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Bolton changes the National Security Council, but not for the better

John Bolton's new team at the National Security Council is enough to make one miss H.R. McMaster.
Image: John Bolton
(FILES) This file photo taken on February 24, 2017 shows former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference ...

When Donald Trump named Michael Flynn as the White House National Security Advisor, Flynn took the opportunity to bring a curious cast of characters with him to the National Security Council. After Flynn was ousted, it took a while for his successor, H.R. McMaster, to assemble a more capable and qualified team.

The trouble is, the president soon grew tired of McMaster. In March, Trump showed him the door and brought on John Bolton, who quickly took steps of his own to bring the National Security Council in line with his hawkish, right-wing vision.

Take this week, for example.

White House national security adviser John Bolton tapped controversial longtime security analyst Fred Fleitz Tuesday to serve as the National Security Council's executive secretary and chief of staff.Fleitz has served in different national security positions for 25 years, including roles at the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and the Department of the State where he served as then as chief of staff to Bolton when he was the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

At first blush, that kind of c.v. may not seem especially problematic. The truth is more complicated.

Eric Levitz had a great piece yesterday taking a closer look at Fleitz's background, which reflects a decidedly Bolton-like history: Fleitz clashed with officials in pursuit of bogus intelligence claims; he's been a prominent anti-Muslim voice; and he published a book endorsing an aggressive posture toward North Korea.

"When Trump first brought Bolton into the West Wing, some sought hope in the thought that he would serve as the most belligerent voice on a team of rivals," Levitz wrote. "But the hiring of Fleitz -- combined with the president's recent moves to withdraw from the Iran deal and open a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem -- raise the prospect that this might now be John Bolton's foreign-policy team."

Or particular interest is Fleitz's former leadership role at an Islamophobic think tank run by Frank Gaffney, a right-wing activist and conspiracy theorist. For years, Gaffney was widely seen as a fringe crackpot, which mainstream officials kept at arms' length, but in the Trump era, that's changing.

The New York Times had this report in April about Gaffney's associations with Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Both Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton have appeared frequently on the radio show of Frank Gaffney Jr., the president and founder of the Center for Security Policy, a think tank that argues that mosques and Muslims across America are engaged in a "stealth jihad" to "Islamize" the country by taking advantage of American pluralism and democracy.Mr. Bolton has occasionally nodded along to some of Mr. Gaffney's falsehoods. When Huma Abedin, an American Muslim who was a close aide to Hillary Clinton, was wrongly accused of being a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Bolton told Mr. Gaffney's radio show that he did not see any problem with raising the question, even though a host of senators had denounced it.

And now one of Gaffney's former colleagues will help coordinate national security policy for the United States.

I had plenty of concerns about H.R. McMaster's tenure, but I suddenly find myself missing him.