President-elect Donald Trump on Friday named a hard-line former Reagan administration official to his national security staff and a prominent election lawyer as White House counsel, continuing to round out the team that will shape his policies on security and legal affairs.
For deputy national security adviser, Trump chose Kathleen “KT” McFarland, a Fox News analyst who vocally opposes many of President Obama’s national security policies. She will serve as deputy under National Security adviser designee Michael Flynn, a retired lieutenant general and fierce critic of Obama’s stances on Islamist extremism.
Trump also filled the key position of White House counsel with Donald F. McGahn, a veteran election lawyer, who was Trump’s campaign lawyer and an unofficial liaison to the Washington establishment that Trump spent much of the campaign opposing. The White House counsel essentially serves as the president’s personal lawyer and is influential in shaping policy; also occasionally restraining what the chief executive may want to do.
McGahn is an ardent libertarian, known for wearing his hair to his shoulders and playing electric guitar in a band, even as he works to loosen regulations on campaign spending by day.
The president-elect praised both choices, which do not require Senate confirmation. “I am proud that KT has once again decided to serve our country and join my national security team,” he said in a statement issued from his estate in Florida, where he is spending Thanksgiving weekend. “She has tremendous experience and innate talent that will complement the fantastic team we are assembling.”
McFarland was quoted as saying she is “honored and humbled” and praising Trump’s judgment on international affairs, which has been subjected to intense criticism from Democrats and some Republicans. “Nobody has called foreign policy right more than President-elect Trump, and he gets no credit for it,’’ McFarland said.
The announcement included bipartisan statements of support from former senator Joe Lieberman (D), the Democratic Party’s 2000 vice presidential nominee, and Robert C. “Bud” McFarlane, who worked with McFarland as President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Adviser. “As a friend and colleague, I’ve watched KT’s depth of knowledge and understanding grow,’’ said McFarlane, who called Trump’s choice “ one of our country’s most insightful national security analysts.’’
McFarland served on the National Security Council during the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations has been a national security analyst and contributor for Fox News since 2010. She has called Obama weak on counterterrorism, criticized what she calls “open borders” in Europe and echoed Trump’s calls for a crackdown on letting Syrian refugees into the United States because of potential terrorism fears.
Along with Flynn, McFarland is likely to preside over a much smaller National Security Council than now, as Congress will soon vote on a national defense policy bill that is likely to reduce the size of the president’s in-house foreign policy advisory body. She once ran, unsuccessfully, for the Republican nomination to challenge Hillary Clinton for her Senate seat in New York.
McGahn is considered one of the top election lawyers in the country, a job so highly specialized that its practitioners are almost unavoidably “Washington insiders” by definition. He is credited as one of the people most responsible for loosening regulations on campaign spending, helping to enable the corporate electioneering against which Trump defined much of his candidacy. His wife, Shannon McGahn, is staff director for the House Financial Services Committee, a role that makes her a magnet for the lobbyists Trump often pilloried during his campaign.
McGahn was one of the most entrenched Beltway insider in a campaign run by outsiders who owed their careers to Trump. But he’s always been a bit of an iconoclast, wearing his hair long until recently and playing bass in an ’80s cover band that gigs in Ocean City, Md. While many of his colleagues boast Ivy League diplomas, McGahn got his law degree from Pennsylvania’s Widener University.
When he was chairman of the Federal Election Commission, he frustrated campaign finance reform advocates by pushing to minimize government oversight; the commission’s top lawyer resigned when McGahn attempted to keep his office from sharing information with federal prosecutors. But he also won praise for opening up many formerly closed-door deliberations.
McGahn later moved on to the campaign-finance practice at the law firm Patton Boggs LLP and spent nearly 10 years as counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Currently, he hangs his hat at Jones Day, another high-profile law firm.
Ellen Weintraub, a Federal Election Commission member who often tangled with McGahn on the commission, said of McGahn’s selection as counsel: “In some ways, he’s not a surprising choice for a Trump administration. He’s a total disrupter like Trump.”
Bob Bauer, who served as White House counsel under President Obama, said it will be interesting to see how McGahn’s “deep libertarianism” will manifest itself in serving Trump. “As somebody who has never shied away from a fight, he would not likely be a ‘yes man’ in this or any other aspect of the job,” Bauer said.
The new administration appointees came as Trump remained at his Florida estate on Friday, keeping a limited Thanksgiving weekend schedule while speaking with more foreign leaders and preparing for further staff and Cabinet announcements.
After a Thanksgiving feast at Mar-a-Lago that included oven roasted turkey, lobster bisque and “Mr. Trump’s wedge salad,” the president-elect was planning no further personnel announcements until at least Monday, aides said Friday morning in a conference call with reporters.
Trump has spoken with five more foreign leaders since leaving New York for Florida on Tuesday, his transition team said. They include two of Europe’s most high-profile populist heads of state: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, a left-wing leader who came to power after a series of recessions and whose term has been marked by some of the most dramatic moments of the Greek debt crisis; and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a right-wing leader whose policies have included a push to reject the migrants flowing into Europe from the war-torn Middle East. At various points, both leaders have also broken from the rest of European Union members to pursue a closer relationship with Russia since the E.U. began to sanction Moscow over its activities in Ukraine.
Trump — whose campaign focused in part on populist issues such as trade and who has faced criticism for his frequent praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin — also spoke with the president of Slovenia, the country where his wife, Melania, was born.
After leaving Florida on Sunday, Trump plans to meet with at least seven possible job candidates on Monday, including several business executives, Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt (R) and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
People familiar with the selection process have said Clarke is in contention to be Trump’s homeland security secretary, along with other candidates, including: Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, former chief of U.S. Southern Command; Frances Townsend, a top homeland security and counterterrorism official in the George W. Bush administration, and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Clarke, a vocal Trump supporter, could be a controversial choice because of his strong stated views, including comparing the Black Lives Matter movement to the Islamic State.
Trump is also preparing to select Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary, according to officials with knowledge of the decision. Ross is a billionaire investor considered the “king of bankruptcy” for buying beaten-down companies with the potential to deliver profits.
Ross helped shape the Trump campaign’s economic agenda, particularly its hard-line stance on the need to renegotiate — or even withdraw from — free trade agreements. That position resonated with the working-class voters who were instrumental in delivering Trump’s upset victory. Elevating Ross to a position in his Cabinet could suggest that Trump intends to nurture the nationalist streak that was one of the hallmarks of his campaign.
Transition aides declined to comment Friday on Ross’s likely selection, or the possible choice of Ben Carson to be secretary of housing and urban development. Trump had tweeted Tuesday that he is “seriously considering” Carson for the HUD post, and Carson tweeted Wednesday that “an announcement is forthcoming about my role in helping to make America great again,’’ though he declined to be more specific.
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has no known experience with housing issues, ran against Trump in the Republican primary before becoming an adviser and confidant.
Ben Terris contributed to this report.