In Latest Post-Impeachment Move, Trump Administration Shifts a Loyalist to the State Department

Political appointee Alexander Alden will take over a role in a bureau caught in the middle of Trump’s impeachment and trial.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
The U.S. State Department
The U.S. State Department
The U.S. State Department is seen in Washington on Nov. 29, 2010. Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Alexander Alden, a political appointee under U.S. President Donald Trump, is being moved from the White House to the State Department to manage relations with Europe, including issues related to China and the coronavirus, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter.

Alden is expected to move from the National Security Council (NSC)  to become a new deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, where he will oversee relations with the European Union and the office of policy and global issues.  His portfolio is expected to include the pandemic response and China’s growing clout in Europe, as well as counter-terrorism and human rights. Alden, a Trump appointee since 2017, is the first political appointee to take up a senior post in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs since the impeachment investigation into Trump pushed senior bureau leadership into the national public spotlight late last year and prompted the firing or resignation of several senior officials. 

He will be tasked with managing U.S. relations with Brussels, which have become strained in recent years under the Trump administration—most recently with Trump’s decision to cut off U.S. air travel to Europe without first notifying his European counterparts. Washington has been without an appointed envoy to the EU since Trump megadonor Gordon Sondland was sacked from the job in February following his testimony in the impeachment trial. 

Alexander Alden, a political appointee under U.S. President Donald Trump, is being moved from the White House to the State Department to manage relations with Europe, including issues related to China and the coronavirus, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter.

Alden is expected to move from the National Security Council (NSC)  to become a new deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, where he will oversee relations with the European Union and the office of policy and global issues.  His portfolio is expected to include the pandemic response and China’s growing clout in Europe, as well as counter-terrorism and human rights. Alden, a Trump appointee since 2017, is the first political appointee to take up a senior post in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs since the impeachment investigation into Trump pushed senior bureau leadership into the national public spotlight late last year and prompted the firing or resignation of several senior officials. 

He will be tasked with managing U.S. relations with Brussels, which have become strained in recent years under the Trump administration—most recently with Trump’s decision to cut off U.S. air travel to Europe without first notifying his European counterparts. Washington has been without an appointed envoy to the EU since Trump megadonor Gordon Sondland was sacked from the job in February following his testimony in the impeachment trial. 

The impeachment trial and investigation centered on Trump’s moves to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless the Ukrainian government agreed to investigate Joe Biden, his Democratic rival in the 2020 presidential election. The ensuing saga dragged career diplomats under the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs into the national spotlight, where they faced political attacks by the president’s allies after being subpoenaed to testify. Trump was acquitted of the charges on mostly partisan lines.

Alden joined the Trump administration in 2017 as a special assistant in the Pentagon before becoming director for defense policy and strategy at the NSC. He previously held roles at the Center for the National Interest and Center for Naval Analyses, national security-focused think tanks. He joins the State Department as another top official in the bureau, Julie Fisher, is expected to become U.S. ambassador to Belarus, if confirmed by the Senate. 

The State Department and NSC did not respond to requests for comment. 

Career diplomats who serve at the deputy assistant secretary level typically have decades of experience in diplomacy before taking on such a role. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have made a practice of installing appointees with comparatively less experience and expertise in the State Department at that level. 

The impeachment saga forced out several key figures from the bureau—including Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch; her interim successor, William Taylor; U.S. special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker; and Sondland, the EU ambassador. Trump’s handling of the impeachment investigation fueled criticism from former diplomats and Democratic lawmakers that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was not taking enough action to protect career civil servants from political targeting or retaliation.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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