White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, already under fire for his role in the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, is facing growing calls to resign amid questions about a suspected connection to debunked claims of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Multiple reports surfaced last week that Mr. Sullivan, a longtime confidant of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a two-time presidential hopeful, is the “foreign policy adviser” named in special counsel John Durham’s indictment last week of Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann, charged with lying to the FBI about what he knew about Mr. Trump and Russia.
Citing “well-placed sources,” Fox News first reported that Mr. Sullivan is the adviser in question. The news report appeared to tie Mr. Sullivan to Clinton campaign efforts to amplify the Russian collusion narrative during the height of the 2016 race.
Mr. Trump has fiercely denounced those charges, and Mr. Durham’s work suggests that some of the key sources who helped spread the stories in the first place are not credible.
If the suspicions are accurate, the Sullivan revelation would link the 2016 effort directly to the White House, where Mr. Sullivan is President Biden’s top security adviser and frequent spokesman for administration policy in the media. It also would seem to contradict Mr. Sullivan’s claim to Congress in 2017 that he was unaware of the source of one of the most explosive accusations about Mr. Trump involving collusion between his Trump Organization business empire and Russia’s Alfa Bank.
The White House has tried to brush aside questions about Mr. Sullivan’s involvement in the ordeal. Democratic insiders say privately that there is no evidence Mr. Durham’s probe is targeting Mr. Sullivan. They say Republicans are using the issue in a purely partisan effort to discredit the administration’s national security team.
Still, questions about Mr. Sullivan’s credibility were swirling long before the indictment last week of Mr. Sussmann.
Mr. Sullivan, the youngest national security adviser in six decades, also was deeply involved in the administration’s handling of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan this summer. The hasty withdrawal paved the way for a rapid Taliban takeover of the country and left American citizens and Afghan allies stranded inside the country despite Mr. Biden’s repeated assurances to the contrary.
Republican leaders, citing the misreading of the Afghanistan situation and mishandling of the final pullout, say Mr. Sullivan is not fit to serve as national security adviser.
“Jake Sullivan led the interagency process that resulted in the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, told The Washington Times, echoing his past calls for Mr. Sullivan to either step down or be fired.
“Now more than ever, our nation needs leaders who are competent and who are trustworthy. Sullivan has shown himself to be neither, so it is time for him to resign,” Mr. Hawley said.
Other Republicans point to the growing list of controversies involving Mr. Sullivan dating back to the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. Mr. Sullivan was a top aide to Mrs. Clinton, then serving as secretary of state, during the terrorist assault that led to the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
“From Benghazi to the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, Jake Sullivan has been at the epicenter of the worst foreign policy crises and decisions over the past decade,” Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, told Fox News recently. “Given this administration’s tendency to create self-inflicted crises, it’s no surprise Jake Sullivan has been given a top post at the Biden White House.”
‘Hold everyone accountable’
White House officials have said little publicly about suspicions of Mr. Sullivan’s connection to the Trump-Russia collusion story. But top administration officials have made clear repeatedly that the decisions of Mr. Sullivan and other key advisers during the Afghanistan withdrawal did not shake the president’s faith in his team.
On Aug. 17, at the height of the frantic U.S.-led airlift from the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged that the mission had resulted in “some chaotic scenes.”
“But the president is confident in his national security team and their ability to get the mission done and get the mission accomplished,” she said at the time.
That same day, Mr. Sullivan appeared before reporters and faced withering questions about the administration’s handling of Afghanistan as the U.S.-backed Kabul government was crumbling in the face of an offensive by the Taliban insurgency. He defended Mr. Biden’s calculation that a withdrawal was better for the U.S. in the long run.
“When you work on any policy issue — domestic policy, foreign policy, any policy issue — the human costs and consequences loom large,” he said. “But President Biden had to think about the human costs of the alternative path as well, which was to stay in the middle of a civil conflict in Afghanistan.”
Along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and a host of other officials, Mr. Sullivan has become a top target for Republicans who say someone must be held publicly accountable for the Afghanistan exit and the damage it did to America’s reputation abroad. Congress held another hearing Wednesday of analysts and former commanders about what went wrong in Afghanistan.
Even those not explicitly calling for Mr. Sullivan’s firing say the White House decision-making process on Afghanistan, of which the national security adviser was a key part, needs to be more thoroughly investigated.
“In order to be able to hold anyone accountable for the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, Congress must conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation, which should include looking at decisions made at the White House, the State Department, the intelligence community” and the Pentagon, Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Times.
“We owe it to the American people, especially to every single veteran and current service member or diplomat who have been negatively impacted by this, to ensure this never happens again — and hold everyone accountable who was responsible,” he said.
Meanwhile, the indictment of Mr. Sussmann seems to suggest that Mr. Sullivan may have had at least some knowledge that the Clinton campaign was deeply involved in pushing the Trump-Russia collusion story. The indictment said an unnamed Clinton campaign attorney exchanged emails with the campaign’s manager, communications director and “foreign policy adviser” about sharing the Alfa Bank accusations with an unidentified reporter. The indictment also said Mr. Sussmann told FBI General Counsel James Baker that he was not representing a client during the meeting but was there on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
In October 2016, Mrs. Clinton tweeted a statement from Mr. Sullivan promoting a since-debunked claim about a secret computer server connecting the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank.
“This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow,” Mr. Sullivan wrote in that statement. “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank. This secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia. … This line of communication may help explain Trump’s bizarre adoration of Vladimir Putin.”
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.