President also gives Priebus access to sensitive meetings while partially excluding defense chiefs and requesting strategies to defeat Isis
Alan Yuhas/The Guardian – Saturday 28 January 2017 22.49 EST
President Donald Trump granted controversial adviser Steve Bannon a regular seat at meetings of the National Security Council on Saturday, in a presidential memorandum that brought the former Breitbart publisher into some of the most sensitive meetings at the highest levels of government.
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The president named Bannon to the council in a reorganization of the NSC. He also said his chief-of-staff Reince Priebus would have a seat in the meetings.
Trump also said the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the director of national intelligence, two of the most senior defense chiefs, will attend meetings only when discussions are related to their “responsibilities and expertise”. Barack Obama and George W Bush both gave the men in those roles regular seats on the council.
In an interview with the New York Times this week, Bannon called the press “the opposition party” and said it should “keep its mouth shut”. He has previously described himself as “a Leninist” and an “economic nationalist”.
Before he caught the ear of Trump while the businessman was a candidate, Bannon oversaw Breitbart news, a website that has featured racist and sexist articles. Like Trump, he entered government with no experience in public service.
Also on Saturday, Trump ordered a lifetime ban on administration officials lobbying for foreign governments and a five-year ban for domestic lobbying, in an executive order signed on Saturday.
The US president also signed executive memorandums on the reorganisation of the National Security Council and the formation of a new plan to defeat the Islamic State.
During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of Washington, which he depicted as a city rife with unscrupulous lobbyists and corrupt career politicians.
Since election day he has drawn criticism, however, by relying on lobbyists to advise his transition team, by stocking the government with potential conflicts of interest, and by refusing to divest or publicly account for his own ethics risks.
“So this is a five-year lobbying ban, and this is all of the people – most of the people standing behind me will not be able to go to work,” Trump said after signing the order.
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“It’s a two-year ban now and it’s got full of loopholes and this is a five-year ban. So you have one last chance to get out.”
When no one around his desk in the Oval Office said anything, Trump added: “Good, I had a feeling you were going to say that.”
The order prescribes a nine-part “pledge” that among other promises commits officials to five years without lobbying after they leave the government; to reject gifts from registered lobbyists and lobbying organizations; and to never lobby on behalf of a foreign government or political party.
The executive order has a provision that allows the president or “his designee” to grant a waiver to the ethics pledge.
The order stipulates that officials who violate the pledge can be debarred from their post and future lobbying, and possibly sued in civil court.
Trump has said he wants government officials to concentrate on their duties, rather than influence they may gain by dint of their position. Before his inauguration, he ordered a similar ban on lobbying for transition officials, but lobbyists have said that the order did nothing to close loopholes or stop undisclosed “shadow lobbying” or “strategic consulting”.
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Former officials can skip registration, for instance, by making sure to spend less than 20% of their time lobbying for a single client or in meetings with sitting officials.
In 2009, Barack Obama ordered a similar ban, for instance barring recent lobbyists from government posts and forbidding ex-officials from contact with their former agency for two years.
The rule allowed for exceptions, however, and advisers such as John Podesta, Robert Holleyman and Jim Hock all worked in his White House despite histories with influential Washington thinktanks and firms.
Trump also directed that the National Security Council be restructured, an action typical of a new administration, and requested strategies to defeat Isis. Trump ordered
“This is the plan to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, in other words Isis,” the president said. “I think it’s going to be very successful.
“That’s big stuff.”