No, Trump did not dissolve the pandemic response office

Former Obama administration officials have been claiming that President Trump and his then-national security adviser John Bolton “dissolved” the office at the White House responsible for disaster preparedness. Trump’s legion of knee-jerk critics have run with this claim.

But according to Tim Morrison, the former aide to whom direction of this office was assigned, the office was not “dissolved.” It remains in operation under Morrison’s successor.

Writing in the Washington Post, Morrison states:

When I joined the National Security Council staff in 2018, I inherited a strong and skilled staff in the counterproliferation and biodefense directorate. This team of national experts together drafted the National Biodefense Strategy of 2018 and an accompanying national security presidential memorandum to implement it; an executive order to modernize influenza vaccines; and coordinated the United States’ response to the Ebola epidemic in Congo, which was ultimately defeated in 2020.

It is true that the Trump administration has seen fit to shrink the NSC staff. But the bloat that occurred under the previous administration clearly needed a correction. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, congressional oversight committees and members of the Obama administration itself all agreed the NSC was too large and too operationally focused. . . .

The reduction of force in the NSC has continued since I departed the White House. But it has left the biodefense staff unaffected — perhaps a recognition of the importance of that mission to the president, who, after all, in 2018 issued a presidential memorandum to finally create real accountability in the federal government’s expansive biodefense system.

(Emphasis added)

As part of the effort to make the NSC more effective, the Trump administration created the counterproliferation and biodefense directorate, a consolidation of three directorates into one (the three were arms control and nonproliferation, weapons of mass destruction terrorism, and global health and biodefense, which obviously overlap). Morrison says “it is this reorganization that critics have misconstrued or intentionally misrepresented.” (Emphasis added) But, “if anything, the combined directorate was stronger because related expertise could be commingled.”

In short, the “pandemic response office” was not “dissolved.” It still exists and, in Morrison’s judgment, its current staffing level is “fully up to the job.”

Morrison’s name may be familiar to some readers. He testified during the impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

Morrison was present during the telephone call in which Trump discussed with Ukraine’s president investigating the 2016 election and the Bidens. He testified about that call, saying he didn’t find it improper.

He also testified that Gordon Sondland told a Ukrainian official that the country would probably get military assistance unfrozen if the government announced investigations into Democrats. Morrison testified he heard this directly from Sondland and that he knew Sondland talked to Trump about half a dozen times this summer as the White House froze aid to Ukraine. Morrison also said Sondland told him he was acting at Trump’s request.

Morrison resigned from the NSC right around the time he gave this testimony.

Morrison, then, is not an apologist for Trump. He’s an ally of Bolton, his boss at the NSC whom Trump has attacked. Reportedly Morrison has been called “Bolton without a mustache.”

Morrison concedes that some of the criticism of the president’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak is “warranted,” though “much [is] not.” (The odds are strongly against any leader not making mistakes in responding to something as unprecedented as this pandemic.) But the claim that Trump dissolved the pandemic response office isn’t just unwarranted. It is fake news.

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