The impeachment crisis swallowed up by the White House is causing new turmoil in the National Security Council, where officials wonder if their efforts are being undermined and worrying whether the president may inflate his entire body, ignoring his expert advice. until it evaporates. its role in the current crisis.
Already an unequal workplace with Trump, the careers of National Security Council officials are now under new scrutiny by an already skeptical president and his inner circle.
Tim Morrison, Russia's Council and European director, worked with Windman to process Ukraine's census and is expected to testify on Thursday.
But Morrison is expected to leave his post, a long-planned departure, which was nevertheless complicated by the current drama of impeachment.
"After more than a year serving on the National Security Council, Mr. Morrison has decided to use other options ̵
Sources familiar with the council situation say there is a sense of concern among some employees as they see their State Department colleagues and staff summoned to Capitol Hill to testify in the ongoing impeachment investigation, which sparked unjustified personal attacks by Republican lawmakers, some from the West Wing and even the president himself.
Trump's virulent response to Windman's testimony – insisting without evidence of the Security Council's top expert on Ukraine is "never a trumpeter" with dubious motives – sent a cold shudder through the package of council offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office building , adjacent to the West Wing.
In the vicinity of the nearly 150-year-old building next to the White House, which houses the National Security Council, the mood has changed dramatically.
Officials – especially those who do not work on major White House priorities such as the Middle East or Asia – are increasingly being underestimated and left aside in the development process policies, according to people familiar with the dynamics.
Much like Windman, much of the National Security Council's staff has been obtained from the Pentagon, the State Department, or the US intelligence agencies. Many are career leaders who have served in previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican.
Demoralized air hangs over the council, knowing that their work is treated with skepticism by the West Wing and often does not govern political decisions the way traditional national security would. Often, officials are pressured into service to try to remedy problems created in the West Wing at the back of the decision-making process.
Concerns about why they may be included in the impeachment procedure make it difficult, according to several sources familiar with the situation. One source noted that several National Security Council officials are worried about having to hire lawyers when they do not have the resources to do so.
Following Trump's ill-fated call to President Vladimir Zelensky in July, officials have watched the work of their usually invisible board – such as reviewing a transcript of a conversation with a foreign leader – be reviewed and stored – made public.
"This is the last thing a civil servant wants to be involved in," said a former Trump administration official at the National Security Council who remains in contact with current officials. "The people who are still there are just trying to lower their heads and focus on their jobs."
In their deposits on Capitol Hill, two council officials – Windman and former Russian director Fiona Hill – both recalled their concern at apparent attempts to use US relations with Kiev for political purposes. Everyone said he raised these issues with his superiors and, in the end, before the National Security Council's lawyers, a remarkable demonstration of internal anger among White House professional officials about the actions taken by the president and people close to him.
Following his testimony, Windman is subject to control in his own ranks. Not being regarded as a careful admirer of the notes, his opening statement to MPs raised eyebrows among some colleagues who worried he would mix details and cast doubt on the incident.
Still, White House officials acknowledged that Windman's credibility stems from his proximity to the call. He was the first official to listen to the conversation that was sworn in, though if the House Democrats had their way, he probably wouldn't be the last.
Distance from Trump
Trump's interactions with much of the National Security Council staff are fleeting, and he said that some of the most damaging testimony against him came from people he did not knows.
"Why are there people I have never heard on the testimony of the call," he wrote on Twitter Tuesday just before the arrival of Windman, in his military uniform, on Capitol Hill.
The list of senior officials of the US Department of State and Homeland Security, whom Trump says are unknown, is long. His senior advisor in Russia, the architect of US-Ukraine policy, the top diplomat in Kiev: all unknown to the president, he now claims, as each sits in front of congressional deputies to describe his concern about how he behaved.
The blatant ignorance of his administration's top aides only confirms what these officials claim behind closed doors: that Trump ignores official diplomatic channels that oversaw the unofficial overtures to Ukraine, led by Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani designed to surface dirt on political opponents.
Concerning Ukraine, Trump often advocates the advice of people outside the government, rather than professionals in the administration. Hill, a longtime expert on Russia, once mistook for a clerical assistant during a briefing.
The impeachment probe also rose at a time when there was already a cloud of insecurity looming over the National Security Council as officials adjusted to their new leader, Robert O & # 39; Brian , who replaced former national security adviser John Bolton last month.
Officials who asked Brian for guidance on how to deal with the impeachment probe did not find her, they say. O & # 39; Brien has not held any meetings for all staff to offer encouragement or enhance moral morale. And there were no instructions to keep their heads down and focus on their jobs – a popular mood in the West Wing against the backdrop of a probe for special advice.
However, employees continue their work anyway, with some telling colleagues that we are looking at exits.
Already, Brian moved to reduce the size of the National Security Council after the president struck against the leaks. Earlier this month, Brian told White House officials that he planned to cut council staff by almost half and increase the percentage of political appointees in the process, CNN sources said.
This is likely to weaken staff already impregnated under Bolton, whose aides insist he is simply simplifying red tape.
Brian told White House officials and outside allies that he plans to shrink the National Security Council's staff by about 50% by early 2020, reducing the total staffing by exhausting 200 people. there are now a total of 120 people.
Speaking to Fox Business Network after the meeting, O & # 39; Brian stated that the council "just ballooned into massive bureaucracy" during the Obama administration. Brian does not turn to his employees until weeks after he has been overheard, and several employees have said that few have a clear understanding of his leadership style or how he can interact with those he has no hand in hiring – uncertainty about the complex day-to-day work for National Security Council staff.
Now, these officers must also deal with the additional complexities posed by the impeachment process, even before the call of two National Security Council officers: Windman and Morrison.
Meanwhile, National Security Council officials who may wish to have a reply from their former boss Bolton are receiving little public guidance on how he plans to address his own potential involvement in the inquiry. Bolton was silent on the radio after reports emerged that House investigators were interested in hearing from him for the first time, leaving employees to decide for themselves what to do next.
His former deputy Charles Copperman – who retains the same lawyer – threw a wrench into the impeachment trial last week, asking a judge to decide whether he was required to appear, a move that appeared to be an effort to delay his testimony .
It remains unlikely that Cooperman's lawyer will seek an alternative approach to Bolton, whose testimony now appears to be in the hands of a federal judge. Prior to bringing the case, sources close to Bolton told CNN they would be surprised if he was prepared to appear before the House commissions despite his unceremonious firing by Trump.
Bolton keeps his plans close to his waistcoat, raising questions about how current National Security Council officials who have maintained close relations with him will handle any summons or request for a testimony.