More White House shakeup: Donilon replaces Jones as security adviser
October 8th, 2010
11:52 AM ET
3 years ago

More White House shakeup: Donilon replaces Jones as security adviser

(CNN) – President Obama anounced Friday that retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones is stepping down as White House National Security Adviser and will be replaced by his current deputy, Tom Donilon.

The move has been long anticipated because senior officials say Jones never quite clicked with other key members of Obama's inner circle. Jones was not an active part of the Obama presidential campaign and two people close to Jones tell CNN that when he accepted the appointment in 2009 he only agreed to stay on for two years.

The turnover comes after a slew of other top Obama aides have left the White House or signaled their plans to leave the administration either later this year or in early 2011, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, senior adviser David Axelrod, and top economic aides Larry Summers and Christina Romer.

But the choice of Donilon, a well-known quantity inside the West Wing, signals that even during a time of turnover Obama is someone who prefers to replenish the ranks with people from his inner circle. Given that approach, top Democratic advisers privately say it is highly unlikely that Obama will go far outside the circle when he eventually settles on a permanent chief of staff, despite expected pressure on the President to widen the circle after the midterm elections.

Continuity has reigned so far in the musical chairs of staff moves. Romer was replaced as chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers by White House economic aide Austan Goolsbee, while Axelrod is expected to be replaced next year by someone already in the fold like Press Secretary Robert Gibbs or former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe while Axelrod moves to Chicago but stays on as an informal adviser on the expected 2012 re-election effort.

Earlier this month, Emanuel was replaced as chief of staff on a temporary basis by longtime Obama aide Pete Rouse. Donilon had been rumored to be a possible permanent successor to Emanuel, but two sources familiar with the conversation told CNN that Donilon recently told the President he wanted to take himself out of the running for chief of staff and instead stay at the National Security Council, knowing full well that Jones was likely to leave soon and he was expected to move up.

Jones' exit brings to a close a somewhat-tumultuous time as National Security Adviser, after he clashed with Emanuel and other top White House officials, in part because of a hands-off style that did not sit well with administration officials who were expecting a more take-charge leader at a time of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a slew of thorny national security challenges.

In his defense, Jones allies note he is a highly-respected former Marine Commandant and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. These allies note that Obama, a commander in chief who came to the job without military experience, benefited from the credibility within the military that Jones brought to the table.

Jones will now be replaced by Donilon, who is widely hailed in Democratic circles as a sharp foreign policy mind, including his tenure as chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher in the Clinton administration.

But Donilon has himself clashed with some in the Obama orbit as well. Journalist Bob Woodward, in his new book "Obama's Wars," suggests there has been tension between Donilon and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"Gates felt that Donilon did not understand the military or treat its senior leadership with sufficient respect," Woodward wrote. "The secretary later told Jones that Donilon would be a 'disaster' as Obama's national security adviser."

But a senior Defense official told CNN that "the Woodward characterization is just way out of date" because Gates and Donilon now have a "strong working relationship" within the administration.

Nevertheless, the Defense official acknowledged "they had some issues" during the sometimes-contentious internal "Af-Pak" debate last fall that resulted in the President crafting a new policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, which resulted in Obama announcing a surge of 30,000 more U.S. troops being sent to Afghanistan.

"They have long since been overcome," the senior Defense official said of the tensions.

Gates himself told reporters on Friday, "I have thoroughly enjoyed working with General Jones and I have and have had a very productive and very good working relationship with Tom Donilon, contrary to what you may have read. And I look forward to continuing to work with him."

Donilon's appointment, however, may ruffle some other feathers within the administration. Several of Obama's foreign policy advisers during the campaign, who were angling for the National Security Advisor job after the election but did not get the nod in 2008, were also considered contenders to replace Jones this time and might have been considered more inspired choices than Donilon.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, a former Assistant Secretary for African Affairs and scholar at the Brookings Institution, was one of Obama's most public foreign policy voices during the campaign. She is said to be disappointed with the New York job because she was lobbying hard to be National Security Adviser after Obama's election victory and aides have said she would have wanted to move back to Washington to take the post if Jones left.

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who was Deputy National Security Adviser in the Clinton administration, also wanted the job before it was given to Jones. Instead he was sent to the State Department and there has been speculation he wants out, hoping to land a top staff job at the White House.

–CNN Senior State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. 25 Days until Socialism dies in the United States

    But the choice of Donilon, a well-known quantity inside the West Wing, signals that even during a time of turnover Obama is someone who prefers to replenish the ranks with people from his inner circle.
    =================================================================================================

    Well of course. Obozo has assembled all the leftist loons in the country to comprise his administration. Just keep replacing one inbred leftist with his inbred cousin. That way Obozo keeps hearing the same old leftist chant about how well everything is going and how we are all being saved. Well, except for the 20 million unemployed, and all the people that are going to be lossing their healthcare, and all of the people that are going to FORCED to buy a product, and .....

    October 8, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  2. RH

    The second paragraph and other comments make this more an editorial justifying the high turnovers than objective reporting of events.

    October 8, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    "Conservatives will pick up 100+ house seats. Bank on it."

    Eric, "my friend," you should probably try doing acid at a concert or maybe a lazer show pew pew pew...it's far more fun that way. Seriously...there's a line. Enhusiam's great and all, but if you're really trying to make the big "GOP 4-eva!!!!" statements, you've gotta reign it in a little or the hyperbole just makes you sound like one of us crazy liberals doing a parody of a batsh-t crazy conservative...and you don't want to be making fun of yourself, do you?

    October 8, 2010 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  4. Poor Poor DNC

    The writing is on the wall folks!..It did not take as long as I thought it would for the gold plated finish on Obama to start wearing off. How in the world did he manage to pull the wool over the eyes of so many people in this country and get them to vote for someone with absolutely no experience and without any indication that he knew what he was doing. I do not remember any other president with so many of his top advisers to leave so fast and in such succession. Any one that wishes to get re-elected in November had better be distancing himself from the Obama administration and stay away. I remember a comment made by the Russians at one time about destroying this country without ever having to drop bombs, that they would do it from the inside out. Wake up people and look at how rotten the core has gotten. We are being destroyed from the inside out, from the top down and what amazes me the most is that most of us are sitting back and doing nothing about cutting out the rotten section.

    October 8, 2010 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  5. Gumdrop

    I wonder if King Obama is going to appoint someone this time that is not a political hack but actually knows the job.

    October 8, 2010 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  6. groovygoober

    Another rat bails from the massively sinking ship...how many does that make now?

    Not only has unemployment maintained a higher percentage level than at any time since the Great Depression, but this is by far the worst presidency on record.

    The key however is to keep an eye on who stays, not the ones bailing, for surely that will identify the real marxists in obumble's regime.

    October 8, 2010 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  7. mtrought

    The kitchen sink cabinet is an important part of any administration. You need people who can bounce ideas around without fear that some day they will reveal things during trial and error phase. You cannot do this with people who you dont really know that well. The silly notion that Obama must widen circle is not necessarily good especially when it comes to advisors.

    October 8, 2010 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  8. TwM

    How far the mighty have fallen ,has any President ever had so many people jumping ship so early in his reign?
    He keeps bringing in crooks from his inner circle, no wonder his admin is inept.

    October 8, 2010 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  9. Satish Chandra

    I am India's expert in strategic defence and the father of India's strategic program, including the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan means the coast-to-coast destruction of the U.S. by India; see my blog titled 'Nuclear Supremacy For India Over U.S.' which can be found by a Yahoo search with the title.
    Russia and the U.S. are allies.

    October 8, 2010 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  10. dan

    Another example of CNN managing the NEWS. A senior OBAMA figure resigns and it neetly tucked away in the corner. That can't be considered breaking news could it. You guys SUCK

    October 8, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  11. Ben

    Misleading title huh CNN?? Another top senior official in Obama's cabinet is leaving...I voted for Obama but even his closest allies clearly can't deal with this mess.

    October 8, 2010 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  12. Sarah

    He is 66 years old, maybe he just wants to retire, no nefarious reason behind it, no jumping ship. Just wants to retire.

    October 8, 2010 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  13. VinceRN

    The administration is melting down. At least Obama is giving the job to a qualified, experienced person rather than just making it the next political plum to go to a supporter regardless of qualification. Is it possible he's learning something?

    October 8, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  14. Sniffit

    "The second paragraph and other comments make this more an editorial justifying the high turnovers than objective reporting of events."

    Actually, the second paragraph is the definition of objective. That paragraph simply reports what so-and-so said. It was not turned into the opinion of the author or adopted by the author as absolute truth or anything else like that. To actually leave out the administration's comments and explanation of why this is occurring would actually be biased. Jones, that I can tell from searching, has not commented and probably won't as it would not be all that appropriate to feud with the administration publicly over it, it does not appear to be an acrymonious situation, the administration;s explanation was pretty tame and he's no reason to "fire back." Soooo yeah...any time you're ready to grow up, you just let us know, mmmkay?

    October 8, 2010 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  15. Snoop

    "Satish Chandra", go troll somewhere else and try to stir up trouble.

    October 8, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  16. JAE

    The writing is on the wall folks. It's over for those jackasses. This country of ours NEEDS to be taken back for MANY reasons, but first and foremost, FOR THE PRINCIPLES IT WAS FOUNDED ON.

    Maobama will be history WITH ONE TERM. He's clueless, he's heartless and had NO respect for the office he holds. It makes me sick to look at him. He thinks he's at a conference EVERY day. Fun, fun, fun and NO work gets done at all. He LOVES the title he holds and the cameras in his face. He's a sickening ego baboon!

    October 8, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  17. trixie71

    This is so funny.When a Govt person screws up or wants out,the announcement made in the press conference is always the person wants to be with family more. :) It's like when an unusual incident happens,it's always a training exercise.LOL

    October 8, 2010 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  18. LOVE

    Sarah...I agree with you...and there is the mention in this article by Jones friends that part of his accepting the position in the first place would be that he would only stay 2years. Period!

    The haters obviously want it to mean something more...poor thing(s) need this type of information as to filled their hateful, negative, narrow-minded views to mean something... ego-tripping... like young kids...the need to say "I told you so" even if its an illusion!

    Much Love...

    October 8, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  19. Biff

    So during the campaign when Obama gave homage to the "Team of Rivals" book on the Lincoln cabinet that was window dressing and bunk like all his other statements.

    Clearly Obama is chasing all the contrary voices out of his staff so he can hire more Valerie Jarrett's who will tell his ego exactly what it wants to hear. Isn't he the guy who warned against the "bubble" around the presidency and the need for contrary voices?

    Just admit it. The only voices are those that belong to the far left socialistic view point. Oh, and a bring back Van Jones because his view point is really the advise Obama would love to follow.

    October 8, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  20. missdot

    Poor DNC, President Obama is not the problem; however a party of no, a party that will has allowed big ccorporations to lead us down this road due to the lack of regulations, free reign on greed and so much more. This happened during the Bush years!!!!! Get real President is smarter than the Bushes and so many more. Tell Boehner ti discuss why banks wee allowed to foreclose homes on working Amrericans while still making a prfit. Greed is the reason.

    October 8, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  21. KPATL

    Ok,.,. so let me get this straight,.. we replace a General with a DNC Policy Parrot to the National Security Advisor's position. Gee, that's like appointing a 6th grader biology student to be the head of Surgery at Johns Hopkins. Ok ok Ok,.. the jokes over,.. bring back Bush......

    October 8, 2010 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  22. KPATL

    Obama, clearly is in over his head. He had lost no less than 6 high profile members of his administration in as many weeks. I've lived through many presidencies, but I have never seen this much turnover. Truly amazing.

    October 8, 2010 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  23. T'SAH from Virginia

    @Poor Poor DNC – read the article, he only agreed to stay for two years!!! PLUS, maybe he was asked to resign!!! All of the HATERS here just HATE – you will get NOWHERE!!!

    President Obama will succeed and all of you blind followers who believe all the hate and fear mongering coming from the far right will eat your words when he does!! Ya'll [that’s Ebonics people] want to write his history after two years – ONLY to realize in another two years how WRONG you were. Then, you will have to reopen the book and correct ALL OF IT – all you have written!! It's a SHAME how everyone suffers from STM Syndrome. You people have’ Intel in your microwaves’ and you expect over 8 years of a downfall and near depression to be resolved in two years!!!!!

    DEMOCRATS – do not get distracted and keep UNITING the BASE and show these RepubliCAN'Ts that we still believe in our leader!!! Yes We Can!!

    T'is T'SAH from Virginia and I approve this message!!

    October 8, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  24. pkfops

    I wouldn't worry about it. Bush had 42 resignations on his team

    October 8, 2010 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |