I just viewed a segment of this Sunday morning’s edition of Meet the Press in which Check Todd confronted Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus about Trump’s executive order on the National Security Council. Todd, apparently, was under the impression that the order removed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Director of National Intelligence from the Council. Priebus insisted that Todd was mischaracterizing the order and that those two officials were welcome to attend NSC meetings.
Both Todd and Priebus were half right and half wrong. That’s the conclusion of your Scriber after a few minutes of fact-checking.
Part of the problem is that the press, at least some of it, is providing overly simplified misinformation about the executive order. Here’s an example from the Wall Street Journal: Donald Trump Shuffles National Security Council. The WSJ report headline says “Executive measure adds Steve Bannon while removing Director of National Intelligence, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff” and the body of the report repeats the assertions.
WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump added his top adviser and strategist Steve Bannon to the National Security Council while removing the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as he signed a trio of executive measures on Saturday.
Actually, the president’s memo does no such thing. The USA Today has a different - and factual - report that Trump gives Stephen Bannon National Security Council role. True, but they go on to qualify the rolls of the DNI and Joint Chiefs chair.
In one of three executive actions Saturday, President Trump reshuffled the National Security Council to include his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, and limited the roles of the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The memorandum makes the chief strategist a regular attendee of the principals committee, the Cabinet-level interagency forum that deals with policy issues affecting national security. For Bannon, the Washington outsider who ran the conservative website Breitbart News, it’s another area of federal government in which he will have influence.
The Trump strategist is already considered a controversial choice for chief strategist because of Breitbart News’s tendency to cater to white nationalists and previous comments he’s made (i.e. “turn on the hate”).
The memo also stated that the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff will attend the principals committee meetings when issues related to their responsibilities are needed. According to The Hill, both officials have been regular attendees to principals committee meetings.
Here are the relevant passages from the President’s memo. (The entire memo is here.)
The NSC and HSC shall have as their regular attendees (both statutory and non-statutory) the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the National Security Advisor, the Homeland Security Advisor, and the Representative of the United States to the United Nations. When international economic issues are on the agenda of the NSC, the NSC’s regular attendees will include the Secretary of Commerce, the United States Trade Representative, and the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. The Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as statutory advisers to the NSC, shall also attend NSC meetings. The Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, the Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist, 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 are invited as attendees to any NSC meeting.
So the DNI and Joint Chiefs chair are members of the NSC by law. However, there is another subgroup of the NSC called the Principals Committee. Relevant passages follow.
The Principals Committee (PC) shall continue to serve as the Cabinet-level senior interagency forum for considering policy issues that affect the national security interests of the United States. The PC shall be convened and chaired by the National Security Advisor or the Homeland Security Advisor, as appropriate, in consultation with the appropriate attendees of the PC. The Chair shall determine the agenda in consultation with the appropriate committee members, and the Executive Secretary shall ensure that necessary papers are prepared and that conclusions and decisions are communicated in a timely manner. Invitations to participate in or attend a specific PC shall be extended at the discretion of the National Security Advisor and the Homeland Security Advisor, and may include those Cabinet-level heads of executive departments and agencies, and other senior officials, who are needed to address the issue under consideration.
The PC 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. 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.
So the roles of the two officials, DNI and Joint Chiefs chair, are limited in that they attend the Principals Committee meetings by invitation. The questions I would have is why exclude the top military and intelligence officials from meetings of that high-level committee, and why appoint a political hack like Bannon. What does Bannon bring to the Principals table that the DNI and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs do not?