JAKE TAPPER (HOST): An American president has a tremendous amount of power. At least once a week, a life or death decision comes across his Resolute desk: a military strike against a terrorist cell, a hostage rescue attempt, an Iranian ship too close to a U.S. naval vessel in the strait of Hormuz. A president needs information. He needs intelligence, and he needs the expertise of seasoned professionals. The very first week of the Trump presidency does not provide much evidence that information and expertise from outside the president's immediate circle are valued as much as they should be. That's at least according to Democratic and Republican national security experts with whom I've spoken. The number of agencies and experts and congressional leaders consulted or even briefed upon the executive order on immigration and refugees was, Republican and Democratic officials say, shockingly small.
The White House today took great pains to suggest that reports of a major shakeup at the National Security Council are, quote, "utter nonsense." To be charitable, those are alternative facts from our friends at the White House. National security experts in the presidential memorandum making the change disagree. The president in his new memo gave Steven Bannon, the former publisher of Breitbart, a seat on the principal's committee of the National Security Council. To be clear, this has never been done before. President George W. Bush did not even invite strategist Karl Rove to the meetings. Barack Obama would allow strategist David Axelrod to occasionally attend NSC meetings, but only as an observer. Because giving a purely political staffer a principal's committee seat on the National Security Council, that's brand new, and it is unsettling to a great many experts from both major political parties.
In addition, President Trump has said that the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are no longer on the National Security Council principal's committee but, quote, "They shall attend where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed," unquote. This is also a tremendous change, despite claims otherwise. Why the president would think that the former publisher of Breitbart is a more important voice on national security matters than the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the director of National Intelligence, that's a mystery.
Except, of course, that the fear is that this is a White House that seems not to value sufficiently information and expertise from outside expert voices. Republican Senator John McCain called the National Security Council changes a, quote, "radical departure," and Ambassador Susan Rice, President Obama's former national security adviser, described the decision as, quote, "stone cold crazy."