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Trump's plan to shrink NSC staff is catching fire

But whether a smaller, O'Brien-led NSC will have more influence on the president is far from clear. Trump has long chosen his gut instinct over political advice. And NSC employees fear the impeachment process, which focuses on whether Trump tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival, will make the president even less confident of the US bureaucracy than before.

Several NSC officials have already provided condemning testimony to the House committees, and the whistleblower who first flagged the President's telephone conversation with Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky is reported to be a CIA employee previously described to NSC staff. President Trump has been similar to the whistle and the officials who spoke to him as spies.

At the moment, O'Brien, who took over in September from the removed conservative hawk John Bolton, seems confident in his attitude.

"We streamline the National Security Council," he told CBS News "Face the Nation" on Sunday. “We do not need to recreate the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Home Security at the White House. We have amazing diplomats and soldiers and ̵

1; and people who can – who do what works for us in the departments. ”

POLITICO spoke with several current and former Trump administration officials, as well as external experts, to get information about the changes. Most people requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, although O'Brien himself has been fairly open about his plans.

NSC is intended to act as the body that coordinates US national security and foreign policy throughout the executive branch. Depending on the administration, its influence has varied.

Trump administration officials say the goal is to reduce NSC's policy staff to fewer than 120 people in January. According to O'Brien, the number will fall from 174. The figure does not include technical and support staff at the department, who are not expected to see many cuts.

O'Brien has said that he is aiming for a staff of personnel similar to what was at NSC during the first term of then-President George W. Bush. These numbers continued to grow – and often not exact numbers are revealed – to the point where there were more than 200 political gaps under President Barack Obama.

The Obama team has shrunk slightly in the last few years, and Trump has continued to do so.

Much of the shrinking under O'Brien will be through exhaustion: Most of the employees in NSC policy are detailed there from other agencies or departments, such as the Pentagon, usually for a year or two. When their details end, fewer can expect extensions. Their roles remain vacant.

The NSC sections for losing most places are the so-called "functional directorates." Functional directorates deal with topics that are not bound by geography, such as human rights or terrorism.

At least two functional directorates – strategic planning and new technology – are being phased out, said current and former NSC staff. The International Finance Directorate, which previously reported to both the NSC and the National Economic Council, will now only report to the NEC.

An administrative official said that the strategic planning department had already fulfilled its main mission: designing Trump's national security strategy. The person who led this directorate, Kevin Harrington, has been named O'Brien's strategic advisor, and he has been commissioned to "do a net appraisal of all of our strategies to see how effective our strategies are," the official said.

Growth techniques, which in theory deal with subjects like artificial intelligence, were seen as underperforming and duplicated by other parts of the government.

Moving the International Finance Directorate is partly about clarifying who is responsible for what, said current and former NSC staff. There have been complaints that when the people in that team had a dual reporting structure, in interagency discussions they would play one or the other depending on what favored them.

Nor does O'Brien have any plans to revive the Homeland Security Council, which essentially only exists in paper now after being headquartered under Trump.

The counterparties to the functional directorates are the regional directorates – those, for example, dealing with Europe, the Middle East or South Asia.

O & # 39; Brien, who is Trump's fourth national security adviser since taking office in 2017, has signaled he will prioritize regional directorate over functional ones, a decision that has worried some NSC employees.

One concern is that de-emphasizing functional directorates can lead to different US policies for different regions of the world, and because US officials who handle regions are very Invested in maintaining relations with other governments, there is also a concern that they will emphasize issues such as human rights or the termination of corruption.

"For example, the United States should have a strategy for democracy and governance globally, not different regionally," says an NSC staff.

John Gans, author of "White House Warriors," a book on NSC and its history, added that other governments may find it worrying if the United States does not eventually take the lead in issues that cross national borders.

"The transnational things – a pandemic, financial crises, climate change – will still happen but the White House will be less equipped to handle," he said.

However, other observers of the NSC belittled such concerns, saying that proper communication and coordination can help avoid pitfalls and emphasize that the functional directorates are not marginalized. Making sure that there is a proper balance, however, will fall to O'Brien and his top assistant, Matt Pottinger, they said.

"I don't see it because the regional directorates have a bigger statement – it's that they have to be consulted when doing the work," said a former NSC staff.

O'Brien's decision to promote Pottinger, formerly an older Asia hand, has largely met with praise among NSC staff. O'Brien has also taken over a senior official in the Foreign Office, Matthias Mitman, to serve as NSC's executive secretary.

Such movements are deliberate and separate O'Brien from Bolton, who employed several people outside the government to fill NSC's top ranks. "If you bring in outsiders, it looks like you are expressing a lack of confidence in the organization," the official said.

O'Brien is a lawyer through education and he first joined the Trump administration as its special envoy for hostage.

O'Brien has also already held several meetings with the Rector's Committee. Such meetings bring together cabinet members and other high-ranking US officials who focus on national security. Bolton was criticized for not having enough of these meetings.

Thanks to the survey on impeachment, the sentiment of the NSC Directorate, which deals with Europe and Russia, is of particular interest to the new management of NSC. (The current NSC staff described it as "radioactive.")

Current and former employees in that department are among those who have had to testify in the remuneration investigation to date. Among them are Lt. Alex Vindman, a Ukrainian expert is expected to stay at NSC until July. The Senior Director of that division, Tim Morrison, recently quit.

He has been replaced by Andrew Peek, formerly a Deputy Deputy State Secretary for Iraq and Iran. Peek has had relatively little experience in dealing with Europe, but he was chosen in part because of his proximity to O'Brien, which should give employees in that directorate some confidence and comfort.

"He is a natural leader," said the administrator of Peek. "He'll take care of these guys. The best thing he can do is make sure they're well represented in politics."

Like many who filled the role before him, O & # 39; Brien has mentioned Brent Scowcroft as a role model for the role of national security adviser.

Scowcroft served in that position under both Presidents Gerald Ford and George HW Buske, and his model has been described as the "honest broker", which means he presented the president with views from US agencies instead of trying Using them with their own.

Aide to Trump, however, admits that while the president likes to seek a broad spectrum of opinions, he ultimately goes with his own gut. It's hard to imagine O'Brien changing that, even if he makes NSC more effective.

"I think he's doing the right thing by taking another look at NSC – what worked and what didn't," said another former NSC employee on O'Brien. "I think all new national security advisers would do the same."

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