5 Disturbing New Revelations About Trump's Dysfunctional National Security Council
The National Security Council is intended to help presidents make sense of the daunting world of foreign policy and security threats. Not so in the Trump administration. According to a frightening inside look from Monday's New York Times, it appears staff is concerned not only with threats from adversaries, but with those from within. The appointment of the white supremacist Steve Bannon to the Council was just the beginning. From a National Security advisor who knows how to reach Putin but doesn't know how to call the National Guard, to botched executive orders and Make America Great again mugs showing up at meetings with foreign leaders, it is "so far a very dysfunctional NSC,” Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee told the Times.
The rest of the sources for the article were anonymous, for fear of retaliation, but the revelations they bring to light are disturbing to say the least. Below are five of them.
1. Foreign policy is being conducted on Twitter.
Much like the cabinet fumbling around for light switches and a door knob leading out of the Oval Office from last week's damning article, National Security Council staff wake up in the dark. They "get up in the morning, read President Trump’s Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them." In other administrations they'd have non-social media data to operate on. In the reign of Trump, Twitter is their only source of information about what the commander-in-chief is thinking. The Times continues, "most are kept in the dark about what Mr. Trump tells foreign leaders in his phone calls." Because of all the leaks, many NSC staff are making their own communications encrypted, for fear of being monitored for leaks.
2. Michael Flynn is a little too cozy with Russia, and Trump continues to play dumb.
National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is being investigated to determine whether he unlawfully discussed lifting President Obama's sanctions on Russia, and other potential areas of cooperation with the Russian government before Trump was in office. According to an earlier Times report, he indicated "that the Obama administration was Moscow’s adversary and that relations with Russia would change under Mr. Trump." Trump, when asked about Flynn's Russia ties on Air Force One, suggested he was unware of the controversy.
When aide Stephen Miller was asked about the connections on Meet the Press Sunday, he demurred, saying, "that is a question for the president," though he readily shared his views on a range of other topics. Meanwhile, according to the Times, "aides said over the weekend in Florida — where Mr. Flynn accompanied the president and Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe — that Mr. Trump was closely monitoring the reaction to Mr. Flynn’s conversations." In case readers needed additional nightmare fodder, Flynn also apparently has no idea how to call the National Guard in the event of a Hurricane Katrina-like natural disaster or a terrorist attack in a major city.
3. Trump can't read a full policy memo, demands maps and graphs.
President Obama, the Times notes, preferred policy memos to be three-to-six pages. Trump on the other hand, can only handle a single illustraged page. "The president likes maps," one anonymous official told the New York Times. Sure, every boss wants concise memos, but one would hope the leader of the free world might have the patience for more than a page filled mostly with pictures.
4. The director of the CIA and the Secretary of Defense never saw many of Trump's executive orders.
Considering the most controversial executive order involved a supposed national security threat from immigrants, one would think the president's top advisors on these matters might need to be consulted, or at least in the loop. The lack of communciation was so bad that CIA director Michael Pompeo thought he had been booted from the NSC: "One order had to be amended after it was made public, to reassure Mr. Pompeo that he had a regular seat on the council." Another Pentagon official the Times spoke to only saw a draft order on prisoner treatment because it was leaked: "He called the White House to find out if it was real and said he had concerns but was not sure if he was authorized to make suggestions."
5. KT McFarland treats NSC staff meetings like Fox News.
McFarland, a Reagan veteran who most recently worked for Fox News, can't seem to shake the television tics. She uses her television experience to force council members to make their points quickly, and, "she signals when to wrap up, several participants said." She also repeatedly tells staff to Make America Great Again. Trump, who never met a branding opportunity he didn't love, apparently has enough mugs with the phrase that staff members bring them into meetings with foreign dignitaries.