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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.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Here come Earmarks 2.0

DeLauro at a hearing in May 2020. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The House Appropriations Committee is preparing to restore a limited version of earmarks, which give lawmakers power to direct spending to their districts to pay for special projects.

Why it matters: A series of scandals involving members in both parties prompted a moratorium on earmarks in 2011. But Democrats argue it's worth the risk to bring them back because earmarks would increase their leverage to pass critical legislation with a narrow majority, especially infrastructure and spending bills.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
2 hours ago - Energy & Environment

UN says Paris carbon-cutting plans fall far short

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Nations' formal emissions-cutting pledges are collectively way too weak to put the world on track to meet the Paris climate deal's temperature-limiting target, a United Nations tally shows.

Driving the news: This morning the UN released an analysis of the most recent nationally determined contributions (NDCs) — that is, countries' medium-term emissions targets submitted under the 2015 pact.