Adviser On National Security Leaves Trump Transition Team
The Washington Post · by · November 15, 2016
President-elect Donald Trump prepared on Tuesday to meet with incoming Vice President Mike Pence to discuss Cabinet selections amid continued uncertainty over who will fill key positions and growing acrimony between Trump advisers and some key Republicans.
In one surprising development, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has been a confidant to Trump since the end of the Republican primaries, is unlikely to join the administration but will remain an informal adviser.
“The way I’m leaning is to work from the outside and not from the inside,” Carson said in an interview Tuesday. “I want to have the freedom to work on many issues and not be pigeonholed into one particular area.”
Carson, who is Trump’s most high-profile African American supporter, has been under consideration for several positions in Trump’s Cabinet, including secretary of health and human services.
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared to take himself out of the running for attorney general. Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney and a top Trump adviser, had been considered a leading candidate for the prestigious post.
“I won’t be attorney general,” Giuliani said Monday at a Wall Street Journal event.
Trump’s occasionally difficult relationship with Republican members of the Washington establishment also resurfaced.
Former congressman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), a widely respected voice on national security, announced that he is leaving his position as a senior national security adviser to Trump’s transition team. Bloomberg Politics, citing people familiar with the matter, said Rogers was asked to leave by senior transition team members.
It was unclear why, and Rogers could not immediately be reached for comment.
Eliot Cohen, a leading voice of opposition to Trump among former national security officials during the campaign, blasted Trump’s transition team in a tweet on Tuesday.
“After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming “you LOST!” Will be ugly,” tweeted Cohen, who served from 2007 to 2009 as counselor to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He was a driving force behind an open letter last spring – eventually signed by 122 Republican national security leaders – who opposed Trump’s candidacy.
Cohen, who last week had urged career officials to serve in Trump’s administration, said in an interview that a longtime friend and senior transition team official had asked him to submit names of possible national security appointees. After he suggested several people, Cohen said, his friend emailed him back in terms he described as “very weird, very disturbing.”
“It was accusations that ‘you guys are trying to insinuate yourselves into the administration…all of YOU LOST.’…it became clear to me that they view jobs as lollipops, things you give out to good boys and girls,” said Cohen, who would not identify his friend.
Cohen also said the transition official was “completely dismissive” of concerns raised about Trump’s appointment of former Breitbart News head Stephen K. Bannon as chief White House strategist. Bannon has been denounced by advocacy groups, commentators and congressional Democrats as a proponent of racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic views, though Trump advisers have strongly defended him.
His friend’s email conveyed the feeling that ‘we’re so glad to see the bicoastal elites get theirs,'” added Cohen, who described the response as “unhinged.”
Trump transition officials had no immediate comment Tuesday, but Jason Miller, a senior transition communication adviser, told reporters Monday night that Trump and Pence know the urgency of filling key positions.
“Obviously, inauguration day is not getting further away. And people need to get going. This is an absolute top priority understood by the president-elect and the vice president-elect,” Miller said.
As for the president-elect, Trump jumped back on Twitter Tuesday morning to argue about his expected loss of the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Trump was known for his incendiary tweets during the campaign, but has tweeted only sporadically since his victory.
“If the election were based on total popular vote I would have campaigned in N.Y., Florida and California and won even bigger and more easily,” Trump wrote at his personal account, @realDonaldTrump.
Six minutes later, Trump changed his tone and defended the electoral college, where his victory was secured. The system is “actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!” he wrote.
Amid the widespread uncertainty, coordination between Trump’s transition team and the Obama White House is now on hold until Trump’s team signs a key document, the Associated Press reported. The document, a memorandum of understanding smoothing interaction between the two teams, has yet to be signed by Pence, who recently replaced New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) as head of Trump’s transition planning.
White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said the Obama administration is working with Trump advisers to get the document signed.
The cascading developments followed a telephone call Monday between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which they agreed that relations between their countries were “unsatisfactory” and vowed to work together to improve them, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Moscow said the two men discussed combining efforts in the fight against terrorism, talked about “a settlement for the crisis in Syria” and agreed that their aides would begin working on a face-to-face meeting between them.
Trump’s office later said that Putin had called to “offer his congratulations” and that they had discussed shared threats and challenges, “strategic economic issues” and the long-term relationship between the two nations.
The president-elect spoke admiringly of Putin during the campaign, praising him as a stronger leader than President Obama and saying the two countries should join together to fight terrorists, particularly the Islamic State in Syria.
Those views put Trump at odds with many GOP defense hawks, who are uniformly suspicious of Moscow and have denounced Russian actions in Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Syria. The offer of cooperation could also immerse Trump in a deep controversy with the Pentagon, where military and civilian leaders have strongly opposed collaboration with Russia, particularly in Syria.
Protests, meanwhile, continued for a sixth straight day in major cities and on college campuses over last week’s election results, in which Trump won the electoral college but lost the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
He also faced escalating criticism over his appointment of Bannon.
“Bringing Steve Bannon into the White House is an alarming signal that President-elect Trump remains committed to the hateful and divisive vision that defined his campaign,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said in a statement. “There must be no sugarcoating the reality that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump Administration.” Trump allies have dismissed the accusation.
Obama, in his first news conference since the election, declined to comment on Bannon and sought to reassure the country and the international community that Trump is committed to governing in a more realistic and pragmatic fashion than he displayed on the campaign trail. Obama said Trump pledged in their conversation last week to maintain U.S. strategic relationships, including the NATO alliance.
At the same time, Obama urged the president-elect to reach out to groups representing minorities and women, many of whom have felt slighted by his candidacy.
“One of the great things about the United States is that when it comes to world affairs, the president, obviously, is the leader of the executive branch, the commander in chief, the spokesperson for the nation, but the influence and the work that we have is the result not just of the president. It is the result of countless interactions and arrangements and relationships,” Obama said. “… And there is enormous continuity beneath the day-to-day news that makes us that indispensable nation when it comes to maintaining order and promoting prosperity around the world. That will continue.”
Trump has signaled in numerous ways that he will not hew to many of the norms of past presidents, from declining to release his tax returns to relying on his family as key advisers. Previously, he has said he would avoid conflicts of interest as president by turning his business over to his children.
Since his victory last week, Trump has received congratulatory calls from a number of foreign leaders, including some he sharply criticized during the presidential race, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Sunday night, after he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump’s office said that he “believes the two leaders will have one of the strongest relationships for both countries moving forward.”
Trump’s relationship with Russia may be one of his trickiest to navigate.
Although the statement released by his office contained few details and did not mention Syria or other specific issues, it said Trump told Putin “that he is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the People of Russia.”
In addition to praising Putin, Trump has indicated that closer relations with Russia would keep the Kremlin from establishing tighter ties with China. He has appeared to absolve Russia from responsibility for intervention in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, and during the campaign repeatedly questioned the relevance of NATO, which has charged Moscow with engaging in provocative air and sea actions on the alliance’s eastern flank.
Giving Putin a free pass on those issues would run directly counter to the Russia policy of the Obama administration, which has, among other things, called for an international war-crimes investigation of Russia’s actions in Syria. It could also undermine current European negotiations with Moscow over Ukraine, as well as support for U.S. and European Union sanctions.
Russia is interested not only in getting the sanctions removed but also in obtaining equal status as a player in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Moscow is the primary supporter, along with Iran, of President Bashar al-Assad. In September 2015, one year after the United States began bombing Islamic State targets in Syria, Putin ordered Russian jets into operation against “terrorist” targets there.
Most Russian airstrikes, however, have targeted U.S.-backed opposition forces fighting against Assad and, according to the United Nations, have killed hundreds of civilians. The United States and its European allies have called for an international investigation of Russia for war crimes.
Obama administration offers to coordinate U.S. counterterrorism strikes against the Islamic State in Syria with Russia, if the Russians would stop bombing opposition and civilian targets, have repeatedly failed to stop the carnage. Any cooperation with Russia would also put the United States on the side of Iran, whose activities in the region Trump has vowed to stop.
Andrew Roth in Moscow and Elise Viebeck and Jenna Johnson in Washington contributed to this story.
The Washington Post · by · November 15, 2016