White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus pushed back Sunday against claims that the nation’s top military and intelligence leaders are barred from participating in the National Security Council.
President Trump confounded the national security and intelligence communities Saturday by issuing an executive order overhauling the makeup of the council.
As part of that order, Mr. Trump wrote that Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Michael Dempsey, acting director of national intelligence, would attend council meetings “as needed.”
During a heated exchange with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mr. Priebus said the clause is not an attempt to remove Gen. Dunford or Mr. Dempsey from the council.
“They’re invited to be attendees of the Security Council at any time that they want to,” Mr. Preibus said during an interview on “Meet the Press.”
As president-elect, Mr. Trump floated the notion of abolishing the position of director of national intelligence, opting to have National Security Adviser Michael Flynn be the White House’s point man on intelligence issues.
That claim came amid a war of words between Mr. Trump and the intelligence community over allegations that Russia conducted a multifaceted influence campaign during the election season with the goal of assisting Mr. Trump win the White House.
Despite Mr. Priebus’ claims Sunday, the exclusion of Gen. Dunford and Mr. Dempsey and the addition of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon to the council drew the ire of former administration officials.
“This is stone-cold crazy,” former National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice tweeted shortly after the release of the White House order. “Who needs military advice of intel to make policy on [the Islamic State], Syria, Afghanistan [and North Korea].”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the move, saying Mr. Trump’s council overhaul will “make sure that we streamline the process for the president to make decisions on key, important intelligence matters.”
“What they have done is modernize the National Security Council so that it is less bureaucratic and more focused on providing the president with the intelligence he needs,” Mr. Spicer said.
Mr. Trump already “gets plenty of information” from the Pentagon and the intelligence community, and Gen. Flynn already “understands the intelligence process and the reforms that are needed probably better than anybody else,” the spokesman said, defending the order’s language during a Sunday interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
As president-elect, Mr. Trump said repeatedly that he did not plan to maintain the president’s traditional daily intelligence briefing once he took office.
“I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day,” he said in a December interview with Fox News. “I’m a smart guy, [and] I get it when I need it.”
Mr. Spicer also cited Mr. Bannon’s military experience as a former Navy officer as a reason for his inclusion in the council, saying the former Wall Street banker and former chief executive of the ultraconservative news site Breitbart provides a “tremendous understanding of the world and the geopolitical landscape that we have now.”
Mr. Bannon will not give military advice or recommendations to Mr. Trump, Mr. Spicer said, but “having the chief strategist for the president in those meetings who has a significant military background to help guide what the president’s final analysis is going to be is crucial.”