Senators, and ask them to look into 50 U.S. Code § 3021, and the possibility that it could be used to bring Bannon in front of a Senator committee for a confirmation hearing. If my hunch is right, Senators on both sides of the aisle would welcome an opportunity to rein Bannon in, and put the National Security Council back in the hands of the intelligence community… This is important stuff.