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White House plans to cut foreign policy staff by nearly half

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser plans to dramatically cut the White House foreign policy unit as it comes under scrutiny over a whistleblower’s complaint that launched an impeachment inquiry by Congress.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien said late Thursday that he wants to gradually eliminate about half of the 178 staff members of the National Security Council over the next 15 months.

O’Brien, who recently took over after national security adviser John Bolton was ousted by the president, portrayed the cuts as an effort to return to staffing levels of the past.

He told NSC employees at a town hall meeting that the size of the staff grew to more than 200 under the Obama administration and that he wants to return it to the level it was under President George W. Bush and have about 100 people by the end of January.

“It just ballooned into a massive, you know, bureaucracy … under the last administration,” he said in an interview later on the Fox Business Network program “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”

Trump has also complained about the unidentified whistleblower and people in the NSC who apparently provided that person with information about a July 25 phone call he had with the Ukrainian president in which he pressed for an investigation of a political rival while his administration was delaying badly needed military aid to the Eastern European nation.

The complaint is now the central focus of the impeachment inquiry.

A senior administration official said Friday that the cuts were not related to the leaks and that the NSC would reduce employees through attrition by not replacing people as they finish their assignments at the White House.

A former staffer said there are a few areas of NSC that could be trimmed, but that some current staff members already work 60 to 70 hours a week and they worry that the job of providing the president with national security policy options will diminish as the unit shrinks. The staffer spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the staff reductions announced at the closed-door town hall meeting.