Retired U.S. Navy Adm. Michael Mullen / Reuters

Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Strongly Urges Removal of Steve Bannon from National Security Council

Seven years ago this week, retired U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in support of ending the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that kept gay and lesbian service members from serving openly.

Then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, Mullen said “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do” and ultimately “comes down to integrity theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.” The policy was fully repealed 19 months later.

On Monday, Mullen once again stood up for the integrity of an institution and its people, and the right thing to do, penning a candid and forceful op-ed in The New York Times calling for the removal of Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, from his atypical role on the National Security Council one whose presence, Mullen wrote, creates a situation “that is unhealthy for the republic.”

Considered one of the nation’s most distinguished military leaders, Mullen was named chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President George W. Bush in 2007, serving in his National Security Council, and re-nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009. The Senate confirmed Mullen unanimously.

In his op-ed in The Times titled,”I was on the National Security Council. Bannon doesn’t belong there,” Mullen says Bannon’s role in the NSC is “unsettling and should be remedied as soon as possible.”

Trump signed a presidential memorandum last month that gave Bannon an elevated position as a regular attendee of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, while at the same time downgrading the role of the nation’s top military and intelligence advisers as regular attendees.

The move not only to elevate Bannon but to diminish the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence was widely criticized by both Democrats and Republicans, along with many national security experts and Mullen.

“In my experience there are very few if any meetings of the principals committee at which the input of the military and the intelligence community is not vital,” Mullen wrote. “With an increasingly belligerent Russia, tensions in the South China Sea and a smoldering Middle East, it makes little sense to minimize the participation of the professionals leading and representing these two groups.”

Mullen continued, “The Trump White House insists that the new organizational structure does not downgrade the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs or the director of national intelligence. (The White House and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, have both said that General Dunford will fully participate in the council’s duties.) If this is true, the administration should clarify that by making them permanent members of the principals committee. That would send a strong signal that Mr. Trump will still take seriously the military and intelligence community.”

Meanwhile, a New York Times report on Sunday citing White House sources suggests Trump did not read the order prior to signing it. “Mr. Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council, a greater source of frustration to the president than the fallout from the travel ban.”

Mullen goes on to say that Bannon’s presence alone on the principals committee is justification for concern:

“Putting aside for a moment Mr. Bannon’s troubling public positions, which are worrisome enough, institutionalizing his attendance threatens to politicize national security decision making,” he wrote.

“Having Mr. Bannon as a voting member of the principals committee will have a negative influence on what is supposed to be candid, nonpartisan deliberation. I fear that it will have a chilling effect on deliberations and, potentially, diminish the authority and the prerogatives to which Senate-confirmed cabinet officials are entitled. They, unlike Mr. Bannon, are accountable for the advice they give and the policies they execute.”

Read Mullen’s entire op-ed here.

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