Ex-Trump Official Pushes Back at PBS Reporter's Pandemic Argument with Trump

March 17th, 2020 2:04 PM

Last week, liberals hailed PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor for arguing with President Trump in a Rose Garden press conference that he disbanded a National Security Council office on pandemics, and that the government “lost valuable time” on the coronavirus battle because of it.

On Monday, The Washington Post published an op-ed from Tim Morrison, a National Security Council official who briefly became a much-used name during the impeachment hearings. It was titled “No, the White House didn’t ‘dissolve’ its pandemic response office. I was there.” Morrison wrote in part: 

It has been alleged by multiple officials of the Obama administration, including in The Post, that the president and his then-national security adviser, John Bolton, “dissolved the office” at the White House in charge of pandemic preparedness. Because I led the very directorate assigned that mission, the counterproliferation and biodefense office, for a year and then handed it off to another official who still holds the post, I know the charge is specious....

When I joined the National Security Council staff in 2018, I inherited a strong and skilled staff in the counterproliferation and biodefense directorate. This team of national experts together drafted the National Biodefense Strategy of 2018 and an accompanying national security presidential memorandum to implement it; an executive order to modernize influenza vaccines; and coordinated the United States’ response to the Ebola epidemic in Congo, which was ultimately defeated in 2020.

It is true that the Trump administration has seen fit to shrink the NSC staff. But the bloat that occurred under the previous administration clearly needed a correction. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, congressional oversight committees and members of the Obama administration itself all agreed the NSC was too large and too operationally focused (a departure from its traditional role coordinating executive branch activity). As The Post reported in 2015, from the Clinton administration to the Obama administration’s second term, the NSC’s staff “had quadrupled in size, to nearly 400 people.” That is why Trump began streamlining the NSC staff in 2017.

One such move at the NSC was to create the counterproliferation and biodefense directorate, which was the result of consolidating three directorates into one, given the obvious overlap between arms control and nonproliferation, weapons of mass destruction terrorism, and global health and biodefense. It is this reorganization that critics have misconstrued or intentionally misrepresented. If anything, the combined directorate was stronger because related expertise could be commingled.

Morrison says the NSC staff reductions continue, but it "has left the biodefense staff unaffected."

Only Fox News has reported this on television since it was posted at 1:37 pm Eastern on Monday. Bret Baier on Special Report and Shannon Bream on Fox News at Night each mentioned it. PBS certainly didn't talk about it as anchor Judy Woodruff asked Alcindor for the latest updates from the White House. "So much to keep track of," Woodruff concluded. But they didn't get to this article.