National Security

Trump Would Reconsider Bannon’s Role If Asked

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that if President Trump’s newly appointed national security adviser wanted to remove chief strategist Steve Bannon from the National Security Council’s principals committee, the president would “take that under serious consideration,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Said Spicer: “The president has made clear to him he’s got full authority to structure the national security team the way he wants.”

NSC Staffer Quits Over Trump’s ‘Disturbing’ Actions

The spokesman for the National Security Council says President Trump’s “disturbing” and repeated attempts to undermine the U.S. intelligence community prompted him to resign last week, the Huffington Post reports.

“In a scorching Washington Post column published Monday, Edward Price … pointed to several instances in which he said Trump had questioned the integrity of U.S. intelligence agencies, including the president’s tepid response to reports that Russia hacked U.S. officials in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election.”

But the “final straw” was Trump’s decision last month to make chief strategist Steve Bannon — whom Price calls “a media champion of white nationalism” — a member of the National Security Council.

McMaster Will Be Able to Pick His Own Staff

The Guardian reports that President Trump’s new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster is expected to pick his own staff, though “as a serving military officer, McMaster was not in a position to attach many preconditions to his service.”

Also interesting: “In contrast to Trump’s stated enthusiasm for torture, McMaster ordered detainees be treated humanely, and even polled detainees on how well the regiment followed through. And in contrast to the dark view of Islam put forward by Trump, his strategy chief Steve Bannon and, most notably, Flynn – who once tweeted that fear of Muslims is ‘rational’ – McMaster ordered his troops not to use derogatory terms to refer to Muslims.”

Can Mattis Push Trump Towards the Conventional?

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “appears to be at odds with President Donald Trump on Russia and other key issues, setting up potential discord but also helping to nudge the White House toward more conventional policy stances,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“In recent days, other top administration officials have aired foreign-policy views that don’t align perfectly with the new president… But it is Mr. Mattis who has differed with the president on the most issues. And while that could set up a clash with a White House that has said those who don’t agree with the president should leave, the defense chief seems to have had the most success in prodding Mr. Trump away from some of his positions.”

Trump Picks McMaster as National Security Adviser

President Trump picked Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a widely respected military strategist, as his new national security adviser, calling him “a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience,” the New York Times reports.

The Washington Post reports that retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who has been serving in an acting capacity as national security adviser, will be the chief of staff on the National Security Council.

Thomas Ricks: “Picking McMaster is not a bad thing. I’ve known him since he was major. He’s smart, energetic, and tough… That said, the basic problems remain. To do the job right, McMaster needs to bring in his own people. And it remains unclear if he can get that.”

Quote of the Day

“The national-security aspect isn’t functioning. Nobody knows who’s making the decisions. The Iranians are testing. The Russians are testing. They’re testing this administration. Who is making the decisions when we don’t have a national-security adviser?”

— Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), in an interview with New York Magazine.

Petraeus Drops Out of Consideration for Security Post

President Trump “won’t guarantee that his next national security adviser will have full control over staffing and process, a move that is shortening the list of people willing to take the job at a tumultuous moment for the new administration,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Retired Vice Adm. Bob Harward and retired Gen. David Petraeus have dropped out of consideration for the critical post… Both candidates have cited concerns about staffing and independence.”

Harward Turns Down Trump’s National Security Offer

“Donald Trump is trying to persuade his preferred candidate to succeed Michael Flynn as national security adviser to change his mind after the retired admiral tapped for the role told the US president that he could not accept the White House position, according to two people familiar with the situation,” the Financial Times reports.

“Mr Trump asked Robert Harward, a retired navy special forces officer, to succeed Mr Flynn, who was fired as national security adviser on Monday. At a press conference on Thursday, he said his decision to replace Mr Flynn had been made easier because he had an “outstanding” candidate to serve as a replacement. But Mr Harward is said to have turned Mr Trump down.”

Flynn Told FBI He Didn’t Discuss Sanctions with Russia

“Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn denied to FBI agents in an interview last month that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States before President Trump took office, contradicting the contents of intercepted communications collected by intelligence agencies,” the Washington Post reports.

“The Jan. 24 interview potentially puts Flynn in legal jeopardy, as lying to the FBI is a felony, but any decision to prosecute would ultimately lie with the Justice Department.”

Trump Let Rival CEO Listen In On Call

“Days before taking office, President-elect Donald Trump made two surprise calls to the Air Force general managing the Pentagon’s largest weapons program, the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 jet. Listening in on one of those calls was Dennis Muilenburg — the CEO of Lockheed’s chief rival, Boeing,” Bloomberg reports.

“Trump, who has repeatedly criticized the $379 billion F-35 program as ‘out of control,’ made the highly unusual calls to Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan on Jan. 9 and Jan. 17… Muilenburg, whose company makes a fighter jet Trump has suggested might be an alternative to the F-35, was in the president-elect’s New York office for a meeting during the second call. He appeared caught off-guard but was able to listen in on the call, according to the people, who asked to remain anonymous discussing sensitive information. One of the people said the call was on speakerphone.”

An Epic Showdown with Intelligence Community

First Read: “Less than a month in office, President Trump has engaged in plenty of fights already — with the courts, Mexico, the media, and even Nordstrom. But his emerging fight with the U.S. intelligence community (over Russia and leaks) might be his biggest fight yet. On the one hand, you have the New York Times reporting that Trump is planning to appoint an ally who has little experience in intelligence matters “to lead a broad review” of the intelligence agencies. “The possible role for Stephen A. Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, has met fierce resistance among intelligence officials already on edge because of the criticism the intelligence community has received from Mr. Trump during the campaign and since he became president,” the Times says. And on the other hand, you have the Wall Street Journal writing that U.S. intelligence officials ‘have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised.'”

“Of course, we knew this fight was coming — given Trump’s complaints against the intel community during the transition, and after recently departed Michael Flynn fed Trump the line that the intel community was politicized. Still, it’s a remarkable development. Think about it: The day after the New York Times reports that Trump’s presidential campaign had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials, the same paper writes that Trump is putting an ally — with little experience in intelligence matters — to lead a review of the U.S. intelligence community.”

“We get that Trump is trying to crack down on leaks; Barack Obama was frustrated by them, too. But what is the bigger story here — that Russians had contacts with Trump’s campaign, or the leaks about these contacts? Or that Russians interfered in the 2016 election, or that this interference was leaked to the press? It sure seems like Trump and his team are less bothered by the news than who’s leaking the news.”

U.S. Intelligence Keeps Information From Trump

“U.S. intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The officials’ decision to keep information from Mr. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump accused the agencies of leaking information to undermine him.”

Flynn’s Access to Classified Information Suspended

The Defense Intelligence Agency has suspended the security clearance it granted to former national security adviser Michael Flynn in the latest blow to the embattled retired general, NBC News reports.

DIA spokesman James Kudla said, “We thought it was prudent to take a pause on his access to classified information” given “all the questions” around Flynn’s conduct.

Harward Plans Housecleaning at National Security Council

President Trump “offered the job of national security advisor to retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward on Monday night, and was a bit surprised when Harward responded by saying he needed a couple of days to think it over,” Foreign Policy reports.

“If, as expected, Harward accepts the job today, he is likely to bring in his own team, from deputy on down, with a focus on national security types with some experience under their belts.”