Chris Fetzer

Trump selects Bush 43 White House veteran Bossert for key homeland security role

Tom Bossert, former Deputy Assistant for Homeland Security to President George W. Bush, will serve as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism in the Trump White House, the transition team has announced. In this role, informally referred to as Homeland Security Advisor, Bossert will serve as the President’s chief White House advisor on homeland security and counterterrorism matters. The Trump transition team has shared that the position will be “elevated and restored to its independent status.”  Unlike his predecessors in the Obama Administration, who served as subordinates to the National Security Advisor, Bossert will hold equal status to incoming National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Flynn. The Trump transition team has emphasized that Bossert will focus on “domestic and transnational security” matters, while Flynn will focus on “international security challenges.”

Bossert is the current President of CDS Consulting, a risk management advisory firm, and a Cyber Risk Fellow at the Atlantic Council, a leading global think tank focused on international affairs.  A co-author of the 2007 National Strategy for Homeland Security and an early participant in the development of US cybersecurity policy, he has indicated that the safeguarding of critical US infrastructure from cyber threats, and due consideration of privacy and civil liberties concerns in creating new cyber doctrine, will be top priorities.

Although Bossert’s position does not require confirmation, his selection has received widespread praise from senior officials who served in the Bush 43 White House, all members of the so-called GOP establishment.  This group of supporters includes two of President Bush’s former Homeland Security Advisors – Ken Wainstein and Fran Townsend.  Additionally, former Bush National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley is reported to have recommended Bossert for the position. GOP national security policymakers on Capitol Hill have generally applauded the Bossert pick as well, in particular because he will bring valuable Executive Branch experience to the incoming Trump national security team.

Overall, in comparison to some of President-elect Trump’s picks for other key Administration posts, the Bossert selection is considered non-controversial.

Trump picks billionaire entrepreneur to lead Army, adds more stars to national security team

President-elect Trump has nominated Vincent Viola to serve as the next Secretary of the Army.

A US Military Academy at West Point alum, former Army infantry officer, and graduate of the service’s elite Ranger School, he is the founder of Virtu Financial, an electronic trading firm, and the owner of the NHL’s Florida Panthers. Viola is also the former Chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange. Although he has spent the majority of his professional life in the private sector, Viola played a vital role in the establishment of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, an independent research and educational institution that contributes to the academic body of knowledge and informs counterterrorism policy and strategy.

A longtime proponent of defense innovation and DOD engagement with the commercial technology sector, as Secretary of the Army Viola is expected to champion rapid acquisition programs, dramatic improvements in cyber warfare capabilities, and the type of fail-fast culture celebrated by leading Silicon Valley technology companies. In 2011, during his opening remarks at a major defense conference, he predicted that, “the Army of the future will be built around a gestalt of geekdom,” adding that the service “is going to have to rethink the model of a warrior.” Elaborating, Viola proclaimed that at his company, he would “gladly trade 10 pull-ups and five minutes on a run for 20 IQ points and heart.”

Unlike some of Trump’s other recent selections for high-level Administration positions, the Viola nomination has received strong bipartisan praise. Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has stated that Viola’s “dedication to the [Army] is second to none” and that he is “up to the job.” With staunch support from the Senate’s new top Democrat, Viola should enjoy a smooth confirmation process.

Retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg named NSC Chief of Staff and Executive Secretary

Adding another general officer to the ranks of his defense and national security team, the President-elect has selected retired Army three-star general Keith Kellogg to serve as Chief of Staff and Executive Secretary of the National Security Council. An early and ardent Trump supporter, and longtime Trump campaign advisor, Kellogg is a veteran of the Vietnam War, Panama Invasion, and Gulf War. He commanded the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, worked as Director of Command, Control, Communications, and Computers for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and served as the Chief Operating Officer of the Coalition Provisional Authority transitional government in Baghdad, Iraq.

After his retirement, Kellogg held several executive-level positions with defense firms, including Cubic, CACI, and Oracle. He will serve directly under incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who is also a retired Army three-star, and Deputy National Security Advisor KT McFarland. In this role, Kellogg will be one of the President-elect’s leading advisors on national security matters. He joins Flynn, and retired Marine generals James Mattis and John Kelly, Trump’s respective Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security nominees, as the fourth general officer selected to serve in a Cabinet or other high-level position within the incoming Administration.

Trump selects ExxonMobil’s Tillerson to lead Department of State

President-elect Donald Trump announced this week his selection of Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world, to serve as Secretary of State.   Although the reaction to the pick by many pundits and policymakers has focused in large part on Tillerson’s reported relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, an objective assessment by the Senate of Tillerson’s background and experience will likely result in an at-times contentious and intense, but ultimately successful, confirmation process.

Some may view the Tillerson nomination as an outside-of-the-box decision by an unpredictable incoming Commander-in-chief, but the ExxonMobil head was highly recommended to Trump by revered GOP heavyweights within the defense and foreign policy establishment.

A Texas native and engineer who joined the then Exxon Company in 1975, Tillerson ascended the ranks within the oil and gas giant over the course of a prominent career, assuming his current position in 2006.  An Eagle Scout, he is the former National President of the Boy Scouts of America, the highest volunteer position within the organization.  Tillerson is also a past Director of the United Negro College Fund and the former Chairman of the American Petroleum Institute.  In addition to his current role at ExxonMobil, he is a member of the Business Roundtable, an honorary trustee of the Business Council for International Understanding, a nonpartisan, US-based organization focused on the expansion of international trade and commerce through engagement with foreign governments and businesses, and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a leading global think tank focused on security and foreign policy based in Washington, DC.

Although he has no public sector experience, Tillerson has helmed a company for a decade with virtually unrivaled global dealings, interests, and influence.  If ExxonMobil were a country, its annual revenue would make it the 41st largest economy in the world.  According to Robert McNally, the former Senior Director for International Energy on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, “the closest thing [the US has] to a secretary of state outside government is the CEO of Exxon.”

Tillerson’s nomination has given rise to an expected range of reactions from prominent former and current government officials – from unwavering support, to measured praise, to concern, to outright opposition.  Reportedly, former Secretaries of State James Baker (Bush 41) and Condoleezza Rice (Bush 43), and former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates (Bush 43 and Obama), all recommended Tillerson to President-elect Trump for the State Department role.  However, Tillerson’s supporters and detractors are not easily separated along party lines.

Of most concern to Senate GOP defense and foreign policy hawks, including Senator’s John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), and many Democrats, is Tillerson’s apparently close relationship with Putin.  ExxonMobil has extensive interests in Russia and the Caspian Sea region, which Tillerson oversaw directly during his tenure as Vice President of Exxon Ventures (CIS) Inc. and President of Exxon Neftegas Limited.  During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is likely to take place in early January, the subject of Tillerson’s receipt of the Order of Friendship award by Putin in 2013 is likely to be raised.  Further, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to hold both open and classified hearings in January focused on alleged Russian hacking of the US presidential election.  That Tillerson’s confirmation hearing will be held in close proximity to this hearing is likely to generate intense scrutiny of any perceived conflicts of interest Tillerson would have as Secretary of State based on his relationships with Putin and members of the Russian president’s inner circle.

Nevertheless, Tillerson’s list of key Senate advocates is growing.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) have expressed strong support for the selection, and perhaps even more importantly, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), who will lead Tillerson’s confirmation hearing and was himself on the President-elect’s short list for Secretary of State, described the ExxonMobil leader as “a very impressive individual” who has “an extraordinary working knowledge of the world.”

Additionally, Tillerson has expressed public support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Paris [Climate] Agreement, positions that put him at odds with the President-elect’s positions on these deals.  His support for the Paris Agreement may lead certain Senate Democrats vulnerable to defeat in the upcoming 2018 election to justify support for Tillerson during his confirmation, which in turn could offset a lack of support from a small number of Senate Republicans who remain skeptical of his fitness to serve as Secretary of State.  Further, Tillerson’s reluctance to embrace increased US diplomatic engagement with Iran will likely curry favor with some of the GOP foreign policy hawks who are scrutinizing his relationship with Putin.

Melodrama aside, Senate Republicans will control a 52-seat majority during the 115th Congress, and Tillerson will require a simple majority of 51 votes for confirmation.  So although there is little margin for Republican opposition to his confirmation, Tillerson is expected to emerge from an at times tempestuous confirmation process as the next Secretary of State.

Trump taps more brass for DHS as Christmas comes early for General Mattis

Adding to the list of retired generals that appear poised to serve in key Cabinet and other positions within his administration, President-elect Donald Trump has selected retired Marine General John Kelly to serve as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Some Congressional Democrats, and even members of both parties within the private sector and think tank set, are ringing the alarm bell in response to Trump’s selection of a third general to serve in a prominent role in his Administration. In addition to Kelly and General James Mattis, whom the president-elect has nominated to serve as Secretary of Defense, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn is set to serve as National Security Advisor.

Historically speaking, we need only to travel back to President Obama’s first term for confirmation that Trump’s selections aren’t rare. At the outset of his Presidency, Obama’s team of leading advisors included two general officers and one flag officer:

• General Jim Jones, National Security Advisor
• General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs
• Admiral Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence

In keeping with the subject of the president-elect’s retired general nominees, in what can only be described as a major victory for Mattis and his supporters, the former CENTCOM Commander received an early Christmas gift from Congressional Republicans in the form of legislative language fast-tracking his confirmation process in January 2017.

General John Kelly

General Kelly is the former Commander of US Southern Command, which oversees US military operations and activities throughout Central and South America. This command experience required him to interface with Department of Homeland Security leadership regularly and afforded him a unique understanding of the people, policies, and processes involved in facilitating and countering the trafficking of drugs and other contraband, and humans, across the US-Mexican border. Like the President-elect, General Kelly is an outspoken proponent of securing the southern border. He has referred to the flow of drugs, weapons, and undocumented immigrants across the US-Mexican border as existential threats to US national security. In appearing before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in 2014, Kelly emphasized that US border security operations are underfunded and warned of a burgeoning “crime-terror convergence” that poses a dire threat to US domestic security.

Like his fellow Marine General Mattis, Kelly served for over 40 years and is blunt-talking, sharp, and widely respected by service members across the Armed Forces and Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. A South Boston native, he has shared that he has lost many childhood friends to drug addiction.

Kelly has also commanded Marines in Iraq in the War on Terror and is the highest-ranking member of the US Armed Services to have lost a child in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. One of his sons, a Marine Lieutenant, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. Thus, Kelly has a unique perspective regarding the threat posed by extremists intent on committing terrorist acts in the US.

Key Senate Republicans, including Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ), have applauded Kelly’s nomination. Leading Senate Democratic homeland security policymakers have privately expressed their support for the selection as well, elaborating that they prefer not to publicize their sentiments out of a fear of jeopardizing his confirmation. This broad support on Capitol Hill from Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the Senate puts General Kelly on a glide path to a smooth confirmation process in early 2017.

Fast-Track for General Mattis

It now appears that General Mattis will enjoy a less complicated confirmation process than first expected in the immediate aftermath of his nomination. To uphold one of the cornerstone principles of the US democratic republic – civilian control of the military – by law, former military officers cannot serve as Secretary of Defense within seven years of retirement without a Congressional waiver. Following President-elect Trump’s selection of General Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense, Congressional Democrats, including Senate Armed Services Committee member Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), expressed respect for Mattis’ service but opposition to the Congressional waiver he will require to be confirmed. Predicting that Democratic opposition to the Mattis waiver was not robust enough to lead Democrats to risk a government shutdown, in one of their last acts of the 114th Congress, Congressional Republicans inserted language into a must-pass bill to fund the federal government that will streamline Mattis’ confirmation process.

The language, which is limited to “the first person appointed as Secretary of Defense” after the date of enactment of the federal government funding bill, and thus, limited to Mattis, reduces the number of years in the existing statutory prohibition against military officers serving as Secretary of Defense after retirement from seven to three to correspond to Mattis’ retirement date. Additionally, the language includes numerous fast-track mechanisms for Mattis’ confirmation, including expedited consideration by the Senate Armed Services Committee, elimination of the potential for procedural delays to attempt to postpone the Senate’s consideration of the confirmation, and a limitation on debate on the Senate floor to 10 hours. To appease Democrats, Republicans included a requirement that General Mattis must receive 60 votes to be confirmed, as opposed to a simple majority of 51.

Nevertheless, inclusion of this language in an unrelated, must-pass bill during the waning hours of the final session of the 114th Congress is an early Christmas gift for Mattis and his supporters, and all but ensures a smoother confirmation process for Mattis than originally anticipated.

‘CHAOS’ coming to Department of Defense with Mattis selection

You have heard a lot of nicknames ascribed to General James Mattis by the media in the hours since he was named as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Defense.

Mad Dog. The Warrior Monk. But the only nickname used by those who have served with him is CHAOS, and it doesn’t mean what one might think.

It’s an acronym arising from his tenure as the Commanding Officer of 7th Marine Regiment, standing for Colonel Has Another Outstanding Suggestion.  Setting aside his reputation as a no-nonsense, straight-talking leader of warriors, Mattis is obsessed with military history and is regarded among his peers as one of the finest military strategists of his generation.

General Mattis

President-elect Trump has selected his nominee for Secretary of Defense in tapping longtime frontrunner, retired General James Mattis, for the role.  Trump is expected to make a formal announcement on December 5.  Pending passage of a Congressional waiver and successful confirmation, Mattis would be one of the most important and influential cabinet members in the Trump Administration.  Further, he would be the second retired general in history to serve as Secretary of Defense.  Former Army Chief of Staff George Marshall served as President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, and then as his Secretary of Defense, the latter of which required an exception from Congress.  In the past several days, the President-elect has also added a key member to his national security team and increased the size of his Department of Defense landing and transition teams.

General Mattis served for over 40 years in the Marine Corps.   Before his retirement, Mattis led US Central Command.  In this role, he was the top commander in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2010-2013.  More broadly, US Central Command has responsibility over the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, including Syria, Libya, and numerous other nations of significant geopolitical strategic importance to US national security interest beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.  Mattis is also the former Commander of US Joint Forces Command and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Transformation.  Reportedly, in one of his first meetings with President-elect Trump, citing his experience as a NATO leader, Mattis was able to temper Trump’s position on the value (or lack thereof) of the US’ NATO alliances.  He is also believed to have changed the President-elect’s position on the use of torture on enemy combatants to glean intelligence, reportedly telling Trump that: “I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.”

Mattis’ early interactions with Trump demonstrate that he will be willing to challenge the President-elect on points of disagreement on key defense and national security matters.  Mattis, Trump, and incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn are in near lockstep with respect to their belief about the preeminent threat to US national security interests posed by Iran.  However, Mattis diverges with Trump and Flynn in viewing Russian influence and activities in the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere as a leading threat to US national security interests as well.  The dynamic between Mattis, a retired four-star general, and Flynn, a retired three-star general, will be interesting to observe as the two men take on the two most vital and influential defense and national security roles in the Trump Administration.

Mattis is revered by those who served with him in both the enlisted and officer ranks.  He is also widely respected by key defense policymakers in both parties on Capitol Hill.  This latter point is key.  Mattis would require a waiver from Congress to serve as Secretary of Defense.  To uphold one of the cornerstone principles of the US democratic republic – civilian control of the military – by law, former military officers cannot serve as Secretary of Defense within seven years of retirement without a Congressional waiver.  Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ), who would lead Mattis’ confirmation process, is so supportive of Mattis for Secretary of Defense that he stated on November 29 that he would personally draft the legislation granting Mattis the required waiver to serve in the role.  House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX 13th) has voiced unwavering support for Mattis as well.

However, support for Mattis as Secretary of Defense on Capitol Hill is not universal among defense policymakers.  Upon learning of Trump’s intention to tap Mattis for the role, Senate Armed Services Committee member Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) indicated that while she has tremendous respect for General Mattis’ service, she will not support the required Congressional waiver in keeping with the fundamental principle of civilian control of the military.  Additional Democratic opposition may emerge in alignment with Gillibrand’s, but mindful that Mattis has no shortage of Congressional champions in the Senate, he is expected to receive the required waiver and be confirmed.

Key Defense and National Security Positions Filled

On November 25, President-elect Trump tapped Kathleen Troia “KT” McFarland to serve as Deputy National Security Advisor under Flynn in the incoming Trump Administration.  Ms. McFarland served as a Pentagon spokesperson under President Reagan, and served in defense and national security roles in the Nixon and Ford Administrations as well.  On November 29, President-elect Trump’s transition team announced the addition of five new members to the Pentagon landing team:

  • Dr. Mark Albrecht, Chairman of the Board at US Space LLC, a former Lockheed Martin and SAIC executive, and the former Principal Advisor on the US space program to President George H.W. Bush
  • Kenneth Braithwaite, Senior VP at Vizient, Inc. and a retired Navy Rear Admiral who last served as the Navy’s Vice Chief of Information
  • Craig Duehring, former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs
  • David Trachtenberg, CEO of Shortwaver Consulting LLC and the former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy under President George W. Bush
  • Dakota Wood, a Senior Research Fellow for Defense Programs at The Heritage Foundation and retired Marine

On December 1, President-elect Trump announced the addition of three new members to the DOD transition team:

  • Retired Rear Admiral Kendell Pease, former chief spokesman for the Navy and former VP of Government Relations at General Dynamics.  (Tim and I used to work with him and his team).  Pease will focus on Navy and Marine Corps issues.
  • Retired Captain Michael Egan, a former Army Special Forces officer and current consultant for Boston Consulting Group
  • Chris Hassler, a Naval Academy grad and current President and CEO of Syndetics, Inc.

These additions to the DOD landing and transition teams, as well as previously announced transition and landing team members, have been applauded by many within the GOP defense and national security “establishment” who were reluctant to align with President-elect Trump during his campaign.  While support for some of the President-elect’s selections is not universal within the greater community of Republican defense and national security professionals, there’s a growing consensus that Trump is forming a capable and experienced defense and national security team.  This sentiment has become even more pervasive in the wake of the news that Trump has selected General Mattis to serve as his Secretary of Defense.

In the coming weeks, we anticipate more breaking news from the Trump transition effort on the defense, intelligence, and national security front, so stay tuned.

Trump's defense roster swells

President-elect Trump's transition effort has been active on the defense, intelligence and national security fronts in the past week. On November 17, President-elect Trump offered Lieutenant General (Ret.) Michael Flynn, former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Trump campaign's longtime top advisor on defense, intelligence and national security issues, the role of National Security Advisor. The following day, President-elect Trump's transition team released the rosters of its landing teams for the Pentagon and National Security Council.

The Pentagon landing team is led by Lieutenant General (Ret.) Keith Kellogg, former Chief Operating Officer of the Coalition Provisional Authority transitional government in Baghdad, and Mira Ricardel, a former Boeing VP and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy under President George W. Bush. Marshall Billingslea, Deloitte's Director of Business Intelligence Services and a former Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy, leads the National Security Council landing team.

Also on November 18, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS 4th), a West Point graduate and member of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, received the nomination to serve as Director of the CIA under the Trump administration. Additionally, in recent days, current Director of the National Security Agency and Commander of US Cyber Command, Admiral Mike Rogers, has been named as a top candidate to be tapped to serve as Director of National Intelligence in the Trump administration. On November 19, President-elect Trump met with General (Ret.) James “Mad Dog” Mattis, former Commander of US Central Command. In this role, Mattis was the top commander in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013. In the past 48 hours, he has emerged as the frontrunner to receive the nomination to serve as Secretary of Defense. Mattis is revered by those who served with him in both the enlisted and officer ranks, and widely respected by key defense policymakers in both parties on Capitol Hill.

This latter point is key. Mattis would require a waiver from Congress to serve as Secretary of Defense. To uphold one of the cornerstone principles of the US democratic republic—civilian control of the military—by law, former military officers cannot serve as Secretary of Defense within seven years of retirement without a congressional waiver. On November 21, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, whose position would carry significant weight during any waiver consideration, and who would lead Mattis' confirmation process, voiced his strong support for General Mattis and stated: “General Mattis has a clear understanding of the many challenges facing the Department of Defense, the US military and our national security. I hope he has an opportunity to serve America again.”

Were Mattis to receive the nomination to serve as Secretary of Defense, he is unlikely to encounter much congressional resistance during the requisite waiver and confirmation processes. Notably, Mattis would be the second retired general in history to serve as Secretary of Defense. Former Army Chief of Staff George Marshall served as President Harry Truman's Secretary of State, and then as his Secretary of Defense, the latter of which required an exception from Congress. Of course, the Mattis nomination is not a foregone conclusion, and other candidates remain under consideration for Secretary of Defense, including two civilians who would not require a congressional waiver—former Missouri Republican Senator Jim Talent, a former member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a longshot for the nomination, Stephen Hadley, former National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush.

While congressional Democrats, and even some congressional Republicans, have expressed concerns about some of General Flynn's stated positions on Islam, his alleged close ties with the Putin regime, and potential conflicts of interest through the consulting firm that bears his name, the National Security Advisor position does not require confirmation. Rep. Pompeo has his own set of Democratic detractors on Capitol Hill, but he is unlikely to encounter significant hurdles during his nomination process.

In all, President-elect Trump's recent nominations and leading candidates for key defense, intelligence and national security roles in his administration demonstrate that Trump intends to surround himself with hawkish individuals who in large part support the President-elect's campaign promise to aggressively pursue the eradication of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, both foreign and domestic. These individuals are expected to have outsized roles in the Trump administration, will in large part develop and drive the President-elect's defense and national security policy priorities, and will likely have significant influence over US foreign policy as well.

The Trump administration's first federal budget proposal is likely to be released in the April-May 2017 timeframe, but during the intervening months, as the President-elect continues to build his defense, intelligence and national security teams, we will have further insights into the top priorities that Trump's Department of Defense will pursue at the outset of his presidency.