President Donald Trump is cleaning house at the National Security Council, scrubbing dozens of Obama administration holdovers in the agency after dumping Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the NSC’s expert on Ukraine, who testified against the president in the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, late last year.
Vindman was recalled from his post on Friday, months earlier than he expected, and will be reassigned to the Defense Department, according to CNN. House Democrats — and Vindman’s attorney — claim Vindman is being punished for his testimony, in which he reported being uncomfortable with the content of a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian officials.
The White House responded that Vindman serves at the discretion of the president, and Trump is well within his rights to let Vindman go. President Trump himself took to Twitter to defend the dismissal, noting that Vindman “was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information.”
Vindman’s twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, who worked as an attorney for the National Security Council, was also fired on Friday. House Democrats announced Monday that they will be initiating an investigation into whether the two Vindmans were punished for being “whistleblowers” in volation of Federal law.
The Washington Examiner reports, though, that the “house-cleaning” goes deeper than the two Vindmans, and is part of an extensive effort to pare down the NSC and several other agencies, packed with Obama-era officials. Acting national security advisor Robert O’Brien has already cut dozens of personnel and is expected to cut dozens more, letting at least 70 individuals go from the foreign policy and intelligence agency.
“President Trump is making good on his promises to ‘drain the swamp’ and cut Obama-era holdovers from his staffs, especially the critical and recently controversial National Security Council,” the Examiner said Tuesday. “Many were loaners from other agencies and have been sent back. Others left government work.”
The National Security Council had around 100 employees at the height of the global war on terror, during the George W. Bush administration. Without reason, President Barack Obama more than doubled the staff, leaving the Trump administration with a bloated, 230-person NSC, packed, reportedly, with Obama loyalists.
O’Brien wants to return to the lean, Bush-era staff.
CNN reports that O’Brien has been busy already.
“As of December, 40 to 45 staff detailed to the NSC had already been sent back to the departments and agencies where they originally worked,” the network reported. “In January, about 180 officials from the Pentagon, the State Department, Homeland Security and the various intelligence agencies were on loan to the NSC” and O’Brien “expects to have about 60 to 70 staffers return to their home agency” by the end of this month.
The scale-back is not unusual for the Trump administration, which has been cutting staff across the Federal government, partly to reduce overhead and cost, partly to make systems more efficient, and party to clear the so-called “deep state” of Obama administration officials that exists within a number of agencies — and which the Trump White House claims subverts the president’s agenda.