The Trump administration’s national security team is considering eliminating the top White House cybersecurity job — a decision that would likely rankle Democrats, many of whom fear possible foreign interference in the upcoming midterm elections.
Specifically, John Bolton, who recently became President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, is advocating for the elimination of the role of special assistant to the president and cybersecurity coordinator, Politico reported. The position is currently occupied by Rob Joyce.
The possible changes come as a surprise as Bolton has been considered a supporter of a more vigorous cybersecurity strategy that targets enemies of the U.S. Earlier this year, he urged the White House to do more to counter the Russian threat, saying “it is not enough, however, to file criminal charges against Russian citizens, nor are economic sanctions anywhere near sufficient to prove our displeasure.”
He went on to suggest a “retaliatory cyber campaign against Russia” that “should be decidedly disproportionate” in order to teach Russia that the “costs to them from future cyberattacks against the United States will be so high that they will simply consign all their cyberwarfare plans to their computer memories to gather electronic dust.”
Experts and former National Security Council officials say the elimination of the role would indicate the U.S. doesn’t consider cybersecurity a top priority and would undermine the progress it made since the job was created at the beginning of the Obama administration.
Megan Stifel, a former NSC director for international cyber policy, told Politico that abolishing the position would signal to other countries “that the U.S. is taking the gas pedal off of cybersecurity as a key national security issue.”
“With no one at the helm at the White House to manage this process, I worry about which countries will step in,” she added.
Michael Daniel, the Obama administration’s cyber coordinator from 2012 to 2017, seconded, saying: “Given the complexities of the issues that we face in cyberspace … you’re going to have to have somebody that’s focused on dealing with those issues at the White House level.”
Changes to the NSC are long sought by Bolton, who previously told the council’s employees that a staff overhaul is immminent, including an influx of new people and a reorganization.
A source familiar with the situation told Fox News in April that Bolton sent a memo to staffers saying some changes could include combining high-level director positions.
Mira Ricardel, Bolton’s deputy, is reportedly in favor of the move to abolish Joyce’s role, with one former U.S. official telling Politico that Ricardel may pick up those duties.
The White House did not deny the role could be abolished, according to Politico.
The push to abolish the cybersecurity post also came as Democrats are increasingly warning about foreign interference during the elections.
Former U.S. Sen. Al Franken spoke about cybersecurity earlier this month, at an event in Portugal four months after he resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations. He urged Congress to secure Americans’ privacy and democracy.’
“They’ll be back. They never left,” Franken said about Russia’s disinformation efforts in the country.
Two congressional Democrats, Reps. Ted Lieu, of California, and Ruben Gallego, of Arizona, also asked the White House to provide what security precautions Trump is taking to avoid being hacked by foreign hackers over his personal phone use.
Fox News’ Samuel Chamberlain and Serafin Gómez contributed to this report.