Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trump Offers Key Posts To Sen. Sessions, Rep. Pompeo, Retired Lt. Gen. Flynn


Let's learn some more about people who have been offered posts in the administration of President-elect Donald Trump. Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn is Trump's choice for national security adviser, we have confirmed. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is the choice for attorney general of the United States and a congressman from Kansas, Mike Pompeo, is the choice for CIA director. Let's begin with NPR's Scott Horsley, who's covering this story.

Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: When you take all these appointments together, what does it tell you about Trump?

HORSLEY: Well, when you think about Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions, they are both Trump loyalists. They have been active surrogates for Donald Trump during the course of the presidential campaign. And in some ways, they mirror some of the positions that the president-elect himself took during the campaign. Michael Flynn, like Trump, has been outspoken in voicing his concerns about radical Islam, for example.

INSKEEP: About radical Islam - and what about Sessions?

HORSLEY: Sessions, like Trump, has been a real hard-liner when it comes to illegal immigration. Sessions was the first and, for a long time, the only sitting U.S. senator who was in the Donald Trump camp. So these were both folks who were active on the trail speaking out for Donald Trump and echoing some of the most hard-line positions that the candidate was taking.

INSKEEP: OK. And we're going to talk about Mike Pompeo in a moment, but let's drill down here on Michael Flynn. He's had quite a career, quite a dramatic rise and fall.

HORSLEY: That's right. He does come with some baggage. Flynn is a Democrat who rose up through the Defense Intelligence ranks and then lost his job as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency over some concerns about management. He was sacked during the Obama administration. He has also drawn some flak for taking payments from Russian state television, although, again, that's not something that's likely to put you at odds with Donald Trump.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk a little bit more about that and, in fact, play a little bit of tape here. We had an interview with General Flynn over the summer. We talked at some length about Russia. And it's interesting now, in this context, just to hear him talk about what he thinks about Russia and what he thinks Donald Trump thinks about Russia.


INSKEEP: What do you believe Trump wants to do with Russia?

MICHEL FLYNN: Yeah. I think that what we need to do with Russia - and I think where the conversations that I've had - is we have to understand that we must be able to deal with Russia. I mean, we just did with the Iranian nuclear deal - which we got the short end of that stick. So we can't sit here, Steve, and we can't, you know - and don't allow your listeners to not recognize the fact that we have dealt with Russia on many levels for many, many years.


FLYNN: I mean, had it not been for Russia, we'd be all, you know, kneeling at the altar of Adolf Hitler. So, I mean, it goes way back. We dealt with Russia on very tactical things, and we dealt with Russia on the Iranian nuclear deal. So we need to have - one, we need to have a strategic relationship. It doesn't mean friendship. It just means a mutual respect because we are two big nuclear nations who still have capabilities to destroy each other and has already been described. Russia - and I've said it - Russia is a - they represent a threat to our way of life. So that's sort of part of it.

INSKEEP: That's Michael Flynn talking with us earlier this year. And Scott Horsley, you hear that same inclination toward Russia that you get from Donald Trump, but he adds one more thing that I don't think you often do hear from Donald Trump. He still describes Russia as a grave threat.

HORSLEY: And certainly, the Obama administration has also felt it useful to work with Russia on things like the Iran nuclear deal, on things like removing chemical weapons from Syria. But - of course, Donald Trump has been much less critical of Russia, for example, in its aggression in Ukraine and its meddling in Syria.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about another communication, though, from Michael Flynn. Many people on social media this morning are sharing a tweet from General Flynn from early this year. And the tweet says, fear of Muslims is rational. And Flynn then goes on to share - to pass on a video that goes on at quite some length attacking Muslims and linking them with a variety of terror attacks and making a broad attack on the religion itself.

Is that normal for Mike Flynn?

HORSLEY: Very consistent. He has been, as I say, raising alarms about what he calls radical Islam, and also that's very consistent with the alarms of the president-elect, who, let's all remember, called for a ban on Muslim immigrants to the United States.

INSKEEP: And is very different in the way he talks about Islam than the past two presidents, we should emphasize.

HORSLEY: Who feel like it is counterproductive to indict a whole religion, including Muslims whose assistance will be needed to actually confront radical Islam.

INSKEEP: OK. Now, we mentioned another nominee that we now know the name of is Mike Pompeo to run the CIA. He's a Kansas congressman, and he is going to be wading into quite a challenge, both because it's the CIA and it's an extraordinarily difficult job and because President-elect Trump has said that he wants the United States to get back into the torture business. We had a conversation with Virginia Senator Mark Warner about that, that was on the program earlier today. Let's listen to a little bit of that, Scott.


INSKEEP: During the campaign, Mr. Trump said that he favored torture and he was willing to call it that, waterboarding and perhaps something worse, which is something that the CIA has said they'll never do again. Does the CIA have the power to decline such an order?

MARK WARNER: It is the policy of the American government not to condone torture. It does not work. It has not worked. I think there would be extreme pushback from the intelligence professionals if they were to receive those kind of orders.

INSKEEP: Would they ultimately have to agree to them, though? Or can they say this is an illegal order, I can't follow it - I will not follow it?

WARNER: Hopefully, that hypothetical will - we won't have to address.

INSKEEP: That's Virginia Senator Mark Warner. And we should mention, Scott Horsley, it is illegal to torture now in the United States. There was a law passed to that effect and signed by President Obama just last year. But it sounds like this could make for a rather interesting confirmation hearing for Mike Pompeo.

HORSLEY: That's right. And the CIA director is a post that is subject to Senate confirmation, as is the attorney general's post. The national security adviser's post is not subject to Senate confirmation.

INSKEEP: OK, Scott...

HORSLEY: But I'm sure that Mike Pompeo will get questions about his thinking on torture when he goes up for a confirmation hearing.

INSKEEP: OK, that's NPR's Scott Horsley. And, Scott, stay with us because I want to bring another voice into the conversation. Sarah Chayes is a former NPR correspondent and now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. And she worked with General Michael Flynn, the choice for national security adviser, when he was running military intelligence in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2011.

Sarah Chayes, welcome back.

SARAH CHAYES: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: How closely did you work with General Flynn?

CHAYES: We shared an office. Our desks faced each other.

INSKEEP: Well, what is he like as an office mate?

CHAYES: Fun, I have to say that for starters, very high energy, very, you know, celebratory almost to the point of frenetic-ness (ph). The work pace is just ridiculously frenetic - 12, 13, 14-hour days.

INSKEEP: Twelve, 13, 14-hour days. And I am remembering that, although many people have been dismayed by him in the military in the last year or so as he supported Donald Trump, he was considered a brilliant military officer before that.

CHAYES: He was. My assessment at the time was this guy was brilliant at bringing information in, you know. I mean, he was collecting information from all quarters. He had a bunch of people around him, some of whom would make some of us raise our eyebrows. My assessment at the time was, wow, he's an intel officer. He's got to be a dog catcher. The problem was he didn't seem to know which of his mutts could actually hunt, and that was - a really consistent feature was constant contradictions.

If you listened to him talking for 10 minutes, you'd hear him contradict himself two or three times. Again, as an intelligence officer, the way I rationalized it was, well, he's got to get this stuff inside his brain. The problem is that can lead to very contradictory both statements and, potentially, policies.

INSKEEP: Which is interesting because one of the jobs of a national security adviser, of course, is to keep things orderly and make sure that the president gets information in an orderly fashion. Any sense of what he was like as a manager?

CHAYES: Orderly, he was not.


INSKEEP: No? You're saying that - what do you mean by that?

CHAYES: Anything but. I mean, remember Linus in the Snoopy and the Charlie Brown cartoons? Something like that.

INSKEEP: I'll give - do you mean to say Pig-Pen?

CHAYES: The one - Pig-Pen, Pig-Pen (laughter). right.

INSKEEP: OK, the kid who was a little dirty, OK. So you're saying that things were a little chaotic around General Flynn. But you found this guy to be extraordinarily enthusiastic.

Let me ask another thing - because of some of General Flyn statements about Muslims, people are going to be asked if he is prejudiced in some way. There you are with him in Afghanistan. He's with American troops, few of whom would be Muslim. He's in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. How did he handle that?

CHAYES: I never found him in his personal dealings to be prejudiced, either in terms of religion, race or, in particular, gender. I mean, interestingly, the intelligence community within the Army is one of the ones where women really can rise to the top. And Flynn always surrounded himself with women and often said, look, it's just - diversity isn't even an issue because there's too much talent. I can't afford to lose the potential talent. So on a personal level, I never saw him behave in discriminatory ways.

INSKEEP: In just a few seconds, as someone who knows General Flynn, when you heard news of his selection, were you reassured, happy, disturbed, troubled, many questions - how would you phrase it?

CHAYES: My heart sank.

INSKEEP: Really? Why?

CHAYES: Everything I just said. The NSA is an institution that, first of all, has to keep the trains running. That's the first job of the national security adviser - is to make that National Security Council run.


CHAYES: Flynn can't make anything run.

INSKEEP: OK. Sarah, got to stop you there because of the clock. But thank you very much, really appreciate it. Good talking to you again.

CHAYES: Pleasure.

INSKEEP: And we also heard from NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.