Donald Trump is trying to persuade his preferred candidate to succeed Michael Flynn as national security adviser to change his mind after the retired admiral tapped for the role told the US president that he could not accept the White House position, according to two people familiar with the situation…
But Mr Harward is said to have turned Mr Trump down. “Harward is conflicted between the call of duty and the obvious dysfunctionality,” said one person with first hand knowledge of the discussions between Mr Trump and Mr Harward. The second person said Mr Trump had asked Mr Harward to return to the White House for another meeting to try to change his mind…
One of the people familiar with Mr Harward’s decision said he was concerned about whether the top advisers around Mr Trump would allow him to install his own staff on the NSC — particularly after suggestions that KT McFarland, Mr Flynn’s deputy, had been asked to remain. When he was offered the position, Mr Harward had told Mr Trump that he wanted some time to think over the idea.
Or, to put it another way:
A friend of Harward's says he was reluctant to take NSA job bc the WH seems so chaotic; says Harward called the offer a "shit sandwich."
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 17, 2017
CBS is also reporting that McFarland staying on is a sticking point for Harward:
Harward turns down National Security Adviser post – dispute is over Flynn staffers, chief among them Deputy NSA McFarland.
— Major Garrett (@MajorCBS) February 16, 2017
Reports were floating around after Flynn quit that McFarland would soon follow him out the door, but Trump told McFarland that she could stay on. What’s odd is that McFarland is better known these days as a Fox News commentator than as some rock-star natsec specialist whose continued tenure is worth losing an able national security advisor over. The last time she worked in government before joining Team Trump was during Reagan’s first term. If you can have a well-respected NSA who’s a Mattis protege, who would doubtless work well with John Kelly, and who may very well bring some stability to a roiling intelligence bureaucracy, why not let him staff up the way he wants?
But then, staffing conflicts have been a recurring problem in the early days of the administration. Ironically, the worst offender might have been Flynn himself, who wanted more influence in picking personnel at Defense, State, and the CIA than Mattis, Rex Tillerson, and Mike Pompeo were comfortable with. Flynn himself experienced what it was like to have someone go over his head on staffing when Tom Bossert was added as a counterterrorism advisor reporting directly to Trump, not to Flynn, and Steve Bannon was added to the National Security Council’s Principals Committee. The most recent report of a standoff on staffing came a few days ago when Reince Priebus and Rex Tillerson were reported to be at odds over choosing certain key ambassadorships. Tillerson had apparently been promised that he’d have input, then found that in practice he had less input than he thought. Just this morning we had yet another report of a staffing conflict involving Dan Coats, Trump’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence. Why was Trump preparing to appoint an outsider, Stephen Feinberg, to review how America’s intelligence bureaucracy is structured when that would normally be Coats’s job? See why Harward is concerned about “dysfunctionality”?
I’m curious to know what his specific misgivings are about McFarland, though. Is it that he thinks she’s unqualified, having been out of government for so long, or does he think she’ll end up micromanaging him at the behest of the White House, knowing that Trump likes her? The NYT’s recent story about dysfunction within the National Security Council, which Harward has no doubt read, included some petty criticisms of McFarland but nothing hair-raising:
A number of staff members who did not want to work for Mr. Trump have returned to their regular agencies, leaving a larger-than-usual hole in the experienced bureaucracy. Many of those who remain, who see themselves as apolitical civil servants, have been disturbed by displays of overt partisanship. At an all-hands meeting about two weeks into the new administration, Ms. McFarland told the group it needed to “make America great again,” numerous staff members who were there said…
Ms. McFarland often draws on her television experience to make clear to officials that they need to make their points in council meetings quickly, and she signals when to wrap up, several participants said.
This Politico piece on McFarland from December was much harsher, calling her “a policy lightweight with no real personnel or crisis management experience” whose job as deputy NSA is exceptionally important and would be exceptionally demanding even for a much younger person. Although some, including Henry Kissinger, vouch for her capabilities, Politico suggests that she got the job because Trump enjoyed her appearances on Fox News and because she hit it off with his sons. Maybe that’s why Harward’s leery of her. Or maybe he fears that she’d be a Flynn loyalist if he kept her on, looking to undermine him from day one. Given the infighting in other parts of the administration, that’s not an irrational fear.
Here’s Trump at today’s presser insisting that his administration is a fine-tuned machine. As one reporter noted on Twitter, this makes two key jobs Trump is having difficulty filling due to perceptions of dysfunction. The other is White House communications director, which Sean Spicer has been doing himself while they look for a full-time addition.