The White House confirmed on Wednesday that 11 Trump appointees to military service academy advisory boards, among them former press secretary Sean Spicer and counsellor Kellyanne Conway, were asked to step down – or be fired.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said: “The president’s objective is what any president’s objective is – to ensure you have nominees and people serving on these boards who are qualified to serve on them and who are aligned with your values. And so yes, that was an ask that was made.”
Advisory boards exist to provide non-binding advice to the various academies.
As defined by the United States Military Academy at West Point and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, the boards “inquire into morale and discipline, curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, academic methods and other matters”.
Each board has a mix of members of Congress and presidential appointees. Members appointed by Barack Obama remained in place under the Trump administration.
Trump appointed Spicer, a commander in the US naval reserve, to the advisory board for the naval academy. Conway, campaign manager for Trump in 2016, was appointed to the board for the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Psaki said: “I will let others evaluate whether they think Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and others were qualified, or not political, to serve on these boards, but the president’s qualification requirements are not your party registration, they are whether you’re qualified to serve and whether you’re aligned with the values of this administration.”
Spicer tweeted that Biden should be focusing instead “on the stranded Americans left in Afghanistan”, and said he would respond to Psaki on his show on the rightwing Newsmax channel.
Spicer and Russ Vought, director of the Office of Management and Budget under Trump and also appointed to the naval academy board, tweeted a White House letter which said if they did not resign they would be fired “effective 6pm tonight”.
Vought said: “No. It’s a three-year term.”
Conway released a letter in which she criticised Biden’s performance in office and said: “I’m not resigning, but you should.”
HR McMaster, a retired army general who was Trump’s second national security adviser, was appointed to the board at West Point, where he is scheduled to be honored this weekend, as a distinguished graduate.
At West Point, Trump also appointed Jack Keane, a retired general and close advisor; Guy Swan, a retired general; Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and Pentagon official; Meaghan Mobbs, a West Point graduate and psychologist; and David Urban, a West Point graduate, lobbyist, political strategist and sometime Trump adviser.
All were asked to step down or be fired. McMaster did not immediately comment. Keane said he was “very disappointed”. Urban told CNN he agreed with Mobbs, who said the move was “unconscionable”.