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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.”

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
Oct 9, 2020 - World

Trump aiming for nuclear arms deal with Russia before Election Day

Trump and Putin the G20 last June. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The Trump administration is pushing to get a nuclear arms control agreement with Russia ready for President Trump and Vladimir Putin to apply their signatures before Election Day.

Where things stand: The U.S. believes the prospective deal has buy-in from Putin — who has discussed arms control on a series of phone calls with Trump — and could be negotiated in as little as a week, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

13 mins ago - Health

Moderna to file for FDA emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine

Photo illustration by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Moderna announced that it plans to file with the FDA Monday for an emergency use authorization for its coronavirus vaccine, which the company said has an efficacy rate of 94.1%.

Why it matters: Moderna will become the second company to file for a vaccine EUA after Pfizer did the same earlier this month, potentially paving the way for the U.S. to have two COVID-19 vaccines in distribution by the end of the year. The company said its vaccine has a 100% efficacy rate against severe COVID cases.

The social media addiction bubble

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Right now, everyone from Senate leaders to the makers of Netflix's popular "Social Dilemma" is promoting the idea that Facebook is addictive.

Yes, but: Human beings have raised fears about the addictive nature of every new media technology since the 18th century brought us the novel, yet the species has always seemed to recover its balance once the initial infatuation wears off.