White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert is leaving the Trump administration, another departure during what has been a chaotic few months of personnel changes.
Bossert’s resignation was requested by Bolton, according to three people familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal personnel issues. Bolton himself conveyed that request to Bossert on Tuesday morning when Bossert walked into the office, the people said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to comment on whether Bossert was pushed out.
“I’m not going to get into specific details about the ongoings of personnel. But I can tell you that he resigned,” she told reporters Tuesday. “The president feels he’s done a great job and wishes him the best as he moves forward.”
Bossert joins a growing list of officials who have left the administration in recent months as the historically high staff turnover rate continues under Trump.
So far this year, the president has changed his secretary of state, national security adviser, veterans affairs secretary, CIA director, chief economic adviser, staff secretary, communications director and members of his legal team.
Bossert and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster feuded bitterly throughout their tenure in the White House in meetings that on occasion devolved into screaming, according to people familiar with their relationship who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the situation. McMaster and others in the White House were particularly frustrated that Bossert was slow to move forward with a strategy to both defend the United States and punish Russia for its efforts to interfere in U.S. elections.
In late February, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the departing head of the National Security Agency, suggested in congressional testimony that he did not have the authority he required from the White House to combat Russian cyberattacks. “President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay and that therefore ‘I can continue this activity,’ ” said Rogers, who is set to retire in April. “Clearly what we have done hasn’t been enough.”
Inside the White House, many blamed Bossert for those shortcomings. “He’s a foot dragger on everything,” said a former senior U.S. official who worked with Bossert in the White House. “But that’s also how he hung on for a while in this crazy White House.”
Bossert has publicly taken issue with assertions that the Trump administration has not imposed sufficient costs on Russia.
“We are deterring through increased defenses, we are deterring through punitive measures that impose costs,” he said Sunday while speaking at the Cipher Brief national security conference in Sea Island, Ga. “We are applying economic, diplomatic, military penalties to our adversaries and, in some cases, to our friends that are behaving poorly.”
He also discounted any potential impact of Russian manipulation of social media in the 2016 election. “I frankly have a whole lot more confidence that no voter in this country was influenced by those ads,” he said. “I’m not forgiving the meddling in the slightest — it’s galling.”
Beyond Russia, there was widespread frustration in the White House that Bossert’s office had failed to produce formal strategies to deal with counterterrorism and cyberactivities. Bossert also suffered from a confusing chain of command inside the White House. He insisted that he reported directly to the president and not to the national security adviser, which became a major source of frustration for McMaster. His sudden forced resignation suggests Bolton may be intent on ensuring that Bossert’s replacement on cyber and counterterrorism strategy reports directly to him.
Bossert, who also served in the George W. Bush administration, wasn’t a marquee name, but he was liked by the president, senior administration officials said, and often defended Trump’s agenda in meetings and in interviews with the media.
His most public role came during last summer’s hurricane season, when he often appeared in the White House briefing room and on TV. When the administration was facing heavy criticism for its response to the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico, Bossert was one of the officials put forward to defend the president.
“I understand the coverage, in some cases, is giving the appearance that we’re not moving fast enough,” Bossert said on Sept. 28.
“I think that there’s kind of two responses I’d have to that,” he said. “First, there’s an understandable degree of devastation on the island, and for anybody that needs food and water, power, lifesaving needs and commodities, health care, there’s nothing that can help fast enough. . . . But what I will tell you is that we are mobilizing and marshaling the resources of the United States of America in a way that is absolutely professional, fast and adequate to meet the needs.”
In Bossert’s last public remarks, he told a group of current and former intelligence officials, private-sector executives, and reporters Sunday night that “this White House seems to function just about the same as every other White House.’’ He added: “At the end of the day the only thing that creates instability or the perception of it is (a) the coverage and (b) the turnover. I think at this point we’ve reached what seems to be a decent stability point.”
Asked by the moderator, Suzanne Kelly, at the Cipher Brief conference whether that meant no more departures, he said, “No,” prompting the audience to laugh. “I feel comfortable for today.”
He said he sees “stability” in the president. “I see consistency in his messaging and thinking, and I see stability in the Cabinet,” he said. “John Kelly’s an absolute rock of stability.”