The Biden administration on Wednesday told Kellyanne Conway, a former senior counselor in the Trump White House, that she would be fired if she didn’t step down from an advisory panel she sits on at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Mrs. Conway declined the suggestion.
“I’m not resigning, but you should,” she replied in a letter to President Biden.
The White House is purging anyone appointed by former President Trump who sits on a Board of Visitors at one of the nation’s service academies: the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
In her letter to Mr. Biden, Mrs. Conway said the move is a break from presidential norms. Members are usually appointed for three-year terms and some Obama administration holdovers were still serving into the Trump years, she said.
“It certainly seems petty and political, if not personal,” Mrs. Conway wrote. “Our service academies will risk being further politicized and polarized.”
As the name suggests, the boards are advisory bodies that can offer suggestions and a different perspective from service academy leadership on a variety of issues, ranging from diversity to education.
U.S. Rep. Mark Green, Tennessee Republican, is a West Point graduate and member of the school’s Board of Visitors. His appointment to the panel was a result of his position in Congress. In a statement released Wednesday, Mr. Green accused Mr. Biden of “brazenly breaking the law” by firing the 18 Trump appointees.
“Is he afraid they’ll conduct actual oversight into the very important challenges each academy faces?” Mr. Green said. “Is he afraid they will shine [a] light on what is being taught at these academies — like Critical Race Theory? Now more than ever, our public institutions need oversight — not political engineering.”
The White House acknowledged that the Trump appointees were asked to step down but denied it was a political move.
“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,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday. “The president’s qualification requirements are not your party registration. They are whether you’re qualified to serve and if you are aligned with the values of this administration.”
Members of the West Point Board of Visitors who were asked to resign include retired Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff and frequent Fox News commentator, and retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who served as national security adviser under Mr. Trump and has been critical of the Biden administration’s pullout from Afghanistan.
Meaghan Mobbs, a West Point graduate and Afghanistan war veteran who now works as an advocate for veterans and military families, also said she isn’t going to resign from her Board of Visitors position.
“When I joined the board under the Trump administration, there were holdovers from the Obama administration. They were not terminated but instead served alongside Trump appointees,” she said in a statement. “This mix of perspective, experience and belief systems ensured there was diversity — a value the Democratic Party purports to hold above all else.”
The move to terminate presidential appointees “sets a dangerous precedent for future administrations and undermines our institutions,” Ms. Mobbs said.
In her letter to Mr. Biden, Mrs. Conway said the move to fire the Trump appointees was obviously meant to distract the public from a dismal news cycle, including a rise in COVID-19 cases, inflation and the withdrawal from Afghanistan that left hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghan allies stranded under Taliban rule.
“Your decision is disappointing but understandable,” Mrs. Conway wrote.