President-elect Donald Trump is moving ahead with filling key posts in his administration, picking Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for the job of attorney general and Rep. Mike Pompeo as head of the CIA. The announcements came on the heels of Trump’s decision to tap former military intelligence chief Michael Flynn as national security adviser. A Trump official did not say whether Sessions or Flynn had accepted the job, leaving open the possibility that those two arrangements were not finalized.
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Sessions and Pompeo would both require Senate confirmation before assuming their designated roles; Flynn would not. There could be some hurdles for Sessions, even with Republicans in control of the chamber. When Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge in 1986, he was dogged by racist comments he was accused of making while serving as US attorney in Alabama.
“Mr. Sessions is a throwback to a shameful era, which I know both black and white Americans thought was in our past,” the late Massachusetts Democrat, Sen. Edward Kennedy, said during the 1986 confirmation hearing. “It is inconceivable to me that a person of this attitude is qualified to be a US attorney, let alone a US federal judge.”
During the hearing, a former assistant US attorney, Thomas Figures, who is black, said Sessions referred to him as “boy,” and told him to be careful what he said to “white folks.” Sessions said he never called Figures “boy,” but Kennedy produced a letter from an organization of black lawyers that said Figures made the allegation about Sessions to the organization’s investigators at least twice.
Sessions told the committee that he told Figures to be careful what he said to “folks.” Sessions later withdrew from consideration, though he went on to become state attorney general and won election to the Senate in 1996.
Pompeo is a conservative Republican and a fierce critic of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Flynn was a fierce critic of President Barack Obama’s military and foreign policy long before he began advising Trump on national security issues during the presidential campaign. While the position of national security adviser doesn’t require Senate confirmation, Flynn would work in the West Wing and have frequent access to the president.
Flynn, who turns 58 next month, had built a reputation as an astute intelligence professional and straight talker when he became the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012. After retiring two years later, he made clear he took issue with the Obama administration’s approach to global affairs and fighting Islamic State militants.
Flynn has called for Washington to work more closely with Moscow, echoing similar statements from Trump. But his warmth toward Russia has worried some national security experts.
Flynn traveled last year to Moscow, where he joined Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials in a celebration of RT, a television channel funded by the Russian government. He later explained that he had been paid for taking part in the event, but brushed aside concerns that he was aiding a Russian propaganda effort.
Trump is a foreign policy novice and his early moves on national security are being closely watched both in the US and overseas. He’s said to be considering a range of officials with varying degrees of experience to lead the State Department and Pentagon.
Trump has also consulted with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and sat down with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a potential contender to lead the State Department.
In a separate gesture of reconciliation with establishment Republicans, Trump planned to meet with 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who lambasted Trump as a “con man” and a “fraud” in a stinging speech in March. Trump responded by repeatedly referring to Romney as a “loser.”
The two began mending fences after Trump’s victory when Romney called with congratulations. They are to meet this weekend, a transition official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss Trump’s schedule publicly. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said they were still “working on” the meeting.
Trump’s actions Thursday aimed to show that he could soften his rhetoric, offer pragmatism in the White House and reaffirm longstanding American alliances. Since his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton last week, Trump has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Theresa May and nearly three dozen other world leaders by telephone.
Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, also visited the Trump Tower and called the billionaire businessman “a true friend of Israel.” He specifically cited as another “friend” Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon, whose selection as a top White House adviser has created a backlash among Democrats. Bannon’s news website has peddled conspiracy theories, white nationalism and anti-Semitism.
“We look forward to working with the Trump administration, with all the members of the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon, in making the US-Israel alliance stronger than ever,” Dermer said.
Trump, a reality television star, business mogul and political newcomer, also rolled out new teams that will interact with the State Department, Pentagon, Justice Department and other national security agencies as part of the government transition before his Jan. 20 inauguration.