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Trump aide forced out over security issue but immediately joins re-election campaign

  • Author: Michael D. Shear, Maggie Haberman, The New York Times
  • Updated: March 13, 2018
  • Published March 13, 2018

John McEntee walks to Marine One to join President Donald Trump for travel to Florida February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON — John McEntee, who has served as President Donald Trump's personal assistant since Trump won the presidency, was forced out of his position and escorted from the White House on Monday after his security clearance was revoked, officials with knowledge of the incident said.

But McEntee will remain in the president's orbit despite his abrupt departure from the White House. Trump's re-election campaign announced Tuesday that McEntee has been named senior adviser for campaign operations, putting him in a position to remain as a close aide during the next several years.

The campaign's decision underscores Trump's tolerance for — and often encouragement of — dueling centers of power around him. And it highlights the extent to which the re-election campaign has already become a landing pad for former Trump associates who have left the White House but remain loyal to the president.

The decision to remove McEntee came to light on the same day Trump announced he was removing Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and replacing him with Mike Pompeo, his CIA director.

Officials declined to say what issues prompted the security concerns about McEntee.

John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, has said in recent weeks that too many staff members were operating on interim security clearances because they could not pass FBI background checks. A White House spokesman declined to comment on McEntee's firing.

But a senior administration official said that many of the president's top aides were shocked and dismayed by the abrupt departure, which the official described as a sudden decision. The official, who requested anonymity to discuss personnel issues, said McEntee had been expected to travel with Trump — as he always does — when the president departed for a trip to California on Tuesday.

For Trump, the absence of McEntee strips away another of the handful of close associates who have constantly been by his side as he made the transition from real estate mogul to politician. Keith Schiller, the president's longtime director of security, left the White House in September. Hope Hicks, the director of communications and one of Trump's closest aides, has announced she is leaving in the coming days, as well.

That left McEntee, who worked on the president's campaign and was brought into the White House to be Trump's "body guy," the aide who travels with the president wherever he goes. During presidential trips, McEntee and the White House doctor were two aides who were never left off the travel manifest. Aides said McEntee often tried to keep hangers-on away from Trump when he traveled to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Now, with McEntee gone, the president will have none of his closest, most-trusted aides by his side at all times. Kellyanne Conway, who remains close to Trump, does not frequently travel with the president. Ivanka Trump, his daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner, have offices near Trump's, but play different roles.

McEntee's departure has several of Trump's closest advisers worried about the effects on the president's mood. The senior administration official said that the president has been in a "good place" recently, but said that it is hard to overstate the effect of the departure, along with that of Hicks. Both McEntee and Hicks have had offices just outside the Oval Office.

McEntee's ouster is the latest fallout from the security clearance scandal that erupted when Rob Porter, the president's staff secretary, resigned under pressure last month. Porter left after it was revealed that allegations of spousal abuse were holding up his permanent security clearance.

A review of the security clearances at the White House by Kelly found that many officials were operating with interim clearances. In a memo to the staff last month, Kelly said he would revoke the interim clearances for people whose background investigations showed they could not receive permanent clearance.

Late last month, Kushner's security clearance was downgraded, but Kushner remains a senior adviser at the White House working on Middle East peace efforts, prison reform and other issues for Trump.

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