Trump signals change with Flynn replacement

 

President Trump has asked a widely respected career naval officer to replace Michael Flynn, a choice that appears designed to soothe growing anxiety about turmoil on his national security team.

It was not immediately clear whether Vice Admiral Robert Harward, who served on the National Security Council (NSC) under President George W. Bush, has accepted the position of national security adviser, according to multiple reports.

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The White House would not confirm the selection of Harward, promising reporters an update “soon.”

But Harward — a former deputy commander at U.S. Central Command under now-Defense Secretary James Mattis — is widely seen as a 180-degree turn from Flynn, a fiery figure who courted controversy. 

Flynn resigned Monday night amid an uproar over a series of phone calls he made to the Russian ambassador prior to Trump’s inauguration, during which he reportedly discussed Obama-era sanctions penalizing Moscow for its interference in the U.S. election.

Trump on Wednesday blamed “criminal leaks” to the “fake media” for Flynn’s ouster, but the former intelligence officer had long drawn fire for his extreme views and his willingness to push conspiracy theories both on Twitter and among colleagues during his time at the helm of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Harward, notably, does not appear to have a Twitter account.

The son of a career naval officer, Harward is a former Navy SEAL who commanded troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to his stint in the Bush White House, where he worked on counterterrorism issues.

He now works as an executive for the defense contractor Lockheed Martin, heading its United Arab Emirates arm.

He is widely seen as steady hand who can bring order to a national security apparatus that was seen as dysfunctional under Flynn.

“He’s got a distinguished background and a great deal of respect in the national security community. From everything I know, I think he’s a fine choice,” Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) said Wednesday.

“I have same concerns as I did about Flynn, Mattis, Kelly about loading up the NSC with retired general officers, but no concerns about Harward personally,” Loren DeJonge Schulman, a senior adviser to former national security adviser Susan Rice, said in an email to The Hill.

“That he has relationships with Mattis and Kelly is a good thing, and he has a good reputation among the civilians I know that worked with him.”

Reports continue to suggest that the NSC is not yet fully staffed — even in some key positions — and career civil servants are often in the dark about what policies the president wants to enact.

The New York Times reported earlier in the week that some staff members have turned to encrypted communications to talk with their colleagues after hearing that Trump’s top advisers are considering an “insider threat” surveillance program to root out leakers.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCrenshaw looms large as Democrats look to flip Texas House seat Analysis: Biden victory, Democratic sweep would bring biggest boost to economy The Memo: Trump's strengths complicate election picture MORE (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday said that the dismissal of Flynn highlighted “dysfunction” within the White House.

Trump was reportedly “a bit surprised when Harward responded by saying he needed a couple of days to think it over,” according to Foreign Policy’s Thomas Ricks.

Some have speculated that Harward may demand to bring his own staff into the White House.

Speculation has also centered on whether deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, a former Reagan official who most recently worked for Fox News, will remain in the administration. She did not assume the position of acting national security adviser following Flynn’s departure — that title went to NSC chief of staff Keith Kellogg, who was also reportedly under consideration for the job.

The selection of Harward could also ease concerns among Democrats that the departure of Flynn will create a power vacuum to be filled by Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist.

Bannon was named a member of the NSC’s principal’s committee last month, outraging many former officials who say that political advisers should not have a role in national security decision.

Instead, the selection of Harward appears to elevate the influence of Mattis in the White House — not Bannon.

If he accepts the post, Harward would be the second high-ranking national security official to have served under Mattis. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also served under Mattis in Iraq.

Publicly, Mattis has remained agnostic about who fills the national security adviser post, although he has reportedly urged Harward to take the job.

“Who’s on the president’s staff is who I will work with,” Mattis told reporters on the way to Brussels Tuesday.

Jordan Fabian and Rebecca Kheel contributed.