Jun 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump's fourth NSC Russia director is leaving the White House

Trump
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The fourth senior official to handle the Russia portfolio at the White House in three years is leaving his position, creating the potential for more uncertainty months before the U.S. election.

Driving the news: Tom Williams, who had been serving as the acting senior director for European and Russian Affairs at the National Security Council, will be returning to the Pentagon, according to national security adviser Robert O'Brien.

  • "After two years of service detailed to the NSC, Tom Williams is returning to the Pentagon when his detail ends, as is customary," O'Brien said in a statement.

The big picture: Williams is the latest departure in an NSC that has seen unprecedented turmoil and staff turnover.

  • Two of Williams' predecessors handling the Russia brief, Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison, testified in the House impeachment inquiry about President Trump's withholding of aid to Ukraine — as did Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, another official in the Russia directorate.
  • His third predecessor, Andrew Peek, was placed on administrative leave pending a security review, Axios reported in January.
  • Trump is also on his fourth national security adviser, with his first, Michael Flynn, still facing criminal prosecution, and his last, John Bolton, flaming the president in a tell-all that is roiling Washington.

Between the lines: There was internal debate — and concern at the NSC — over Trump's decision to issue a joint declaration with Russian President Vladimir Putin to mark the 75th Anniversary of U.S. and Russian troops meeting in Germany on their way to defeat the Nazis.

  • "The 'Spirit of the Elbe' is an example of how our countries can put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause," the statement said.

The bottom line: Fiona Hill recently told the Financial Times of her experience at the National Security Council: “I knew more about what was going on in the Kremlin than what was going on in the White House.”

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