The curious case of the departed NSC staffer and the French state visit

The curious case of the departed NSC staffer and the French state visit
Eric Ciaramella

There’s hardly any record online of Eric Ciaramella, a CIA employee and former NSC staffer whom some believe to be the “whistleblower” who filed a complaint in August about the 25 July 2019 phone call between President Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

Certainly there is little in the way of photos.  Thus, a tiny collection of fewer than a handful of images has gone viral.  One photo most readers will have seen is this one:

Eric Ciaramella

In it, Ciaramella is seated in a row behind France’s First Lady, Brigitte Macron, and First Lady Melania Trump.  He is also seated next to a woman whose identity I haven’t yet unraveled (although she seems familiar).

The circumstances that placed Ciaramella in that particular image would probably be of considerable interest.  The reason is this:  Ciaramella was no longer working at the NSC when that photo was taken, and hadn’t been there for at least nine months.  As far as the public knows, when he left the NSC staff in the summer of 2017, he left the White House.

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But that photo was taken on 24 April 2018.  From what we think we know, Eric Ciaramella had gone back to the CIA at that point.  In fact, there had reportedly been a bit of a dust-up in the summer of 2017, when Ciaramella – who came to the staff in the summer of 2015 – had been made then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s deputy.  Blogger Mike Cernovich posted allegations that Ciaramella was a major source of leaks from the NSC staff, and was working against Trump’s policies.  According to political website reporting, Ciaramella decided to return to the CIA a bit earlier than he was scheduled to.  (His move from CIA in 2015 was probably a detail for at least 24 months.)

Readers, again, will be familiar with the basics about Ciaramella, chief among them being his assignment to Eastern European matters at the NSC staff.  That’s a key reason he is suggested to be the “whistleblower.”  He had worked Ukraine issues during his time at the White House, and in particular had worked with then-Vice President Joe Biden on them.  He also participated in bilateral events with Ukrainian delegations, in at least two cases alongside Democratic operative Alexandra Chalupa.

So, to cut to the chase, it seems odd that Ciaramella, an Eastern Europe specialist and mid-level CIA employee who no longer worked at the White House, would be present in a second-row seat among top-level White House staffers for the joint press conference held by Presidents Trump and Emanuel Macron of France during the Macrons’ state visit in April of 2018.  Someone seemingly had to go out of his way to make that happen – and seemingly, someone did.

This is odd whether Ciaramella is the “whistleblower” or not.  It’s odd in its own right, and it gets odder.  Immediately after the press conference (visual documentation below), Ciaramella attended the luncheon hosted for the Macrons at the White House by Vice President and Mrs. Pence.  These events were the same day, 24 April 2018.

Later that same day, the Trumps hosted the state dinner for President and Mme. Macron.  Some readers will be aware already that there’s a photo of Ciaramella at a formal dinner, apparently at the White House.  It is the White House, and it’s the state dinner for the Macrons.

The question asks itself: who is this guy?  Why would he be invited to these high-level events if he no longer worked at the White House?  To a Washington hand, he just looks like a stray GS-13 wandering around.

Before diving into the evidence, a few comments.  One: although Ciaramella seems to be fairly well on his own at the press conference and the luncheon, he is seated for the formal dinner at a table with then-Defense Secretary James Mattis.  That is food for thought in terms of what got him in the door for the French state visit – a visit for which he had no apparently relevant professional background.

As for being on his own: at the press conference, Ciaramella apparently arrives in company with at least two other people, one of them a colleague from the NSC staff in Obama’s last years, Melissa Rogers, who was also no longer working there.  More on that later.

Ciaramella and the two people he seems to have arrived with also sit on the French side of the presser audience.  They’re behind the front row where Brigitte Macron is seated, with French attendees arrayed to her left.

The question arises whether the arrangement for Ciaramella’s and Rogers’s attendance, and possibly that of the unidentified woman, was made through the French.  Unclear is whether that would have been a mere courtesy accommodation on the part of the French, or whether there was some reason of the French delegation’s own to want to host them.  (There’s no record I can find of Rogers having special interactions with France that would have led to that, but it may simply be something not published anywhere.)

Speaking, however, of high-level dinners and no apparently relevant professional background – at least not relevant to the nationality of the distinguished visitor – Ciaramella also attended a luncheon hosted by Joe Biden for Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in October of 2016.  (Paul Sperry reported on this event at RealClear Investigations, top link.)

Of course, Ciaramella is an Italian name, and our subject was on the NSC at the time, and had a history of working with Biden.  So perhaps he was invited to the luncheon in part because of his ancestry, as well as his working connection with the V.P.

But we learn an important fact about Ciaramella from the invitation list for the Biden-hosted luncheon, something that other reporting has not served to clarify for us.  Eric Ciaramella, on the guest list, is described as being from the EOVP; that is, the Executive Office of the Vice President.

Screen cap of federal record; link in Paul Sperry (RCI) article linked in text

So at the time of the Renzi visit (and probably for some amount of time before), Ciaramella’s billet at the NSC was as an official on the vice president’s staff.  In other words, he didn’t just work closely with Biden; he worked for Biden.  That’s meaningful in the sense of Biden’s being designated by Obama as the lead on Ukraine issues.  It was a designation formalized by having the NSC Director for Ukraine (Ciaramella) occupy an EOVP billet.

That obviously has to flip a switch on anything to do with Ukraine, and both Biden’s and Ciaramella’s activities, then and since, in relation to that increasingly hot potato.

But there is also the point that Italy, especially upper levels of the Italian government, and – in the view of some close observers – the Renzi government in particular, had extensive connections with the actors in Spygate, including Joseph Mifsud and the leading lights of Link Campus University in Rome.

Factor that in with Ciaramella showing up for no obvious professional reason at not one but two high-level diplomatic events, the second one occurring months after he had reportedly left the White House staff to return to obscure productivity at Langley, and there’s a whole banquet for thought laid out before us.

The state visit events of 24 April 2018

Now for some visuals.  The one photo everyone has seen (above) was the briefest of snapshots, conveying little about the context of Ciaramella’s appearance at the Trump-Macron presser.

Much more informative are outtake videos, posted online, of the full press conference, including the arrival of senior staffers just before it started.  This screen grab is taken from one of two videos that show Ciaramella was a second-tier arrival for the conference.  It closely replicates the circumstances of the snapshot that has gone viral.  Some individuals are labeled in the image; in the ensuing images we will see them enter the room.

The First Ladies are seated just before the press conference starts. NBC News video, YouTube

The videos are embedded at the bottom for your convenience.

They show that Ciaramella came in immediately behind the first tier group led by the vice president and Mrs. Pence.  That group included Adviser John Bolton (who had taken over from McMaster on 9 April 2018), Secretaries Mnuchin (Treasury) and Ross (Commerce), and Sarah Sanders, among others.

First-tier staff arrivals at Trump-Macron press conference, 24 April 2018. Fox 5 video, YouTube

Directly behind them in the first-tier group were such luminaries as Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller.  NSC official Fiona Hill, a star witness for Adam Schiff in his closed-door depositions, came in at the same time they did.

The view of first-tier arrivals from the NBC News camera. NBC News video, YouTube

In the video, it’s as we see these personalities finding and taking their seats that Eric Ciaramella enters the room in the background.

Ciaramella can be seen coming through the door behind the first-tier arrivals. NBC News video, YouTube

He arrives with the young woman with long dark hair (which we actually see her put up in a knot shortly before the presidents arrive) who ends up seated on his right in the photo behind Brigitte Macron.  Both of them are carrying booklets and briefcase bags as if they are there for a working purpose.

Ciaramella, Melissa Rogers, and the woman seated next to Ciaramella proceed into the second row of seats. NBC News video, YouTube
Entry into the second row seen on Fox 5 video, YouTube

Coming in just behind Ciaramella is another veteran of a Ukrainian outreach with Alexandra Chalupa.  Her presence is, if possible, even less explicable than Ciaramella’s.  The individual in question is Melissa Rogers, and she was a State Department appointee put on the NSC by Obama to work faith-based outreach issues (from 2014 to 2017).  She participated in an event in Ukraine with other Americans including Alexandra Chalupa and Ciaramella in November 2015.  Thus, she has a connection to Ciaramella and the NSC staff.

Event of November 2015.  Screen cap by author; see link in text.
U.S.-Ukraine Foundation (link in text).

But she left the NSC when Obama departed office, and was a non-resident Brookings fellow in April of 2018.  In early 2019, she accepted an appointment as a visiting professor at Wake Forest’s School of Divinity.

She’s had a career in activism but not one in government.  It is not clear why Melissa Rogers, no longer on the NSC staff (or at State), and without apparent relevance for a state visit by the president of France, was at the press conference on 24 April 2018.  Whatever the reason was, however, she came in with Ciaramella and the young woman who seemed to be in company with him.  They found their designated places in the second row, within a couple of seats of each other.

Back at the press conference, Ciaramella, Rogers, and the second woman take their seats. Fox 5 video, YouTube
The front two rows, filled, just before the First Ladies arrive. View from NBC News video, YouTube
After the First Ladies are seated, NBC News switches camera views. The presidents arrive. NBC News video, YouTube

For additional thinking material on the press conference, please watch the videos.  The NBC video starts with the staffers arriving in the first minute; the Fox 5 video is a long clip from a livestream, and you’ll want to scroll across until after the 1:00 (hour) mark, when you’ll see the live shot of the conference set-up kick in.

The Fox 5 video also has a livestream segment from the arrivals period for the luncheon.  Ciaramella’s seating location is indicated in the screen grabs used for illustration below, and it doesn’t change.

As you’ll see in the video, the luncheon is also a high-level event, at which you’ll recognize a number of the guests, including Mnuchin of Treasury, Secretary Rick Perry (Energy), Nancy Pelosi, and then-DNI Dan Coats, among others.  If Eric Ciaramella is there with someone, it isn’t either Melissa Rogers or the young woman who sat next to him during the press conference.  He is seen talking to an unidentified man seated on his right for much of the pre-luncheon video.

Luncheon cam, Fox 5 video, YouTube
Luncheon cam, Fox 5 video, YouTube

Neither video has footage of the state dinner.  All we have from that is the official White House photo in which Ciaramella can be seen seated at Jim Mattis’s table.

White House photo album image of the state dinner for the Macrons. Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian (annotated by author)

Again, Ciaramella’s placement at that table – which would be designated the “Mattis table,” as Mattis appears to be the senior official seated at it – is a clue to how Ciaramella may have been shoehorned into his appearances at the state-visit events on 24 April 2018.

But none of it fits well with what we think we know.  It does seem to lend credence to the reporting by Paul Sperry that everyone in Washington “knows” Ciaramella is the “whistleblower.”  He seems to have run tame at the White House long after he left his NSC staff position.  His showing up at state-visit events makes me wonder if he truly left the White House in 2017 – or if he may have left the NSC staff, per se, but been detailed by the CIA to a Company position that put him in the Executive Office Building, even if it wasn’t an Executive Office of the President (EOP) billet.

We don’t know if he’s the “whistleblower,” and we need to stress that.  We do know there’s something going on here, if Ciaramella’s history is really what we’ve been told.  If his history is not what we’ve been told, that may be even more interesting.  (Something I’m confident this is not is Ciaramella being in a legitimate clandestine operations position.  The entire White House press corps knows he was alleged to be a leaker in 2017 and left the NSC staff for that reason.  If he was still working in the White House after that, the circumstances are too eye-catching for him to be effective in any sort of undercover operations role against legitimate — foreign — targets, even supposing such ops are undertaken in the White House.)

I rarely if ever go through a painstaking visual documentation effort like this one.  But it’s important to establish how Ciaramella’s apparent priority entrée to all three major White House events on 24 April 2018, during the Macrons’ state visit, is incongruous in light of the public information about him.  At first glance, it looks like there was an effort in 2017 to paint him as the victim of hounding by conservative social media, when he never really left the White House at all — but instead retained a seemingly important position in it.

An obvious, if generic, deep state* connection

There’s one more point to make, which increases the interest and enriches our perspective on what’s going on here.  Others have noted that Charles Kupchan was Ciaramella’s boss at the NSC for at least some of the time Ciaramella was there.  Kupchan is an author and academic who was also on the Bill Clinton NSC in the 1990s, and on the policy planning staff at the State Department before that.  His writing in popular journals indicates he has internationalist and strongly leftist views.  (As Gateway Pundit points out, he is also mentioned as a go-to friend by Hillary Clinton crony Sidney Blumenthal.)

Kupchan is the brother of Clifford Kupchan, and the two of them – both specialists in foreign affairs – have done some publishing together (e.g., here and here).  But Clifford Kupchan, with a similar background in national security positions in D.C., also turns out to be the chairman of the consulting company known as the Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy founded by Ian Bremmer in 1998.  The Eurasia Group’s specialty is quantifying and indexing political risk assessments for international ventures – something that, if you can brand it, can give you leverage and entry tickets in foreign capitals.  Bremmer seems to be pretty good at branding.

Notably, the Eurasia Group bought out the firm Intellibridge in 2005, another consulting company founded by David Rothkopf and Anthony Lake, and at that time stuffed with usual-suspect national security talent.  (Seriously, it’s a chuckle-a-minute walk down memory lane for us old-timers to peruse the names at the Wikipedia entry.)

Unsurprisingly, one of the Eurasia Group’s senior advisers is Mark Malloch-Brown, a long-time UK Foreign Office official whose name Spygate researchers will instantly recognize as connecting personalities like Alexander Downer, Stefan Halper, Christopher Steele, George Soros (on whose Open Societies global board Malloch-Brown sits), and Clinton crony Frank Giustra, among others.

Malloch-Brown’s link through Soros to the International Crisis Group (ICG) would have solidified the link inherent in ICG-alumnus Rob Malley’s employment, during Obama’s second term, on the same NSC staff with Charles Kupchan, brother of Cliff.  Just two of the mutually-solidifying links coursing through the NSC at any given time, by the way.

So there’s even more to the “Charles Kupchan” link than meets the eye.  That’s the revolving-door “deep state” Eric Ciaramella works in.  Whatever Ciaramella’s been doing since the summer of 2017, the selfsame deep state seems to have a stranglehold on media coverage of that topic.  The mainstream media know when to lay off the overly-public exposure of facts “everybody knows.”  The public has to fend for itself.

(Videos below footnote.)

 

* We can say “deep state” now.  CIA officials have clarified that there is one, and that it’s something to be proud of.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.