Trump faces growing tension with key Republicans over national security issues – Chicago Tribune
President-elect Donald Trump, who clashed with leading Republicans throughout his campaign, faced growing tumult in his national security transition team on Monday as key members of his own party appeared to question his views and personnel choices.
Former congressman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., a respected voice on national security thought to be a leading candidate to run the CIA, was among those pushed out of the team over the past two days, two individuals with direct knowledge said, in a series of moves that have added to the anxiety across the upper ranks of U.S. intelligence agencies.
The changes came as Trump met Tuesday with incoming Vice President Mike Pence to discuss Cabinet and top White House personnel choices. Pence last week replaced New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, R, as head of Trump’s overall transition efforts, and Christie’s associates – who had been Trump’s link to the GOP mainstream for months – now find themselves losing influence.
A number of Christie allies have been told they were no longer in line for top posts, according to several people familiar with the transition, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly.
Also on Tuesday, perhaps the most influential Republican on national security matters, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., weighed in on Trump’s efforts to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying any efforts to “reset” relations with Russia are unacceptable.
McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who had a difficult relationship with Trump during the campaign, issued a statement blasting Putin as “a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies and attempted to undermine America’s elections.”
A former U.S. official with ties to the Trump team described the ousters of Rogers and others as a “bloodletting of anybody that associated in any way on the transition with Christie,” and said that the departures were engineered by two Trump loyalists who have taken control of who will get national security posts in the administration: retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Rogers had no prior significant ties to Christie but had been recruited to join the Trump team as an adviser by the former New Jersey governor. At least three other Christie associates were also pushed aside, former officials said, apparently in retaliation for Christie’s role as a U.S. prosecutor in sending Kushner’s father to prison.
Rogers’ departure adds to the list of positions for which the Trump team is struggling to find suitable candidates, and came as Eliot Cohen, a leading voice of opposition to Trump among former GOP national security officials during the campaign, blasted Trump’s transition team for its treatment of perceived foes.
Now operating below Pence on the transition team, the people said, are advisers who are close to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. – himself a top Trump associate known for his hardline views on immigration – and former Breitbart News head Stephen Bannon. Bannon’s recent appointment as chief White House strategist was denounced by advocacy groups and Democrats, who accuse him of racist, anti-Semitic and misogynist views.
Inside Trump Tower in Manhattan, where the president-elect is planning his government, the shift is seen as a clear signal that Trump will govern more in line with the populist, hardline campaign he ran, the people said.
In another surprising development on Tuesday, 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. “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.
Adding to the uncertainty, former New York City 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.
Cohen, meanwhile, drew widespread attention for his tweet:
“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.