"The Obama People Better Start Packing Their Shit" - John Bolton Expected To "Clean House" At The NSC
24 March, 2018
The cautious and considered HR McMaster is leaving the White House to be replaced by one of the most polarizing, irascible figures operating in contemporary national security circles: Former UN Ambassador John Bolton.
So it should hardly come as a surprise that Bolton plans to shake up the National Security Council staff when he arrives in the West Wing. Foreign Policy reports that Bolton, Trump's third NSA in 15 months, is preparing to begin firing staff and replacing them with his own allies, as well as a few allies of former NSA Michael Flynn, who share Bolton's hawkish views.
"Bolton can and will clean house," one former White House official said.
Another source said "He is going to remove almost all the political [appointees] McMaster brought in."
A second former White House official offered a blunt assessment of former Obama officials currently detailed or appointed to the NSC: "Everyone who was there during Obama years should start packing their shit."
McMaster’s departure may have been hastened by leaks emanating from the White House. Two sources familiar with the matter said McMaster was going to stay on until early summer.
But when the Washington Post reported this week that Trump had congratulated Putin in a phone call on his fraudulent election win — after receiving written briefing materials from the NSC instructing him not to congratulate Putin — the president reacted furiously and blamed McMaster. The story caused Trump to speed up McMaster’s departure, the sources said.
On Thursday evening, just hours after Trump tapped him for the job, Bolton held a call with longtime advisors, including Matthew Freedman, a Republican consultant who once advised Bolton at the State Department and the United Nations. Freedman is currently helping manage the transition, according to a source familiar with the call.
"Freedman is a very political guy that Bolton likes," one Republican source said. "He is overly ambitious about cleaning house."
Freedman disputed that account, saying he was not aware of the Thursday phone call. "I can tell you there is no list," he said.
Another source close to Bolton said it was premature to be talking about personnel changes.
Among the officials Bolton’s allies are urging him to fire is Nadia Schadlow, currently the deputy national security advisor for strategy. Schadlow was the primary author of the administration’s recently released National Security Strategy, which was viewed as a surprisingly mainstream document that reaffirmed many traditional U.S. foreign-policy positions. Another official likely to be targeted in a Bolton purge is McMaster’s deputy, Ricky Waddell.
It wouldn’t be the first purge to follow a change in Trump’s national security advisor. When Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster replaced retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in the job last year, McMaster systematically eliminated officials seen as loyal to his predecessor. According to four sources close to the White House, those so-called "Flynnstones" - advisors loyal to Flynn - are believed to be plotting their return to the NSC.
Whether Bolton will sign off on the staff purge his allies and advisors are pushing is less clear, though he has been insistent about ousting so-called Obama holdovers. "You could easily say that people close to Bolton want these people to go," one source said. Other sources stress that Bolton, a veteran bureaucratic infighter, makes his own decisions.
A source close to Bolton cautioned that any staffing changes would take time, given the need to process security clearances. That means Bolton will likely be stuck with his current staff for the May summit meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.