posted at 11:31 am on February 18, 2017 by Ed Morrissey
Down goes another option to replace Michael Flynn as national security adviser, CBS News reports, and from a rather surprising source. After a speech overseas that apparently angered the White House, David Petraeus is no longer in the running for the spot — and that comes from sources close to Petraeus rather than the White House:
Sources close to retired Gen. David Petraeus say the White House eliminated the former CIA director from consideration for the open national security adviser post after he weighed in on the job during a conference in Germany this week.
”Whoever it is that would agree to take that position certainly should do so with some very, very significant assurances that he or she would have authorities over the personnel of the organization — that there would be a commitment to a disciplined process and procedures,” Petraeus said at the Munich Security Conference.
That pronouncement angered the White House as it deepened the sense the next national security adviser must assert authority over staff and the inter-agency process — highlighting the reason Vice Adm. Robert Harward refused to take the job earlier this week. Two sources confirmed to CBS News that Harward had demanded his own team, and the White House resisted.
The bigger surprise of this CBS update on the national security adviser sweepstakes is that David Petraeus was seriously in the running. The former four-star general and CIA director had his name included in media shortlists, but with the big, fat asterisk of having a misdemeanor conviction on his record for mishandling highly classified information. That wouldn’t have been an insurmountable legal issue — if nothing else, Donald Trump could have issued a presidential pardon to wipe it off the record. Politically, though, it would have created some difficulties, and it’s not certain whether Petraeus could get a high enough clearance after that to perform the job.
Nor did Petraeus seem desperate to find out. The speech at the Munich conference offered the same formulation that reportedly sunk Vice Admiral Robert Harward’s candidacy, too — demanding control over personnel on the National Security Council. If Petraeus was seriously interested in the job, that’s something he would have kept between himself and Trump until the decision had been made. Interestingly, Petraeus gave that speech at the same venue that Senator John McCain used to attack “Trumpism,” and in which he noted the checks and balances that limit the presidency. The anger in the White House might not have been all about Petraeus’ pronouncement per se, but also about where he said it and who with. Given all the other potential baggage that Petraeus would bring, the White House might have concluded that Petraeus wasn’t worth it in the long run.
That, by the way, is too bad — but probably inevitable. Petraeus deserves to be remembered as a military genius who understood how to fight terrorism and insurgencies and rescued the Iraq War from collapse in 2007-8, as well as for his stewardship of the CIA. He undoubtedly still has much to offer on national security issues, but the misdemeanor conviction showed that his judgment suffered at times, and leaves him too vulnerable to political attack (at least) to be effective in formal roles.
So who is still in the running? The Free Beacon reports that Trump will be conducting interviews this weekend at Mar-a-Lago, and the one name that keeps coming back up is the interim nat-sec adviser Keith Kellogg:
Kellogg, a retired Army lieutenant general, became acting national security adviser after Flynn resigned Monday night following revelations he misled administration officials about his contact with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Kellogg previously served as Flynn’s chief of staff and the NSC’s executive secretary.
Kellogg served two tours in Vietnam and was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star medals. The 72-year-old also served as chief operating officer for the transitioning Iraqi government in 2003 prior to his retirement from the Army.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton is said to be under consideration for national security adviser. Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) floated Bolton’s name in a Friday interview with CNN, calling him a “strong” choice who understands the threats facing the world, namely “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Bolton would make a fine choice, and one more in line with Trump’s temperament on national security as well. However, Bolton would want to have the same kind of authority over the NSC as Harward and Petraeus, and for the same reason — to make sure he’s really in charge of it. Bolton’s a reformer who might balk at getting dropped into a position with no real top-down authority to make changes as he sees fit. Kellogg’s already in place, and inertia plus a desire to get this off the front pages as fast as possible makes him the likeliest candidate for the job.