It’s still not clear why President Trump’s third National Security Council director for Russia and Eurasia was escorted out of the White House by security last week.
But what is clear is that it’s a really big deal.
NSC director for Russia and Eurasia Andrew Peek was put on administrative leave last week amid an unspecified security-related investigation.
Steven Pifer, a former NSC for Russia and Eurasia, told TPM that he could not recall any previous instance in which an NSC director had been escorted off the premises.
“If it has, it’s very unusual,” Pifer said. “It suggests that there’s a security issue that could affect his clearance.”
A former deputy assistant secretary of state for the bureau of near eastern affairs, Peek had reportedly been under investigation for unspecified allegations before taking the position in November 2019.
Peek followed two NSC officials before him over the past 12 months who were caught up in the impeachment of President Trump.
Fiona Hill testified as a major witness in the impeachment inquiry, having been present at key aspects of the pressure campaign to force Kyiv to manufacture political dirt. Tim Morrison, her successor, departed in November 2019 after agreeing to testify in the inquiry.
The position Peek occupied is serious, and involves transferring sensitive information to the President as well as ensuring that national security-related orders are implemented.
Though each national security adviser runs the NSC in different ways, and though that can vary between presidential administrations, the position’s core responsibilities remain the same.
Hill described the position in her testimony as “overseeing all of the interactions” within the executive branch “pertaining to Europe, our European allies … and also including Russia, Turkey, and the subject at hand, Ukraine.” That also involved “coordinating U.S. policy” and meeting with intelligence analysts for up-to-date information.
Peek’s role would have been substantially similar, which raises the stakes of his removal.
Pifer, the former NSC official, told TPM that certain violations tend to come with a reprimand, but that the response varies with the severity of the allegation.
“It could be a particularly egregious security violation, they do happen,” Pifer said. “But when I saw the report saying he was escorted out, I thought, ‘that is not usual.'”
Peek was scheduled to travel to Davos with President Trump this week, but was removed from the trip once he was placed on administrative leave. The NSC said in a statement that it does not comment on personnel matters.
Tom Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, tweeted that the allegations had to have been “‘yikes’ level bad” for Peek to have been escorted away from the White House.
I don't know what Andrew Peek did, and the rumors are unverified so I'm not repeating them. But for someone that senior to get escorted off the grounds and have his Davos flight tix torn up means it wasn't some misplaced paperwork. It was something "yikes" level bad.
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) January 20, 2020
To Loren DeJonge Schulman, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and former senior advisor to Obama-era National Security Adviser Susan Rice, the removal was “highly irregular.”
Schulman wrote to TPM that she only recalled one such incident occurring during the Obama administration.
In that case, a national security council staffer was found to have been tweeting inside, albeit non-sensitive gossip from an anonymous Twitter account, @natsecwonk.
The official involved – Jofi Joseph – was escorted from the premises after reportedly confessing to being behind the Twitter account.