Trump taps Breitbart publisher Steve Bannon to be right-hand man on national security

by Ben Rosen, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR --

The former head of Breitbart News now has his own seat at the National Security Council table, replacing the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In an executive order the president signed on Saturday, Donald Trump promoted his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, to a permanent member of the Principals Committee, which advises the president on national security and foreign affairs. In the same swoop of the pen, Mr. Trump downgraded the influence of the DNI and the Joint Chiefs chairman. The intelligence and military leaders will attend only meetings “where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.”

"We are instilling reforms to make sure that we streamline the process for the president to make decisions on key, important intelligence matters," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. "What they have done is modernize the National Security Council so that it is less bureaucratic and more focused on providing the president with the intelligence he needs."

Trump has feuded with the intelligence community during his campaign and his transition to the White House, attacking its competence, hierarchy, and allegiances. The committee shake-up shows the ongoing discord between Trump and the defense establishment, as well as offering a window into his administration’s priorities for national security and foreign affairs.

“The security threats facing the United States in the 21st century transcend international boundaries,” reads the presidential memorandum, suggesting a greater emphasis on cyber threats, according to The Wall Street Journal. “Accordingly, the United States government’s decision-making structures and processes to address these challenges must remain equally adaptive and transformative.”

Established during the George H.W. Bush presidency, the National Security Council is a group of agencies that advises the president on foreign affairs and national security. The committee is led by the president’s national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Prior to the executive order, the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman and Joint Chiefs attended all committee meetings. In addition to Mr. Flynn and Mr. Bannon, regular members will now include: the secretary of state, the treasury secretary, the defense secretary, the attorney general, the secretary of Homeland Security, the chief of staff, and the Homeland Security adviser, according to CNN.

Since taking the position, Bannon has been present for important diplomatic exchanges. Bannon was seen while Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and British and Israeli prime ministers Theresa May and Benjamin Netanyahu, respectively. But the top Trump adviser's promotion to a permanent member of the committee gives him greater access, and presumably greater influence, over national security and foreign affairs.

The chief architect of Trump’s campaign strategy, Bannon has also been accused of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism. His expanded role in the White House was followed on Saturday by the hashtag, #StopPresidentBannon, trending on Twitter.

Mr. Spicer, the White House press secretary, told ABC News on Sunday that the comments by Rice, also former President Obama's national security adviser, were “clearly inappropriate language from a former ambassador.” He cited Bannon’s experience as a naval officer, but added Bannon is “not giving advice” to the president on these subjects.

"He's got a tremendous understanding of the world and the geopolitical landscape that we have now," Spicer said. "Having key decision makers, and the chief strategist for the United States — for the president to come in and talk about what the strategy is going forward is crucial."

Yet, Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin reported on Jan. 19 that the Trump administration’s most influential foreign policy advisers aren’t its Cabinet nominees, but rather Bannon, senior adviser Jared Kushner, and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.

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