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White House asks several Trump appointees to resign from military service academy boards

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 9/8/2021 Felicia Sonmez

The White House said Wednesday that it has asked a number of Trump administration appointees to resign their positions on the advisory boards at military service academies, arguing that the move was about qualifications, not politics.

Among the 11 officials are former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, according to CNN, which first reported news of the request.

Earlier Wednesday, one of the Trump appointees, Russ Vought, shared on social media a letter he received from the White House requesting that he resign or else face termination effective 6 p.m. He said he would not step down.

“Yes, we have,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked whether the White House had requested the resignations. “And the president’s objective is what any president’s objective is: to ensure you have nominees and people serving on these boards who are qualified to serve on them and who are aligned with your values. And so, yes, that was an ask that was made.”

Asked whether the White House was concerned that the move might risk politicizing positions that have traditionally been nonpartisan roles that have spanned administrations, Psaki reiterated that the president’s primary concern was an appointee’s qualifications and values.

[Pentagon suspends work of advisory boards after flurry of last-minute Trump appointments]

The boards are composed of members of Congress and presidential appointees and serve for three years in an advisory capacity. If they fail to resign, they could be fired.

“I will let others evaluate whether they think Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and others were qualified, or not political, to serve on these boards,” Psaki said. “But the president’s qualification requirements are not your party registration.”

Conway had been appointed to the Air Force Academy Board of Visitors. Spicer, a Navy Reserve commander, had been serving on the Naval Academy’s advisory board. McMaster had been appointed to the advisory board at the U.S. Military Academy; the retired U.S. Army lieutenant general is a West Point graduate and previously taught history there.

Retired four-star Army Gen. Jack Keane also was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy Board.

Conway, in response to the request, tweeted a letter to Biden in which she said: “I’m not resigning, but you should,” saying the White House action “seems petty and political, if not personal.”

Vought, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump administration, had been serving on the Naval Academy’s Board of Visitors. In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, he shared a copy of the letter requesting his resignation along with a defiant reply: “No. It’s a three-year term.”

Spicer responded by criticizing President Biden’s handling of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

“Instead of focusing on the stranded Americans left in #Afghanistan, President Biden is trying to terminate the Trump appointees to the Naval Academy, West Point and Air Force Academy,” he said in a tweet.

Keane, in an email response to The Washington Post, said it was “very disappointing that President Biden is not upholding the previous president’s appointments which has been pretty much the tradition.”

He said that when Trump appointees joined with those of former president Barack Obama, the advisory board “was quite stronger for its non-partisan membership. What we all have in common is the honor of assisting and supporting one of America’s most esteemed and beloved institutions.”

Eugene Scott contributed to this report.

Jen Psaki standing in front of a building: White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. © Susan Walsh/AP White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021.
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