John Bolton, national security adviser, speaks during the Wall Street Journal CFO Network conference in Washington on June 11. (Alex Edelman/Bloomberg News)
Columnist

Staff changes are coming to the National Security Council this summer as national security adviser John Bolton elevates some of the senior officials he brought on and bids farewell to some of the people he inherited from his predecessor.

The NSC’s top official dealing with Russia, Fiona Hill, will return to the Brookings Institution, two administration officials told me. She will be replaced by Tim Morrison, who currently serves as NSC senior director for weapons of mass destruction and nonproliferation-related issues. Anthony Ruggiero, who joined the NSC last year to work on Asia, will take the helm of the WMD bureau as senior director.

Rear Adm. Doug Fears, homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser on the NSC staff, will leave the White House soon as well and return to the Coast Guard. His successor will be Coast Guard Rear Adm. Peter Brown, who currently commands the Seventh Coast Guard in Miami. This is the job once held by Tom Bossert, but the post was downgraded and folded into the NSC when Bolton came on.

The NSC’s senior director for Africa, Cyril Sartor, will also leave the White House and return to his home agency, which has been publicly identified as the CIA. Elizabeth Erin Walsh, the current NSC senior director for international organizations and alliances, will move over to lead the NSC’s Africa team. Walsh served during the presidential transition in charge of State Department personnel appointments, where she worked closely with Bolton’s former deputy Mira Ricardel. Ricardel later was pushed out by Melania Trump’s press secretary. Jason Chao will be acting senior director of the international organizations and alliances at the NSC.

Bolton has slowly but surely changed the makeup of the NSC staff and tightened its structure since assuming office. He has replaced senior staff gradually as their details expire, and he now wants his senior team in place to establish stability in the run-up to the 2020 election, officials said.

“This is part of Bolton’s effort to bring his own people on and promote them up,” said one administration official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. "He’s putting his people in places where they can execute the president’s agenda.”

Bolton chose Charles Kupperman as his sole deputy national security adviser in January. He declined to appoint an NSC chief of staff after Fred Fleitz left the job last October to take over the Center for Security Policy, a conservative think tank. Bolton is known to convene “small-group NSC” meetings, selecting officials to join meetings on specific issues rather than inviting everyone who might want to be involved.

Hill has overseen all Russia and Europe work for more than two years at the NSC. She is leaving on good terms, officials said, after serving longer than most Trump appointees. Officials said she navigated the job skillfully while working for a president whose behavior when dealing with Russia and Vladimir Putin has caused endless controversy.

Hill had been selected by national security adviser Michael Flynn but served mostly under Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Bolton. Officials said Bolton respected and valued Hill. She has a reputation for being an expert on Putin and a clear-eyed analyst on Russia. But she came under fire from members of Trump’s base, including close Trump allies such as Roger Stone, who once called her a “mole” for George Soros simply because she served on the advisory board of the Soros-funded Open Society Institute.

Hill’s replacement, Morrison, is a longtime Capitol Hill aide, known as a Bolton loyalist and a “nuclear superhawk.” He will have an increased role in U.S.-Russia issues, including negotiations to replace the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the follow-up to the New START treaty.

“John Bolton has quietly gotten his very own John Bolton, and his name is Tim Morrison,” wrote the Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman. “Among arms controllers, Morrison’s name is equivalent to Keyser Söze.”

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