The board firings come less than a month after President Donald Trump pushed out Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
The White House removed nine members of the Pentagon’s Defense Business Board on Friday and installed people loyal to President Donald Trump in their place, including presidential allies Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie.
The firings marked the latest effort by the Trump administration to clean out the Defense Department in the final weeks of the president’s term.
Members of the board received a brief email from Joshua Whitehouse, the White House liaison to the Department of Defense, that simply said, “if you are receiving this e-mail, your membership on the Defense Business Board has expired or is coming to an end.”https://454c46f78c5563ec17f036567969c814.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
“A number of board members have been terminated with a form letter. In my experience, I was very surprised that the White House would, at the eleventh hour, adjust an advisory board that for 19 years has had a record of nonpartisan support with the department,” Michael Bayer, who until today was board chair, told POLITICO.
“This kind of a move really will weigh heavily on people in the future and their willingness to serve on these outside advisory boards if they’re going to be subjected to political loyalty tests. It’s unprecedented. I’m just saddened,” he added.
Besides Bayer, the other board members who were let go are Arnold Punaro, Atul Vashistha, John O’Connor, David Venlet, Paul Dolan, Scott Dorn, David Walker and David Van Slyke.
A statement by the Pentagon said the members’ terms had expired. Yet three former board members who spoke to POLITICO said their tours were not close to ending.
The firings came as a shock to the board members, who had not received any negative feedback or warning prior to their termination. One former board member lamented the move, noting that the board “has never been political, ever.”
“You are talking about 15, 20 executives, business leaders, government leaders, who are giving their time to serve the nation and not even a thank you note,” said the person, who asked not to be named. “It’s just about simple gratitude and appreciation for people.”
“I had no indication this was coming. It was a form letter going to a large number of people,” Bayer said.
Besides Lewandowski and Bossie, the other new members are Henry Dreifus, Robert McMahon, Cory Mills, Bill Bruner, Christopher Shank, Joseph Schmidt, Keary Miller, Allen Weh and Earl Matthews.
Lewandowski was Trump’s first campaign manager in 2016 and this year was a senior adviser to the campaign, where he traveled to various states to promote its legal challenges to the election results; he also is president and CEO of Lewandowski Strategic Advisors.
Bossie, a longtime conservative operative, was Trump’s deputy campaign manager in 2016 and more recently was tapped to lead the effort to contest the election. Mills is an Army veteran and on Twitter, calls himself a “Newsmax insider,” a reference to one of Trump’s preferred TV channels.
“These individuals have a proven track record of achievement within their respective fields and have demonstrated leadership that will serve our Department, and our nation well,” acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller said in a statement.
The Defense Business Board is made up of more than a dozen industry and academic leaders who volunteer to provide independent business advice to Pentagon leadership and are appointed by top Pentagon leaders.
The board has completed reviews of defense agencies and field activities, along with a study of using data analytics in the private sector and how it applies to DoD. The group also recommended disestablishing the position of chief management officer and putting a new alternative in place, which this week was voted into the final National Defense Authorization Act.
“The DBB is a workhorse board and not a show horse board,” another former member said.
Whitehouse also delivered the news last week to nearly a dozen members of the Defense Policy Board, a similar advisory council of experts outside the government, that their service had been terminated, Foreign Policy reported. Officials pushed out in that effort include former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, as well as former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
The board firings come less than a month after President Donald Trump pushed out Defense Secretary Mark Esper, followed by the resignations of the Defense secretary’s chief of staff and top officials overseeing intelligence and policy.
Bryan Bender contributed to this report.
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