White House officials have asked for the resignation of multiple members of the military academies’ advisory boards who were appointed by President Donald Trump in a move his supporters are blasting as a dangerous politicization of non-partisan advisory panels.
The boards of the Military Academy at West Point, Naval Academy in Annapolis and Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs are made up of a mix of lawmakers and presidential appointees who traditionally meet several times a year to provide non-binding advice on issues like curriculum, student morale and institution needs.
Non-lawmaker members typically serve three-year terms, even across presidential administrations. Several members appointed by President Barack Obama at the end of his term served several years into the Trump administration, including Sue Fulton, President Joe Biden’s nominee for Assistant Secretary for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at the Pentagon, who served on the West Point panel.
But on Wednesday, all six board members of the U.S. Military Academy Board of Visitors appointed by Trump were asked to submit their resignations by the end of the day or be terminated from the posts.
“It is tragic that this great institution is now being subjected to and hijacked by partisan action that serve no purpose and no greater good,” Meaghan Mobbs, a West Point grad and former Trump adviser on military family issues, wrote in response to the request.
“Make no mistake, the move to terminate duly appointed presidential appointees sets a dangerous precedent for future administrations and undermines our institutions.”
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who sits on the Board of Visitors to the Naval Academy, posted on social media that similar requests were made to Trump appointees on his panel and the one at the Air Force Academy.
“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 wrote.
Lawmakers on the panels and West Point officials were unaware of the move until they were informed by board members of the resignation requests, according to individuals involved. Academy officials referred all questions to the White House.
Asked about the moves during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the moves were made “to ensure [the president] has nominees and people serving on these boards who are qualified to serve on them and who are aligned with [his] values.”
She also dismissed assertions that the moves were politically motivated, saying that “the president’s qualification requirements are not your party registration, they are whether you’re qualified to serve and whether you’re aligned with the values of this administration.”
The dismissed officials from the West Point board are former Trump National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster; former Army Vice Chief Gen. Jack Keane; former Pentagon senior adviser Douglas Macgregor; former U.S. Army North commander Guy Swan III; and West Point grad David Urban, who Trump named chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission.
McMaster is scheduled to be honored at West Point this weekend as a 2021 Distinguished Graduate award recipient.
All six board members still had time left on their three-year terms. None were given advance warnings of the decision.
Macgregor’s appointment to the board in 2020 drew headlines because of past speeches and writings attacking Muslims and immigrants, as well as criticism of diversity programs.
Along with Spicer, at least two other Navy board members have also been asked for their resignation: former White House budget director Russ Vought and lawyer John Coale, who is married to former Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren.
The Air Force Academy board members include former Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway and Heidi Stirrup, an aide to former Trump adviser Stephen Miller.
Conway, in a statement, jabbed at Biden, according to the Associated Press.
“I’m not resigning but you should,” she said, adding that the move was a “disappointing but understandable” effort to distract from the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, a rise in COVID cases and a disappointing August jobs report.
The boards have had limited meetings since the start of the pandemic, and most work has been halted since Biden’s inauguration earlier this year.
No replacements for the board members have been publicly announced by the administration yet.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.