The Cable

Top Trump National Security Picks Accept as First Landing Team Launches

After two weeks of guessing games, key names come out of Trump Tower.


After almost two weeks of guessing games, names of the incoming American government’s national security leaders are beginning to trickle out of Trump Tower.

President-elect Donald Trump announced on Friday that he has picked three key Cabinet positions: Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security advisor; Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general; and Rep. Mike Pompeo to lead the CIA.

A team Trump statement Friday announced all three men have accepted the President-elect’s offer.

Flynn is a retired three star general who has tweeted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” sat next to President Vladimir Putin at controversial Russian media outlet RT’s 10th anniversary dinner in 2015, and reportedly oversees a company (Flynn Intel Group) that received “tens of thousands” of dollars for lobbying from a Turkish client. His appointment suggests the Trump administration will concentrate major national security decisions within the White House.

Sessions was elected to the Senate from Alabama in 1996. He is a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which in 1986 rejected his nomination as a U.S. District Court judge because of Sessions’ alleged history of making racist comments, including calling the NAACP “un-American” and a white civil rights attorney “a disgrace to his race.” He also was accused of calling a black U.S. attorney “boy,” a charge Sessions denied by saying, “I have never used the word ‘boy’ to describe a black.” He now carries the distinction of being the Senate’s “most vocal opponent of immigration reform.”

Pompeo is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, and was heavily involved in the congressional investigation into the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya — and heavily critical of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated last week in his bid for the presidency. That Pompeo is a three-term congressman, and Flynn is a former general and head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, suggests intelligence issues will be primarily focused not in the CIA, or Office of the National Intelligence Director, but in the NSC.

On Friday morning, the Trump transition website posted a list of its first landing team — that is, the officials who will meet with sitting Obama administration leaders, agency-by-agency. The first landing team deals with the Pentagon, State Department, Justice Department and the  National Security Council. It will be funded by what is described as mix of volunteerism, private funding, and “transition entity” money.

Here is a list of the people who are included on the national security teams, so far:

PENTAGON: Mira Ricardel of M. Ricardel LLC; Keith Kellogg of Cubic Corporation; Thomas Carter of Elbit Systems of America; Michael Duffey of the Republican Party of Wisconsin; William Hartzog of Burdeshaw Associates, Ltd.; Justin Johnson of the Heritage Foundation; Bert Mizusawa of the U.S. Army; and Sergio de la Pena of de la Pena Consulting LLC.

STATE DEPARTMENT: Erin Walsh, formerly of Goldman Sachs; Alexander Gray of Trump for America, Inc., Jackie Wolcott of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Ashley Bell of the Republican National Committee; and Charles Glazer of Fieldpoint Private.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Brian Benczkowski of Kirkland & Ellis LLP; Zina Bash of Doctors’ Hospital at Renaissance; Greg Katsas of Jones Day; James Burnham of Jones Day; and William Cleveland of City of Alexandria Public Schools.

NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Marshall Billingslea of Deloitte;  Mark Scraba of 29K Leaders; Thomas Higgins of First Data; Sven Kramer, formerly of the Department of Defense; Tera Dahl of Trump for America, Inc; and Kiron Skinner of Carnegie Mellon University.

Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a foreign affairs reporter at BuzzFeed. She was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2016-2018. @emilyctamkin

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