Revolving Door
November 11, 2020

A new report from The New York Times suggests President Trump's new Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller may shake things up in the final two months of his administration.

Sources who have worked with Miller, whom the Times describes as a "little-known counterterrorism official," told the paper he can display an irreverent demeanor that sometimes clashes with the seriousness of the policy matter he has handled, and he's reportedly developed a reputation for being hard-charging and perhaps dismissive of traditional bureaucratic vetting procedures. Meanwhile, a recent incident that involves him bypassing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's authority indicates he may prefer to "ask forgiveness, not permission," although that's less relevant now that he's on a level playing field with the nation's top diplomat.

The previously unreported incident, per the Times, consisted of Miller flying to Qatar to gauge whether the country may help with plans to either buy off or marginalize senior leaders of Shabab, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia. Pompeo eventually caught wind of the mission and shut it down, the Times reports, but people who worked with the former Green Beret officer weren't surprised by the unorthodox idea. "Based on Chris Miller's military background in the Special Forces, he would certainly have a lot of interest in working with irregular forces or others to defeat our terrorist enemies," Luke Hartig, a former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council during the Obama administration, told the Times. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

November 1, 2020

President Trump's first term in office saw a lot of Cabinet turnover, and Politico reports that would likely continue if he wins re-election. Health and national security agencies could be part of a potential overhaul, with Politico circling Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper as a few of the officials who could be on the way out. All have had their differences with Trump during their tenures.

"I can only imagine the score-settling Trump would undertake if he won," one Republican close to the White House told Politico.

In a scenario in which Trump secures a second term, critics are anticipating a "vindicated and liberated" president who "will stack his Cabinet even more with loyalists," but other sources said Trump is purely focused on winning the election. "Trump is focused on the next week of winning, and it would be foolish for anyone to say to him right now, 'In the second term, I want to do this, I want to do that,'" another Republican close to the White House said. If anyone did suggest that, the source added, "you would get your head bashed in."

Besides, a former senior administration official said Trump, as he's been known to do, has plenty of time to change his mind before January. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

August 25, 2020

The Trump administration is tapping Tony Pham, the top attorney for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as the new head of the agency, The Washington Examiner and BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday.

Pham was born in what was then Saigon, South Vietnam (now Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam) and came to the United States as a refugee in 1975 and became a U.S. citizen 10 years later. BuzzFeed notes the Trump administration has dramatically cut the U.S. refugee program. Prior to joining ICE, Pham was a prosecutor in Richmond, Virginia, and later oversaw the Virginia Peninsula Regional jail.

"As a seasoned leader with [the Department of Homeland Security], Tony will ensure ICE continues to safeguard our country's borders from crime and illegal immigration," an ICE spokesperson told BuzzFeed.

Pham is replacing Matt Albence and will serve in an acting role. Read more at The Washington Examiner and BuzzFeed News. Tim O'Donnell

August 12, 2020

It doesn't sound like Defense Secretary Mark Esper will remain at his post for long after the November election, regardless of whether President Trump is re-elected, Bloomberg reports.

Trump has reportedly said he intends to find someone else to run the Pentagon if he wins in November, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. And one source said Esper himself has told people close to him he intends to leave no matter the outcome, so, if the reports are accurate, the two do at least appear to be on the same page. On the other hand, an official close to Esper did tell Bloomberg he is committed to serving in the role as long as Trump wants him to.

But it wouldn't be shocking if that turns out to be later this year — Trump has appeared frustrated with Esper on several occasions because the Pentagon chief doesn't always back him up on key issues. Esper also didn't agree with Trump's idea to send active-duty military to contain nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd's death earlier this summer, Bloomberg notes. Read more at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

April 26, 2020

It may seem unlikely that the White House would implement any major departmental leadership changes during a global health crisis, especially in the Department of Health and Human Services, but don't count it out just yet.

Though they're indeed reluctant to complete any major shakeups during the coronavirus pandemic, White House officials are discussing a plan to replace HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Politico and The Wall Street Journal report. Criticism of Azar's role has reportedly mounted in recent weeks, especially after Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority Rick Bright was moved to a National Institutes of Health position, a transfer which Bright described as a form of retaliation, reportedly rattling some administration officials.

President Trump had reportedly expressed frustration with Azar even before the pandemic and ultimately replaced him as the coronavirus task force leader with Vice President Mike Pence. Some names that are being considered as his replacement include coronavirus coordinator Dr. Debora Birx, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, and Deputy HHS Secretary Eric Hargan, Politico reports.

Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement Saturday that Azar "continues to lead on a number of the president's priorities" and "any speculation about personnel is irresponsible." Read more at Politico and The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

March 7, 2020

More change is afoot in the White House.

President Trump announced Friday that retiring Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) will replace acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney in the role. Meadows is considered one of Trump's staunchest congressional allies.

Mulvaney, who filled the acting role in January 2019, is being appointed as the U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland. He will also shed his title as the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, which he retained while serving as chief of staff. The acting director, Russ Vought, is expected to be nominated for the permanent position. Mulvaney's exit was anticipated as he fell out of Trump's favor a while ago, but advisers urged the president to keep him on until after his Senate impeachment trial in February, The New York Times reports.

It's no surprise to see Meadows step into the void — he and Trump reportedly often speak over the phone early in the morning and late at night, and the president considers the congressman a loyal voice in what he sees as an ever more untrustworthy Republican House, The Washington Post reports. But not everyone thinks that's the case — multiple current and former Trump aides told the Post they believe Meadows often tells the president one thing while relaying a completely different message to Capitol Hill.

Another longtime Trump adviser didn't have many reservations about Meadows' allegiance to the president, but the person is apparently worried Meadows doesn't have what it takes to keep the White House running smoothly as Trump begins to spend more time on the campaign trail this year.

The choice does have its supporters, though. One senior administration official called Meadows a "savvy strategist" who is always thinking of "angles and approaches that others won't." Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

February 19, 2020

The Pentagon's top policy official is reportedly on his way out.

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy at the Pentagon John Rood will reportedly step down from his post — which Bloomberg notes is one of the most important in the Defense Department — two sources familiar with the matter said. Rood apparently lost support among senior national security leadership, and White House officials reportedly considered him an impediment to the Trump administration's defense policies. He has served in the role since 2018.

In President Trump's impeachment saga, Rood was the official who initially certified to Congress that Ukraine's reforms justified sending Kyiv $250 million in military aid in May 2019. Subsequently, CNN reported Rood exchanged emails with Defense Secretary Mark Esper on July 25 last year (the same day as Trump's infamous call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky) where Rood expressed concern over the White House's plan to halt the aid.

In the email, Rood wrote the freeze "would jeopardize this unique window of opportunity and undermine our defense priorities with a key partner in this strategic competition with Russia."

There's no indication the email is the reason behind Rood's forthcoming resignation. Read more at CNN and Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

October 12, 2019

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan is resigning from his post after six months, President Trump confirmed Friday.

Trump tweeted that he and McAleenan "worked well together" and that the secretary helped decrease the number of crossings at the U.S.'s southern border, but he now wanted "to spend more time with his family and go to the private sector." In turn, McAleenan thanked Trump for the opportunity. However, reports indicate that McAleenan was privately at odds with the Trump administration's immigration policies, which led to frustrations within the White House. "No one's sad about it," an administration official told Politico. "How many times do we have to do this before someone realizes it actually matters who heads these agencies?"

During his tenure, though, McAleenan did expand a program that has forced around 50,000 migrants to remain in Mexico, and he signed deals with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras that would deny asylum protections in the U.S. to migrants if they failed to apply for asylum in another country during their journey.

Trump has not announced a replacement, but said he would choose next week. Deputy Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske would seemingly be next in line to fill the acting role, and Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, is another possibility. But Politico reports that acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli, who is known for his hardline stances, appears to be the favorite. "The president understands that the opposition seeks to stop his efforts to secure the border and restore control over our nation's immigration system through court orders and injunctions," said RJ Hauman, government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors immigration restrictions. "What better force to stop this than the former attorney general of Virginia and one of the most skilled appellate lawyers in the country?" Tim O'Donnell

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