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How The National Security Council Has Changed Under Trump


As of noon today, John Bolton's Twitter bio still ID'd him as the president's national security adviser. Bolton was still listed that way on the White House website, too - a case of the digital world struggling to keep up with the rapid turnover in the most senior ranks of the Trump administration. Because Bolton is officially out, his former deputy, Charles Kupperman, has been tapped in an acting capacity. But what kind of National Security Council will he inherit, and who will have the president's ear going forward on major foreign policy decisions? For more on that, we are joined by Susan Glasser, who covers the Trump administration for The New Yorker.

Hi, Susan.


KELLY: So John Bolton was seen as running a very nontraditional National Security Council. It's been reported he didn't like meetings. He didn't like the whole bureaucracy of aides that came with the NSC, saw it as more hindrance than help. Based on your reporting, is that true?

GLASSER: Absolutely. You know, of course, what's nontraditional is the presidency, and every aspect of it really reflects that in some way or another. John Bolton was a skilled bureaucratic infighter, and I think that is one of the explanations for his very sudden demise this week. You know, essentially, he ran out of running room with his colleagues who were pretty furious that he was not serving in an honest broker role and presenting to the president the full range of foreign policy options and foreign policy thinking among his national security team.

KELLY: Wait. Give me an example of how that played out. You're saying there were different and competing points of view coming into the NSC, but John Bolton was seen to be funneling them and only communicating his advice to the president.

GLASSER: Well, by all reports, that is a part of it and was a major irritant. In fact, I was told working on a profile of Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, recently that he and Bolton were not even on speaking terms and had been reduced, essentially, to communicating through intermediaries. And, of course, that's going to really hinder the ability of the White House to get the full range of foreign policy thinking.

KELLY: The National Security Council was created decades ago to impose stability, to impose a structure for managing the inevitable disputes and conflicting points of view that arise with U.S. foreign policy. If a character like John Bolton comes in and finds a way to work around the system or even dismantle the system, do you risk chaos?

GLASSER: Yes, absolutely. But there's no surprise about John Bolton and how he operated. John Bolton was on the record being very critical of Donald Trump well before he was named to be his national security adviser. I was running down a list - probably not comprehensive at all - of the foreign policy areas in which Bolton while national security adviser has been publicly reported to disagree with the president - Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Ukraine, Russia, Venezuela.

KELLY: Pretty much every foreign policy hot spot on the map.

GLASSER: Correct.

KELLY: Well, let me move you to the question of who might be next, who might be tapped as Trump's fourth national security adviser. I was interviewing Susan Rice yesterday, President Obama's national security adviser, and I asked her who would want this job. Here's her response.


SUSAN RICE: (Laughter) It's hard to think of anybody in their right mind who would want this job.

KELLY: Susan Glasser, surely someone must want to coordinate the national security of the United States.

GLASSER: You know, it's a big country, and there's always somebody to raise their hand. But I think it's important to point out to people no president has ever had this many national security advisers in this short period of time.

KELLY: What do we know about Charles Kupperman, who we mentioned is stepping in as the acting national security adviser?

GLASSER: Well, look, he's a longtime Bolton loyalist. And I think he is likely to leave. And it suggests that they didn't have anyone ready to go and teed up for this crucial position. I mean, we're talking on the 18th anniversary of 9/11. If something like that horrific attack were to happen again today, John Bolton or whoever was his designated successor would be in charge of marshaling America's response to an attack like that. And the fact that the president just seems to have on almost the spur of the moment decided on this major reorganization, not informed key staff, it suggests a level of unseriousness in probably the most serious job that we have in the U.S. government.

KELLY: Susan Glasser, thank you.

GLASSER: Thank you.

KELLY: Susan Glasser of The New Yorker. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.