Newsletter: Trump’s remaking of the NSC

President Trump and national security advisor Robert O’Brien at Los Angeles International Airport in September.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump’s national security advisor has taken a wrecking ball to parts of the National Security Council.


Trump’s Remaking of the NSC

The National Security Council has served as the intelligence and foreign policy hub of the White House since 1947. But in less than half a year, it’s undergone a remarkable transformation.


Since President Trump chose Robert O’Brien as his national security advisor in September, O’Brien has dismissed or transferred about 70 people, or about one-third of those employed by or temporarily assigned to the NSC, according to senior administration officials. He’s expected to make a final round of cuts this week.

That comes on top of the high-profile removal of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a key witness in Trump’s impeachment case, and his twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, an ethics lawyer.

O’Brien has denied that his downsizing of the NSC is an effort to dismantle what Trump has called the “deep state” and said that his primary aim isn’t to remove career government employees and other professionals in favor of Trump loyalists. But he conceded that the realignment has increased the proportion of politically appointed staffers.

Will Black Voters Save Biden?

After defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire, former Vice President Joe Biden is looking to South Carolina for an overwhelmingly primary victory that would salvage his presidential campaign. His campaign has long regarded the state as Biden’s firewall, given his long-standing support from African Americans, who make up 3 out of 5 Democratic voters, and his close association with the nation’s only black president. Yet some black voters can’t help but reconsider, discouraged by Biden’s poor performance. And Biden isn’t the only candidate scrambling for black voters’ support.

More Politics

— Top Justice Department officials including Atty. Gen. William Barr are coming under fire for jettisoning a recommendation by career prosecutors that Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Trump, receive a stiff prison sentence.

— Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has dropped out of the presidential race. He was the last remaining black candidate in a Democratic field once defined by its diversity.


— Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price has resigned after a disastrous caucus process beset by technical glitches led to a days-long delay in reporting the results, inconsistencies in the numbers and no clear winner.

Honoring America’s Jewish Soldiers

There should have been about 330 Jewish grave markers in the American military cemetery at Normandy. But when Shalom Lamm began counting, he found only 149 — and many seemingly Jewish names carved onto crosses. Enter Operation Benjamin, a volunteer-driven project by Jewish scholars to correct the record at U.S. military cemeteries around the world. Through independent genealogical research, they’re changing the grave markers of Jewish soldiers buried under crosses.

“There is an idea in Judaism that there is no greater kindness than that of the living to the dead,” says Rabbi John Franken, who went to see his uncle’s new Star of David marker installed in the Philippines, where he died fighting the Japanese during World War II. “That feels like what we are doing for these men. It’s the eulogy they never received.

Clearing Their Names

The Los Angeles Police Department and the California attorney general’s office are each investigating allegations that officers intentionally falsified information used to identify gang members or their associates, placing them in a secretive gang database known as CalGang. An L.A. Times review has found that all 15 people who have gone to court to challenge the LAPD’s decision to place them or their child in CalGang have successfully had their names removed. The department insists the removals don’t suggest it is putting people in the database who don’t deserve to be there.



On this day in 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead in his room while staying at a Texas ranch. He was 79. Appointed in 1986, he was known as a conservative with “a zest for verbal combat,” as The Times wrote in his obituary. His death was just as controversial. Local and federal officials said his death was caused by natural causes, but conspiracy theories still swirled. Other questions were raised about the circumstances of his visit to the ranch.

Lawmakers also fought over who would replace him, with Republican Senate leaders refusing to consider then-President Obama’s pick, moderate Merrick Garland. Scalia’s seat on the court remained vacant until 2017, when President Trump’s nominee Neil M. Gorsuch was approved.

In this Aug. 6, 1986 photo, Antonin Scalia attends a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing while awaiting his confirmation to the Supreme Court.
In this Aug. 6, 1986 photo, Antonin Scalia attends a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing while awaiting his confirmation to the Supreme Court.
(Lana Harris / Associated Press)


— Alarmed about people being “squeezed out” of their homes, an L.A. City Councilman wants to limit rent increases for hundreds of thousands of tenants, tightening the rules under a long-standing city ordinance.

— Two other councilmen want to end the permitted killing of mountain lions after one was put down in the Santa Monica Mountains last month.

— Doctors and experts say the official death toll in the Camp fire should include 50 more people.

— The California bullet train’s projected price tag just got $1.3 billion bigger.


— A new earthquake early warning app for smartphones lets you see a countdown before the shaking actually starts.

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— What doesn’t kill Ozzy Osbourne makes him even Ozzier.

— Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is going Hollywood-ish. He’ll make a cameo as himself on ABC’s “black-ish.”

Huey Lewis opened up about his “brutal” struggle with his hearing loss and Selma Blair about hers with multiple sclerosis and “feeling alone and vulnerable and scared about the future.”

— “Survivor” has moved on from its #MeToo scandal. Former contestant Kellee Kim has not.


— Think you have what it takes to become a Lego Master? These experts say it’s not as easy as it sounds.


—Health authorities in China’s Hubei province reported more than 15,000 new cases of coronavirus Thursday morning, bringing the nationwide total to nearly 60,000. The new numbers don’t indicate rapid overnight spread of the virus in Hubei, but a change in the way patients are counted there.

— Incidents of white supremacist propaganda distributed across the nation jumped by more than 120% between 2018 and last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League, making 2019 the second straight year it’s more than doubled.

— Countries across Latin America and the Caribbean are making it tougher for millions fleeing Venezuela to find sanctuary, and their new visa and passport requirements have spurred unauthorized and dangerous border crossings, a new report finds.

Six Citgo executives jailed in Venezuela on embezzlement charges have been moved to harsher facilities after Trump’s red-carpet treatment of the country’s opposition leader during his State of the Union address.

— When NASA’s Mars 2020 rover blasts off this summer, it will mark the first step of an ambitious plan to bring pieces of the red planet back to Earth.


— Those halfway underground homes in “Parasite”? They’re real, and in South Korea, they’re spaces of desperation and dreams.


— The overwhelming majority of performing artists we talked to said that California’s new labor law AB 5 is hurting their careers. Here’s what else they had to say.

— Tech giants like Apple and Amazon are transforming Culver City, making it one of the fastest-growing digital media hubs in Southern California. Should they pay more in taxes?

— Despite digital media growth, L.A.’s “creative economy” lost jobs in 2018. Experts blame fashion and toy makers moving abroad.


Major League Baseball has announced rule changes for the 2020 season, including a three-batter minimum for relief pitchers and higher active roster limits.

— The Dodgers reportedly alerted the Nationals to the Astros’ sign-stealing ahead of the World Series last year. Meanwhile, the Angels’ Andrew Heaney sounds disgusted at the Astros’ lack of remorse.



— No one will ever know for sure what transpired before Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashed, but The Times’ editorial board says it should still have us thinking about the safety of our airspace.

— We have a fake eyelashes epidemic. Columnist Robin Abcarian blames Fox News and the Kardashian sisters.


— American public schools are funded by local property taxes. That worsens inequality, experts say, and Maryland has a $4-billion plan to fight it. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

— Every year, thousands of American kids are removed from their homes and put in foster care, only to be returned within days. It “felt like being kidnapped,” one said. (Marshall Project)

Look at these very good dogs. (New York Times)


Steve Searles used to be a surfer, conquering the waters off Orange County. These days, he’s taming a different kind of beast. They call him the “bear whisperer” of the Eastern Sierra. He’s a 60-year-old wildlife officer — not quite a cop, but not quite a civilian. His job is to keep the bears (and local humans) in check, and he does it with words, not bullets. It’s an approach that’s earned him global recognition, an Animal Planet show and, he says, even a few stalkers. But he’s just following the bears’ lead, especially that of one named Big. “Big taught me that if you’re tough you shouldn’t have to carry a gun,” he said.

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