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Trump's plan to shrink NSC employees draws fire

But whether a smaller OBBenen-led NSC will have more influence over the president is far from clear. Trump has long since chosen his gut instinct over policy advice. And NSC officials fear the impeachment process, which focuses on whether Trump has tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival, will make the president even less credible with US bureaucracy than before.

Several NSC officials have already given horrific testimonies to the House committees, and a CIA official, who first signaled the presidential telephone conversation with Ukrainian Vladimir Zelensky, is reported to be a CIA employee, described in detail to CIA staff. NSC. President Trump likened the signalers and officials who spoke to him to spies.

So far, Brian, who took over from the ousted Conservative Hawk Bolton in September, seems confident in his approach.

"We're streamlining the National Security Council," he told CBS News on Sunday on Face the Nation. "We don't need to recreate the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security in the White House. We have great diplomats and soldiers and ̵

1; and people who can – that works for us in the departments. "

POLITICO talks to several current and former Trump administration officials and external experts to get acquainted with the changes. Most demanded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, although Brian himself was quite open to his plans.

The NSC is supposed to act as a body that coordinates US national security and foreign policy throughout the executive branch. Its influence varies depending on the administration.

Trump administration officials say the goal is to reduce NSC policy staff to less than 120 people by January. According to O'Brien, the number is down from 174. The figure does not include technical and support staff at the institution, which is not expected to cut much.

O'Brien stated that he was seeking a figure of political staff similar to that existing in the NSC during the first term of then-President George W. Bush. These numbers have steadily increased – and often exact numbers are not revealed – to the point where President Barack Obama had more than 200 political slots.

The Obama team shrinks the body somewhat in recent years, and Trump continues to do so.

Much of the shrinkage under O'Brien will be numb: most NSC policymakers are detailed by other agencies or departments, such as the Pentagon, usually in a year or two. As their details complete, fewer people can expect extensions. Their roles will remain vacant.

The NSC sectors that will lose the most slots are the so-called "Functional Directorates". Functional directorates deal with topics that are not geography-related, such as human rights or anti-terrorism.

At least two functional directorates – strategic planning and new technologies – are being phased out, said current and former NSC employees. The International Economics Directorate, previously reported to both the NSC and the National Economic Council, will now only report to the NEC.

An administration official said that the strategic planning department had already accomplished its core mission: developing Trump's national security strategy. The head of the department, Kevin Harrington, was named a strategic advisor to O & # 39; Brian and was instructed to "make a net evaluation of all our strategies to see how effective our strategies are," the official said.

Emerging technologies, which in theory deal with topics such as artificial intelligence, are seen as having lower results and duplicating other parts of government.

The relocation of the International Economics Directorate is partly to clarify who is responsible for it, current and former NSC officials said. There were complaints that when people on this team had a dual reporting structure, in interagency discussions, they would play one or the other depending on what was useful to them.

O'Brien also has no plans to revive the Homeland Security Council, which essentially only exists on paper, having originally been a Trump headquarters.

The counterparts of the functional directorates are the regional directorates – for example, dealing with Europe, the Middle East or South Asia.

Brian, who is the fourth national security adviser to Since taking office in 2017, Trump has signaled that he will prioritize regional directorates over functional ones, a decision that alarms

One concern is that the deactivation of Functional Directorates may lead to different US policies for different regions of the world, and because US employees dealing with regions are heavily invested in maintaining relationships … with other governments, there are also fears that it will disable issues such as human rights or ending corruption.

"For example, the United States should have a one-size-fits-all approach to democracy and governance, not a regional one," said an NSC official.

John Hans, author of The White House War, a book about the NSC and its history, adds that other governments may find it troublesome if the United States does not take a leading role in the long run on issues that cross national borders,

"Transnational things – a pandemic, financial crises, climate change – will continue to happen, but the White House will be less prepared to cope," he said.

But other NSC observers have denied similar concerns, saying that proper communication and coordination can help avoid pitfalls and stress that functional directorates are not marginalized. Make sure there is the right balance, however, it will fall to O & # 39; Brien and his chief deputy, Matt Pottinger, they said.

"I do not see this as the regional directorates have a greater opinion – that is, they should be consulted when they do the work," said a former NSC official.

O'Brien's decision to promote Potinger, formerly Asia's leader, was widely praised by NSC staff. O & # 39; Brien also sent senior Foreign Office officer Matthias Mittman as NSC Executive Secretary.

Such moves are deliberate and differentiate O & # 39; Brian from Bolton, who hired a few from outside government to fill the top ranks of the NSC. "If you bring in outsiders, you seem to be lacking in confidence in the organization," the official said.

O'Brien is an education lawyer and for the first time joined the Trump administration as a special hostage envoy.

O & # 39; Brien also held several meetings of the Board of Directors. Such meetings bring together Cabinet members and other senior US officials who focus on national security. Bolton was criticized for not holding enough of these gatherings.

Thanks to the impeachment investigation, the mood at the NSC Directorate, which deals with Europe and Russia, raises particular concern about the new NSC leadership. (A current NSC employee describes the directorate as "radioactive".)

Current and former employees in this department are among those who have had to testify in the impeachment investigation so far. These include Lieutenant Colonel Alex Windman, an expert from Ukraine who will remain at the NSC until July. The senior director of that department, Tim Morrison, recently left.

He was replaced by Andrew Pake, formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran. Peek has relatively little experience in dealing with Europe, but was chosen in part because of his close proximity to O'Brien, which should give the staff at the directorate some confidence and comfort.

"He is a natural guide," the Pake administration said. "He will take care of these guys. The best thing they can do is make sure they are well represented in the policy process. "

Like several who have filled the role before him, Brian mentions Brent Scowcroft as a role model for the role of National Security Advisor. Wash. His model has been described as an "honest broker", which means he presents the president with the views of US agencies instead of trying to usurp them with his own.

Trump's aides, however, admit that the president likes to seek out a wide range of opinions, we are over He goes with his own gut and it's hard to imagine how O & # 39; Brien changes that even if he makes the NSC more effective.

"I think he does the right thing by looking at the NSC again – what it works and whatnot, "a second former NSC employee told O'Brien." I think any new national security advisor would do the same. "

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