Psaki defends move to oust Trump appointees from military academy boards

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday defended the Biden administration’s decision to oust a handful of Trump appointees from military academy advisory boards and also took a shot at some of those stripped of their positions who “supported an insurrection.” 

“We’re confident in our legal abilities here,” Psaki said during an appearance on CNN Thursday morning, offering confidence the administration’s steps would withstand legal challenge.

“No one is looking to have a battle here. The president of the United States, just as every president and every administration and Cabinet members, have the right to appoint people they deem as qualified, as aligned with the administration’s … priorities, to these boards and to any position in the federal government,” she said.

When pressed by CNN host John Berman on why there isn’t a distinction being made between political operatives and other appointees, like former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Psaki reiterated that President Biden is entitled to appoint individuals to these positions who align with his values and the qualifications he deems necessary.

“That’s what is taking place here; it’s not personal. I will say that there are some people, of course, on these boards that have supported or stood by silently while their former boss supported an insurrection,” Psaki said. “That’s not really OK with us either, but you’re right, there is a span of individuals on these boards, it’s really not more complicated than the president, his Cabinet and team wanted to be able to appoint a fresh layer of people.”

The Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol is often referred to as an insurrection. A mob of former President Trump’s supporters overwhelmed U.S. Capitol Police that day and invaded the Capitol, forcing the evacuation of Congress and interrupting the counting of the Electoral College vote.

Five deaths were connected to the riot, and dozens of people face charges for their actions. Trump and many of his supporters have offered support for those arrested. 

Psaki did not offer any names in terms of who supported the insurrection and who did not among those stripped of their positions.

The White House on Wednesday asked several former Trump administration officials to resign from various advisory boards to which Trump appointed them before he left office in January. The appointments to the advisory boards for the Air Force Academy, Military Academy and Naval Academy carry multiyear terms and typically span administrations.

Among those asked to resign were former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, former Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. The group also includes McMaster and Meaghan Mobbs, a former adviser to the Trump campaign and an Afghanistan veteran.

McMaster is among the former Trump officials who have criticized the ex-president for inciting a mob to attack the Capitol. 

“One of the causes of the assault on the Capitol was politicians — the President [Trump] foremost among them — who are thinking are increasingly prone to compromise our principles to score partisan political points,” he said in March, according to Defense One. McMaster at the time was offering support for an independent commission to investigate the attack.

At the time of the Jan. 6 riot, both Vought and Conway expressed outrage at the violence, but they have continued to support Trump in the wake of the mob attack at the Capitol and have not directly rebuked him for his role in the episode.

Vought tweeted the morning after Jan. 6: “Like all Americans, conservative like me or otherwise, I’m greatly saddened by the violence and loss of life at the Capitol Building yesterday. We believe in the rule of law and should abide by it.”

On the day of the riot, Conway called for an end to the violence, tweeting for the rioters to “just STOP.” Conway went on to defend Trump’s legacy during an appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” later in January.

According to USA Today, Spicer, who is now a host on Newsmax, suggested that antifa may have been behind the attack on the U.S. Capitol. There is no evidence to support claims that antifa was responsible for the mob attack.

Some of the individuals have refused to resign from their advisory board positions, including Vought and Conway, and Mobbs suggested the administration was politicizing the military academy boards.

“One of the last places where we should be politicizing anything is the United States military academy,” Mobbs said during an appearance on Fox News Thursday morning.

Psaki made clear Thursday that the Biden White House believes it is on strong ground to oust the former officials from the boards, but she said the White House did not have an update on the status of their positions as of Thursday morning.

Updated at 11:48 a.m. 

Tags Bill Maher Donald Trump jan. 6 riot Jen Psaki Joe Biden Kellyanne Conway Sean Spicer Trump appointees
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