TOPICS > Politics

For national security positions, Trump picks outspoken critics of current policy

November 18, 2016 at 6:40 PM EST
President-elect Donald Trump made two more major appointments this week: retired Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn as national security adviser and Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo as head of the CIA. Michael Ledeen of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, join Judy Woodruff to discuss.
LISTENSEE PODCASTS

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn now to the other major appointments Donald Trump made today.

Again, John Yang brings us some background.

JOHN YANG: It’s a plum job for an ardent loyalist. Michael Flynn was one of the highest-ranking former military officers to endorse candidate Donald Trump. The retired army lieutenant general was outspoken in condemning Hillary Clinton.

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), U.S. Army: We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law.

AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up!

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN: Lock her up, that’s right. Yes, that’s right. Lock her up.

JOHN YANG: He held a variety of senior posts during the Afghan war and became the top U.S. military intelligence officer there. In 2012, he became the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, only to be forced out two years later, amid reports he’d been fired over his combative style, reports he disputed.

After that, Flynn became hotly critical of the Obama administration’s pursuit of Islamic radicals. Last February, he went even further, tweeting that: “Fear of Muslims is rational.”

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo of Kansas is President-elect Trump’s choice to be CIA director. A graduate of West Point and Harvard Law School, he was elected to the House in 2010. He gained prominence as a sharp Clinton critic on the House Select Committee on Benghazi. And he’s an opponent of the Iran nuclear deal.

In addition, Pompeo has said that Muslim leaders who don’t denounce terror attacks are potentially complicit.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m John Yang.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We look now at the choices with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California, the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Michael Ledeen, a scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonprofit organization here in Washington. He’s also co-author with retired General Michael Flynn of the book “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies.”

And we welcome both of you back to the program. Thank you for being here.

Michael Ledeen, you wrote that book together with General Flynn. You know him very well. What do you think of this pick?

MICHAEL LEDEEN, Foundation for Defense of Democracies: I think it’s a great pick.

He has various qualities that you really want in that job. Number one, he’s very straightforward. He’s not tricky. He’s not guileful. He’s not afraid to give bad news to his superiors. He’s proven that.

And, secondly, really, it’s unusual for a military man. He doesn’t care about rank. His career is, if he finds some 2nd lieutenant who’s good at something, he will stick with that guy, rather than look for some full colonel or something.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Schiff, what’s your thought on Michael Flynn for the national security adviser?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-Calif.): Profoundly concerned, both for reasons of temperament, as well as his view on a number of key policy issues.

Chief among them, he’s made some very incendiary remarks about the entire religion of Islam, at times failing to distinguish between the practitioners of that faith and al-Qaida and ISIS. That’s a narrative that ISIS likes to play into, that there is a clash of civilization, that it’s the West against all of Islam.

And, unfortunately, a lot of things that General Flynn has said over the years play into that narrative. I’m also concerned, though, that you have someone with a temperament that, when he was running the Defense Intelligence Agency, was volatile, was often erratic. He had severe management problems. We need a steady hand in the national security adviser.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Ledeen, let’s take those one at a time.

Temperament. Does General Flynn have the temperament necessary to be in this job, national security adviser, where you have to weigh so many different competing interests?

MICHAEL LEDEEN: Well, I think so.

I mean, he totally transformed the way we do intelligence on the battlefield, first in Iraq, then in Afghanistan. Those were big organizations. The methods that he inherited had been in place for a long time, and he transformed them.

As for Islam, if you will read the book “The Field of Fight,” you will find that he doesn’t condemn Islam in its entirety, that he condemns radical Muslims, that he has a lot of supportive words both for groups, individuals and countries that are moderately Islamic, like Indonesia, like Singapore and so forth. And he goes on at great length about that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s unpack those one at a time.

Congressman Schiff, let’s pick up on the comment you made that he had made remarks about Islam, essentially saying the entire religion is what we need to worry about. But we hear Michael Ledeen saying that’s just not the case.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, Michael must have written those chapters in the book that express a different view, because, if you look at what comes directly from General Flynn in his tweets and other comments, that we should rationally fear all Muslims, that — those are very damaging statements.

And I think, coupled with a president-elect who has talked about banning all Muslims, this is deeply destructive to the country, to our work with our Muslim allies, and plays into this narrative that al-Qaida wants to tell that it’s us or them, that Muslims don’t have a home in the West.

But, beyond that, if you look at his coziness with the Kremlin, he shares that with the president-elect. Putin is not our friend. And I want someone, a national security adviser who’s willing to tell the president, notwithstanding your predisposition to want to get along with this guy, he is invading his neighbors, he is bombing civilians in Syria, and he is not your friend.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, coziness with the Kremlin, coziness with Vladimir Putin, Michael Ledeen, what is the truth of that? What is the story? I mean, how close is he to the Russians? We know he gave a speech, was paid by a Russian entity for that.

MICHAEL LEDEEN: Well, he was brought to a conference.

It’s normal, if you go to a conference, that your expenses get covered. They hired him through a speakers bureau, so he got a normal speaking fee. I mean, there’s nothing untoward about that.

And to his face, he called Putin an enemy. So, all this talk about Flynn being soft on the Kremlin and so forth is nonsense. And the people who say it — I’m sorry to say it hurts me personally — haven’t read the book, because the book calls Putin an enemy of the United States, in those words.

So, this is, to my way of thinking, just a misunderstanding of Flynn, as the Muslim thing is a misunderstanding.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Short answer.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, notwithstanding the book, that’s not the way General Flynn has been talking during the last year.

And, in fact, when General Flynn was asked, as indeed the president-elect was asked, about Russians hacking into Democratic institutions, something the director of national intelligence has confirmed was ordered at the highest levels of the Kremlin, both the president-elect, with the support of General Flynn, basically disavowed that intelligence and said, we don’t really know, it could be Russia, could be China, could be a 400-pound man.

If General Flynn is willing to disregard good intelligence when it’s counter to the interests, political interests of the president-elect, that is a real problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we need to move on in a little bit of time left to talk Congressman Mike Pompeo, chosen to be in charge of the CIA.

Michael Ledeen, do you know him well? What do you think of him?

MICHAEL LEDEEN: Kansas. He’s what we used to call a real American. He’s heartland. He’s very smart. He’s extremely hardworking. He’s been terrific on Iran. He and Senator…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Terrific on Iran, meaning — we know that he’s been very critical of the Iran nuclear deal.

MICHAEL LEDEEN: Well, but he’s one of the members of Congress that uncovered the Iranian cheating and some of the secret deals that were made that Congress hadn’t been told about. They uncovered that in Vienna at IAEA.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is your comment on him?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: I know Mike very well and I like him. I think he’s a very bright guy, a very hardworking guy. And I think he will do a good job at the CIA.

He can be very partisan. And, on Benghazi, we had very strong differences. He was even beyond the point where the majority of — the majority was, and issued a separate opinion, not thinking the majority opinion was harsh enough on the secretary.

So, he can be very partisan. But, at the same time, I am confident that he will set that aside. He will have to. The CIA requires somebody to be just vehemently apolitical, nonpartisan. But I think he has the capability of doing that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we will be learning much more about these two gentlemen in the days and weeks to come.

Right now, we want to thank both of you, Congressman Adam Schiff, Michael Ledeen. Thank you.

MICHAEL LEDEEN: Thank you.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.

And, online, we take a closer look at the relationship between Trump chief strategist Stephen Bannon and the controversial media outlet Breitbart News.

SHARE VIA TEXT