White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday labeled reporting that the roles of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and director of National Intelligence have been diminished at the National Security Council as “utter nonsense.”
“The idea is that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the DNI are being downgraded or removed is utter nonsense,” he told reporters at his daily briefing, gesturing with a sheaf of papers in his hand. “They are at every NSC meeting and are welcome to attend the principals meetings as well.”
President Donald Trump took steps on Saturday to restructure the National Security Council, adding his chief strategist Steve Bannon to the principals committee. He also specified that his director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would attend NSC meetings specifically “where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.”
Spicer said at the briefing that those officials are “not required but certainly welcome to be in attendance” at principals’ meetings that fall outside their purview.
“We recognize that certain homeland security issues may not be military issues and it would not be in the best interest of the joint chiefs’ valuable time to be at these meetings,” Spicer said.
He argued any suggestion that Trump would “downgrade” the role of those officials demonstrates “a fundamental misunderstanding of the tremendous respect” he said Trump holds for the chairman and the joint chiefs as a group.
“For the record, I know someone tweeted out, where was the CIA in this?” Spicer said. “The president has such respect for Director Pompeo and the men and women of the CIA that today the president is announcing that he will amend the memo to add the CIA back into the NSC.”
He held up a print-out apparently of the tweet in question from Susan Rice, who was former President Obama’s national security adviser.
“It was the Obama administration that didn’t have it in,” Spicer added. “The CIA is in ours and it wasn’t in theirs.”