On May 28, 1986, newly commissioned 2nd Lt. Michael Pompeo stood at attention in Michie Stadium at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, first in his class. The career he was about to launch would take him from commanding a tank platoon in Germany to a seat in Congress, and ultimately to the right hand of President Donald Trump as secretary of State.
Also on the field that day was classmate Mark Esper, who this July landed right next to Pompeo in Trump’s Cabinet, confirmed as secretary of Defense. Their West Point classmates Ulrich Brechbuhl and Brian Bulatao also hold senior State Department posts as Pompeo’s top lieutenants, while at the other end of the National Mall, inside the Capitol, classmate Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee has emerged as one of Trump’s leading defenders on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Thanks in part to Trump’s fixation on appointing current and former military officers to key posts, and in part to his tendency to take advice from a small circle of advisers, the West Point class of 1986 has grown into a profoundly influential cohort in American foreign and military policy. In the annals of the military service academies, its rise to the top puts it on a par with the class of 1915, which bred the commanders of World War II and a U.S. president.
The link that brought them into Trumpworld is David Urban, the lobbyist, CNN commentator and Trump confidant—and another member of the West Point class of ‘86—whose support of his fellow cadets helped Pompeo and Esper land their Cabinet posts.
Today, the tight-knit group of graduates—some cheekily refer to themselves as the “West Point Mafia”—constitutes a uniquely powerful circle at the highest levels of government. They consult each other on matters of state and also lean on each other in matters more intimate, in informal dinners and social gatherings around Washington with their spouses. And they have banded together to raise $23 million for a scholarship fund for the children of fallen soldiers, in honor of one of their classmates who was killed on active duty in Afghanistan a decade ago.
Now, the loyalty of all the president’s top advisers is being severely tested as the impeachment inquiry bears down on White House staff and the top rungs of the State Department and the Pentagon. For the West Point Mafia, that loyalty could start to conflict with their alma mater’s honor code, which— as some of their fellow West Point graduates have begun to point out publicly—calls on them to be honest, direct and not evasive, and not to tolerate that behavior in others. [Continue reading…]