A top Pence aide abruptly withdrew from his unusual White House role after Trump criticized him

source
Getty Images/Pool

  • President Donald Trump was upset when he learned that Vice President Mike Pence had hired a longtime Republican pollster and one-time Trump critic to be his national security adviser.
  • Jon Lerner, deputy to US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, withdrew from what would have been a dual role after the president voiced his disapproval.
  • This is the first time Trump has objected to one of the vice president’s personnel decisions.

President Donald Trump wasn’t pleased when he found out last week that Vice President Mike Pence had hired a longtime Republican pollster and one-time Trump critic to be his national security adviser.

Jon Lerner, a top aide to US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley who has no national security experience, would have served an unusual dual role as an advisor to both Haley and Pence, who work closely together on foreign policy and national security issues.

But the president had issues with Lerner’s history working for a political action group that backed Sen. Marco Rubio in the Republican presidential primaries and conservative anti-tax organization Club for Growth, which released a series of ads lambasting Trump during the election, the New York Times reported.

The president was reportedly upset that a man who engaged in opposition research against him would be offered a prominent role in the West Wing.

“Why would Mike do that?” the president asked, according to a West Wing official who spoke with Axios. Some White House officials were reportedly surprised by Lerner’s appointment, which was first reported by The Washington Post last Thursday.

Trump’s disapproval forced Pence’s team to reconsider and Lerner resigned Sunday evening.

“Tonight, Jon informed the vice president that he was withdrawing from coming on board as national security adviser, and the vice president accepted his decision,” Alyssa Farah, Pence’s press secretary, told The Times. “Vice President Pence holds Jon Lerner in the highest regard and expressed his deep gratitude for Jon’s willingness to consider joining our team.”

Lerner has long advised Haley, formerly South Carolina’s governor, and has a strong relationship with Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, who supported Haley’s gubernatorial bid while he was head of the Republican Governors Association.

He’ll continue advising Haley and will provide informal counsel to Pence, a White House official told The Times. (Pence’s former national security adviser, Andrea Thompson, was selected to be the new undersecretary of state for arms control and is awaiting confirmation.)

As The Washington Post reported recently, Pence’s influence over the administration’s foreign policy has widened in recent months. The vice president chaired multiple meetings concerning Syria last week before traveling to Peru to represent the US at the Summit of the Americas, after Trump chose not to attend.

Haley has also played a key role in the administration’s foreign affairs in close coordination with Pence, helping lead the administration’s response to Syria.

But Haley and Pence, whose foreign policy philosophy fits squarely within establishment Republican thinking, are not always aligned with Trump.

On Monday, the president halted plans to roll out new sanctions against Russia, which Haley said would be announced by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday.

This comes as the Trump administration’s national security and foreign policy team is being fundamentally reshaped. Last week, John Bolton took over as the president’s third national security adviser and immediately began cleaning house, firing or forcing out several top staffers.

CIA chief Mike Pompeo, who was nominated to be secretary of state last month, reportedly shares Bolton’s hawkish approach.