President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, is taking steps to streamline the National Security Council — starting by eliminating positions created by his short-lived predecessor Michael Flynn, according to two people familiar with the moves.
McMaster did away this week with two deputy assistant spots, one overseeing the NSC’s regional desks and another overseeing transnational issues, according to a senior White House aide.
The move comes less than two weeks into McMaster’s tenure. It’s a sign that, in a White House where a handful of the president’s political aides hold considerable sway over matters both domestic and foreign, McMaster has some power — and autonomy — to reshape his organization the way he sees fit.
Additional changes are believed to be in the works.
It remains unclear whether K.T. McFarland, a Trump favorite who serves as deputy national security adviser, will remain on the NSC.
Also unknown is whether Trump’s chief White House strategist, Steve Bannon, will stay on the principals committee of the NSC. His placement on that body has alarmed former officials and analysts who believe political strategists shouldn’t be involved in national security decisions.
McMaster’s streamlining so far has had an immediate impact on two senior NSC aides.
Dave Cattler, who was named deputy assistant to the president for regional affairs, will return to the office of the Director of National Intelligence, where he worked during the Obama administration.
Brad Hansell, who had been serving as acting deputy assistant to the president for transnational issues since the beginning of the administration, is returning to his post as the NSC’s senior director for transnational threats.
“McMaster took a look at them and thought he didn’t need the extra layer,” the White House aide said of the two positions. “He wanted to go back to the way it had been prior.”
The two posts did not exist during the Obama administration and, though George W. Bush national security adviser Stephen Hadley created a position overseeing the regional directorates, they did not exist during most of the Bush administration, either.
Cattler and Hansell are generally well-regarded, according to a person familiar with the current NSC.
Cattler was a Flynn pick, the person said. According to his LinkedIn page, Cattler worked under the former NSC boss at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn was forced out of the DIA in 2014.
According to the person familiar with the NSC, some career intelligence professionals regarded Cattler with suspicion because of his connection to Flynn, a vocal critic of the CIA and its tactics.
Hansell, meanwhile, “was as solid as they come and was doing the overwhelming lion’s share of the administrative work behind the scenes to keep that place afloat,” the person said.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, lasted less than a month as national security adviser. He was ousted after The Washington Post reported that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had held with Russia’s ambassador to the United States in December, during the presidential transition.
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