posted at 10:01 am on February 14, 2017 by Ed Morrissey
Rattled by the chaos surrounding the Michael Flynn scandal at the White House? A new report from the Washington Post about his replacement gives two reasons for optimism in the days ahead, assuming it’s accurate, of course. First, the man who has risen to the top of the shortlist, Vice Admiral Robert Harward, has served under Defense Secretary James Mattis and is known to be a Mattis ally. Second, the man who’s working on the selection is the one who just got burned by Flynn:
Vice President Pence has been leading the discussions and working closely with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Security John F. Kelly, CIA director Mike Pompeo, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the officials said.
Harward served under Mattis while he was at U.S. Central Command and remains an ally and friend of the defense secretary.
The officials said Harward, who has been under consideration as a possible undersecretary of defense for intelligence, is seen by key players around Trump as a steady pick for the post following the tumult that surrounded Flynn.
Pence is running the selection process? That’s a curious development, although not necessarily a strange one. Pence took over the transition team too, but that was from Chris Christie, and that was a role that incoming presidents always delegate to someone else. As president, though, one would think that the selection of a national security adviser would be made by the person to whom that office would report. Perhaps this is a concession to Pence after he got personally burned by Flynn, but Flynn’s ouster seems to have also been a concession to Pence.
If this is an example of Pence flexing his muscle within the administration, it might not be a one-off. Yesterday, Politico ran what seems now to be an all-too-prescient profile of the Pence team and its mission of stability within the party and government:
But as the Trump administration takes shape, Vice President Mike Pence has used his position atop the transition team and in the White House to install conservative allies throughout several agencies and at almost every level of government, giving the government a more orthodox cast. …
Pence and his team bring an entirely different ethos and set of values to the administration. The vice president’s emphasis on limited government and his conservative social views are distinct from the America First-style populism of Trump or top advisers like Steve Bannon, creating a divide that could influence policymaking on health care, education and social issues.
Members of Pence’s tight-knit inner circle, such as longtime aide Josh Pitcock, now Pence’s chief of staff, hold key positions both in Pence’s office and across the Trump administration. Ex-Hill aide Marc Short is the White House’s liaison to Congress, and Pence political advisers Nick Ayers and Marty Obst are helping to run Trump’s new nonprofit political arm, which was created to boost the president’s agenda, and brought on Pence’s nephew, John Pence, as deputy executive director. …
Former employees interviewed by POLITICO describe Pence as a manager who values humility, self-discipline and employees who follow marching orders.
Putting Pence in charge of the replacement process here should result in a more disciplined choice, and one that fits more within the rest of the Trump administration’s national-security mold. That should help restore confidence in the administration, and perhaps give an early demonstration of Trump’s interest in delegating some tasks to his VP that other presidents would normally handle themselves.
The fallout from Flynn may not be entirely over yet, either. The New York Times reported that K.T. McFarland may also be out, and that Gen. Keith Kellogg isn’t likely to beat Harward to the job:
Administration officials said it was unlikely that Mr. Kellogg would be asked to stay on as Mr. Flynn’s permanent replacement. Mr. Flynn brought Mr. Kellogg into the Trump campaign, according to a former campaign adviser, and the two have remained close. K. T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser who also was brought on by Mr. Flynn, is expected to leave that role, a senior official said.
One person close to the administration, who was not authorized to discuss the personnel moves and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that retired Vice Admiral Robert S. Harward is the leading candidate to replace Mr. Flynn, although Mr. Kellogg and David H. Petraeus are being discussed. It was not clear whether Mr. Petraeus is still expected to appear at the White House this week, as initially discussed by advisers to the president.
Flynn’s departure is likely to have a number of secondary aftershocks, and that’s yet another good reason to have Pence take on the task of replacing him. Pence will be better at anticipating those, and acting to minimize them.