Donald Trump is signalling his determination to take a much harder line on everything from immigration to Islamic terrorism and Iran with his top national-security picks for his administration.
The U.S. president-elect announced three controversial appointments Friday that appear to dispel lingering doubts about how far he might go in forging U.S. policy out of angry campaign rhetoric, including his infamous call for a wall along the entire 3,200-kilometre U.S.-Mexico border.
Mr. Trump said he will nominate long-time Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to be his attorney-general – the country’s top law-enforcement officer – and Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo as director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Also pegged to join Mr. Trump’s administration is retired U.S. Army lieutenant-general Michael Flynn as White House national-security adviser – perhaps the most provocative selection of the trio.
“There is no question this is a hard-right group, and to a large extent, an untested group,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former counterterrorism official at the U.S. State Department under U.S. President Barack Obama who now teaches at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.
There have been indications in recent days that Mr. Trump was reaching out to Republican adversaries as he staffs up in his administration, perhaps suggesting a pivot toward moderation. On Saturday, for example, he’s slated to meet Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential candidate who apparently covets the job of secretary of state.
Mr. Romney was a leading voice of the Republican establishment in opposing Mr. Trump, calling him out as a “fraud” and a “phony.”
The latest appointments mark a trend by Mr. Trump of rewarding loyalists who stood by him when few other Republicans would. A further move in that direction would be confirmed if former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another staunch Trump supporter, gets the post of secretary of state.
Mr. Sessions, for example, was the first U.S. senator to endorse Mr. Trump for president. He’s also a committed conservative, who over two decades in Congress has staunchly opposed immigration reform, voting protections for minorities and lower mandatory-minimum prison sentences.
In 1986, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee blocked Mr. Session’s bid for a federal judgeship over alleged racially charged comments and actions while he was a federal prosecutor in Alabama – including referring to an African-American colleague as “boy” and joking about liking the Ku Klux Klan “until I found out they smoked pot.”
Mr. Pompeo, who unlike the other two was not an early Trump loyalist, is a lawyer and former U.S. Army officer. He has been harshly critical of Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and his handling of the 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
Mr. Pompeo, a key member of the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party, also has ties to the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David. The New York Times reported that the Koch’s Wichita-based company, Koch Industries, and its employees gave $80,000 (U.S.) in campaign contributions to Mr. Pompeo in 2010 – more than they gave to any other candidate that year. During his three terms in Congress, Mr. Pompeo has pushed some of their top priorities and defended them against Democratic criticism, writing a 2012 op-ed in Politico under the headline, “Stop harassing the Koch brothers.”
Both Mr. Sessions and Mr. Pompeo must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Of the three, Mr. Flynn is by far the most controversial appointment. He was fired as head of the U.S. Defence Intelligence Agency in 2014 for management lapses, led chants at Trump campaign rallies to “lock up” Hillary Clinton and dined with Russian President Vladimir Putin after a paid speech in Moscow. And he has repeatedly attacked the Muslim religion as a veil for terrorism.
His views on Muslims, while mirroring Mr. Trump’s election rhetoric, are at odds with long-standing U.S. government policy.
Mr. Flynn, a registered Democrat, was Mr. Trump’s main adviser on national-security issues during the election campaign. Unlike cabinet secretaries and heads of government agencies, White House staff choices do not need to be confirmed by the Senate.
“[Flynn] has a hard time telling the difference between the religion of Islam and Islamic terrorism,” Adam Schiff, a Democratic U.S. representative from California, complained on the Cable News Network.
Dartmouth’s Mr. Benjamin characterized him likewise, calling Mr. Flynn’s views on Muslims “remarkable and scary.”
Unlike many previous national-security advisers, he is a relative political neophyte, and has limited intelligence experience in Europe and Asia, Mr. Benjamin added.
A spokesman for the Trump transition team, however, said the three-star general, who served in Afghanistan, is the right man for the job. “He is tested under fire and has shown the right decision-making,” Jason Miller told reporters on a conference call.
Asked directly about his views on Islam, Mr. Miller said Mr. Flynn “shares [Mr. Trump’s] viewpoints, exactly how we should keep America safe.”
In a post-election interview, Mr. Trump said his administration would move quickly on both the wall with Mexico as well as deporting as many as two to three million illegal immigrants, convicted of crimes.
Trump officials insisted that Mr. Sessions and Mr. Pompeo would have little trouble getting confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. “We feel very confident Sessions has the backing and support to receive confirmation,” said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for Mr. Trump’s transition team.
Both men are well-liked by colleagues in Congress, even across party lines, Mr. Spicer pointed out.
Some Democratic activists took aim at Mr. Sessions’s hardline views on race, immigration and abortion.
Donna Brazile, interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, called Mr. Sessions’s appointment as attorney-general “deeply troubling” and urged the Senate to block it.
“As the top law-enforcement official in the country, the attorney-general has a solemn duty to defend the civil rights of all Americans and protect our most vulnerable citizens,” Ms. Brazile said in a statement. “Senator Sessions will only destroy our hard-won progress and drag our country backwards.”Report Typo/Error