Politics & Policy

Michael Flynn Said to Be Trump’s Top Choice for National Security Adviser

Flynn testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in 2014. (Reuters photo: Gary Cameron)
The controversial lieutenant general was a staunch Trump loyalist throughout the 2016 campaign.

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn has emerged as Donald Trump’s leading candidate for national security adviser, according to people familiar with the president-elect’s transition planning.

Flynn, who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) from 2012 to 2014 and served as a top intelligence adviser to General Stanley McChrystal in Iraq, advised Trump on foreign policy throughout the course of the presidential campaign. He was at one time rumored to be on Trump’s vice-presidential shortlist, and remains one of the only high-ranking national-security officials to have publicly aligned himself with Trump.

Like the president-elect, Flynn, a self-described “maverick” and longtime Democrat, shares a penchant for unvarnished straight talk that has earned him praise from some and condemnation from others. In his book The Field of Fight (2016), co-authored with the historian and former Reagan-administration official Michael Ledeen, Flynn writes that he is “not a devotee of so-called political correctness.” He describes being fired from the DIA a year before his tenure was up for pushing back against “censors” in the Obama administration who objected to his declaring publicly that the U.S. was losing ground to terrorist forces abroad.

Since the national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation, appointing Flynn to the post would avoid a public confirmation hearing where some of his more controversial statements could stall or upend his entry into the administration. And that may be a plus for a transition team that has continued to face resistance from much of the Republican foreign-policy establishment as it works to fill out senior-level cabinet positions.

During the campaign, dozens of Republican foreign-policy elders signed a letter denouncing the GOP nominee. After Trump’s election, one of them, the military historian and former State Department official Eliot Cohen, nonetheless encouraged his younger colleagues to join the administration if offered a job. But on Tuesday, Cohen retracted that sentiment. “The tenor of the Trump team, from everything I see, read and hear, is such that, for a garden-variety Republican policy specialist, service in the early phase of the administration would carry a high risk of compromising one’s integrity and reputation,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

The transition team itself has been beset by chaos and power struggles in the week since Trump’s election. New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who had been leading the team, was unceremoniously shoved aside on Friday in favor of Vice President–elect Mike Pence. Yesterday, House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, a Christie ally who had been overseeing the national-security transition, also stepped aside. And while reports over the weekend suggested that the position of secretary of state was almost certain to be filled either by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani or former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, NBC News reported on Wednesday that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who endorsed Florida senator Marco Rubio in the Republican primary, is now being considered for the position as well.

Flynn, a self-described ‘maverick’ and longtime Democrat, shares a penchant for unvarnished straight talk that has earned him praise from some and condemnation from others.

The one constant in the chaotic transition process is that the Trump team appears poised to reward loyalists such as Giuliani and Alabama senator Jeff Sessions and hesitant to bring in outsiders who spurned Trump during the hard-fought Republican primary. Flynn, 56, is among those loyalists. He remained a steadfast Trump ally throughout the campaign, offering the Republican guidance on thorny international issues and standing by his side even as others wavered. He raised eyebrows among many in the military and intelligence communities who normally steer clear of politics as he took part in campaign rallies, led enthusiastic chants against Hillary Clinton, and spoke in prime time at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

There he said the president’s empty rhetoric had “caused the world to have no respect for America’s word” and lambasted Democrats for debating the merits of transgender bathrooms. “My God, war is not about bathrooms. War is not about political correctness or words that are meaningless. War is about winning.”

If appointed, Flynn would oversee a National Security Council staff that has grown to about 400 people. As head of the DIA, he predicted that the Islamic State was on the ascent as the president was declaring it a “jayvee team,” and pushed to reform the intelligence community and slash jobs inside the Department of Defense. Since leaving government, he has become a controversial public opponent of Obama’s foreign policy. A former Defense Department colleague describes him as “one of the few who had the balls to buck [the president’s] ‘war has nothing to do with Islam’ pander-mania.” 

#related#Flynn’s attendance alongside Russian president Vladimir Putin at a gala hosted by the Russian-owned television station RT, and his frequent appearances on that network, have drawn fire from foreign-policy experts at both ends of the political spectrum. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said his speaker’s bureau had arranged his trip to Russia. He also dismissed the criticism his appearances on RT had generated, comparing the state-run network to CNN and MSNBC and saying he wanted to “help out to make sure they understand that we have people in our country who aren’t going to apologize for who we are.”

In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine in June, Flynn vowed, “I’m not going to be a general who just fades away.” It looks as though he is poised to keep that promise.

—​ Eliana Johnson is National Review’s Washington editor.

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