The White House says outcry over President Donald Trump's reorganization of the National Security Council is 'much ado about nothing.'
Trump added Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, to the principles committee, and seemingly downgraded the director of national intelligence and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, a characterization the White House says is 'utter nonsense.'
They will only attend meetings when 'issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed,' a directive says.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer argued Monday on MSNBC that the make-up of the committee is the same as it was in 2001, under the last Republican president, with the exception of Bannon. DNI was also substituted for CIA. The DNI position didn't exist back then.
Bannon could have attended meetings regularly, anyway, Spicer contended, touting the announcement of his addition to the powerful panel as an example of the administration's 'transparency.'
SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO
The White House says outcry over President Donald Trump's reorganization of the National Security Council is 'much ado about nothing.' The president's chief political strategist, Steve Bannon,could have attended meetings even if he were not on the panel
Press Secretary Sean Spicer argued Monday on MSNBC that the make up of the committee is the same as it was in 2001 under the last Republican president, with the exception of Bannon
National security experts are uneasy with Trump's decision to put his chief political strategist on the panel, a controversial figure and former head of right-wing news site Breitbart. He's also a former Goldman Sachs banker.
Susan Rice, national security adviser to Barack Obama, said Bannon's addition was 'stone cold crazy.'
John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called it 'a radical departure from any National Security Council in history.'
Trump added Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, to the principles committee, and downgraded the director of national intelligence and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman
Rice also said that the new administration had made the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and director of national intelligence 'afterthoughts in cabinet level principal meetings' and asked why the CIA director was cut out of the NSC.
The White House said Monday afternoon that the CIA director was removed from the panel in 2005.
Trump is amending the order to add Mike Pompeo, his CIA director back in, Spicer said, responding to Rice.
Spicer brandished reporters on Monday for 'misreading' the order as saying that the DNI and Joint Chiefs chairman are being kept out of NSC meetings unless they are invited.
'They are always welcome to attend, 100 percent,' he said during his daily briefing.
But if the threat doesn't involve the military, such as a discussion on the pandemic flu, 'it would be a waste of time to drive the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff over,' he said.
'If he wants to attend, he's part of the committee. He can come any time,' Spicer added.
He held up a copies of the Bush-era order from 2001 and the one Trump signed over the weekend, with the relevant sections highlighted, and had copies loaded on two screens behind him to demonstrate that they were fundamentally the same as he lectured reporters during the afternoon briefing.
Spicer said Sunday on ABC News that Mike Flynn, Trump's national security adviser and a former head of the defense intelligence agency under Obama, spearheaded the reorganization of the forum.
The Trump spokesman said the purpose is to 'streamline the process for the president to make decisions on key, important intelligence matters.'
He said the Republican administration moved to 'modernize the National Security Council so that it is less bureaucratic and more focused on providing the president with the intelligence he needs.'
Spicer said that Bannon isn't just playing the role of domestic political adviser to the president - he's the chief geopolitical strategist, as well.
Today, in an appearance on Morning Joe, he claimed that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Obama Senior Advisor David Axelrod quietly attended NSC meetings in the previous administration.
'All we did frankly was become transparent and actually put down on paper who's actually going to attend,' he said. 'Axelrod went all the time, and they never actually codified it as part of their national security.'
The White House official added: 'This is an example of transparency and making sure that we're not trying to hide who's gonna be attending these meetings.'
David Ignatius, of the Washington Post, told Spicer that Alberto Gonzales, a former attorney general, has said that that Bush did not want Karl Rove, his chief political strategist, in the sensitive meetings.
Spicer shot back that Bannon 'isn't playing Karl Rove's part.'
Spicer blasted reporters on Monday for 'misreading' the order as saying that the DNI and Joint Chiefs chairman are being kept out of NSC meetings unless they are invited - holding up copies of the Bush era order and the Trump one to show that their similar
'Steve has an ext military background, extensive background on geopolitical affairs. And the assumption that he's playing the same role as Karl Rove is just not, not accurate,' Spicer said.
Touting this White House's transparency again, Spicer claimed, 'The Obama administration, they had people going in and out of NSC meetings without people knowing unless they got caught wind of.'
As far as the reported removal of the DNI and Joint Chiefs Chairman are concerned, Spicer said, 'They're both on.'
'This is much to do about nothing,' Spicer contended. 'This is literally the language in 2001.'
The White House appears to be referring to NSC guidelines from the beginning of Bush's administration. That was before 9/11. The make-up of NSC was later changed. As Spicer stated, in 2005 it was amended to disinclude the CIA director.
At his briefing later in the day, Spicer used Axelrod as an example again as he defended Bannon's inclusion, telling journalists that the political adviser is 'not going to be in every meeting.'
'Like Axlerod, he'll come in and out when needed. But I think we wanted to be upfront about it and make sure that that was stated so it wasn't a story when he did.'
Axelrod, a CNN contributor, said Monday afternoon in an op-ed on the news networks website that it is 'simply not true' that he and Gibbs frequented the NSC forums.
Spicer claimed that former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Barack Obama Senior Advisor David Axelrod quietly attended NSC meetings in the previous administration. Axelrod says he and Gibbs were silent observers during deliberations, not participants, like Bannon
The former White House official said he and Gibbs were silent observers during deliberations on the war against 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 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,' he stated.
Furthermore, Axelrod stated, '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.
'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.
The Obama aide said that Bannon has 'eclipsed' the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the DNI on the National Security Council in Trump's NSC structure.
'Steve Bannon is playing a role in national security and foreign policy for which there is no precedent.'