“Why would Mike do that?” sources say President Trump wondered aloud before instructing Chief of Staff John Kelly to get rid of Vice President Mike Pence's new national security advisor.
A report by Axios says that President Trump was disturbed that Pence had appointed Jon Lerner, a deputy to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, to his staff. Axios cited three sources who say that Trump did not like the fact that that Lerner had helped create attack ads for the Club for Growth during the Republican primaries and considered him to be a “card-carrying member of the Never Trump movement.”
Trump's order came as Pence and his staff were enroute to Peru for the Summit of the Americas last Friday. When Pence became aware of the president's plan to dismiss Lerner, he called the Oval Office and was able to persuade the president to let Lerner stay. Over the weekend, Lerner withdrew from consideration for the position, CNN reported.
“Tonight Jon informed the vice president that he was withdrawing from coming on board as national security adviser and the vice president accepted his decision,” Alyssa Farah, Pence's press secretary, said. There is no indication at the moment that Lerner will leave his position with Ambassador Haley.
Last week, Josh Rogin of the Washington Post wrote that Lerner would work for both Pence and Haley, an unorthodox arrangement that concerned some in the White House. “Over the past year,” Rogin said, “Pence and Haley have been coordinating closely on foreign policy, advocating long-held GOP foreign policy positions such as increased pushback against Russia, stronger pressure on North Korea, more resources for Afghanistan, a tougher position on the Assad regime in Syria and more. Now the two officials will have the same key adviser on national security.”
A Republican source close to the Administration told CNN that Lerner's appointment had caused “a big damn mess” in the White House. Kelly reportedly said that Nick Ayers, Pence's chief of staff, had not fully disclosed Lerner's anti-Trump background while Ayers told associates that Kelly, Haley, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and others were in the loop.
Axios reported that some White House officials also questioned Lerner's lack of foreign policy experience. Lerner and Ayers had worked on Nikki Haley's 2011 gubernatorial campaign in South Carolina where Lerner served as a pollster and political strategist. Pence's team had argued that Lerner had performed well in his role as Haley's deputy.
Trump has historically given Vice President Pence a free hand in choosing his staff. The objection to Lerner was reportedly the first time that the president has interfered in Pence's personnel appointments.
The kerfuffle underscores the importance that President Trump attaches to personal loyalty. The president is apparently still sensitive enough about Republican primary attacks during the campaign that it is problematic if former Trump critics inhabit positions in the Administration that are too close to the West Wing.
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