Publicly, retired Vice Adm. and US Navy SEAL Bob Harward has turned down an offer to be Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser because he wants to spend more time with his family. Privately, sources close to Harward say that he declined the opportunity yesterday after watching Trump’s bizarre and disturbing press conference.
“Since retiring,” Harward said in a statement, “I have the opportunity to address financial and family issues that would have been challenging in this position.”
“Like all service members understand, and live, this job requires 24 hours a day, 7 days a week focus and commitment to do it right. I currently could not make that commitment.”
But in fact “Harward took notice of Trump’s White House news conference on Thursday,” the Huffington Post reports. CNN’s Jake Tapper delivered an anonymous quote that was even more blunt.
A friend of Harward’s says he was reluctant to take NSA job bc the WH seems so chaotic; says Harward called the offer a “shit sandwich.”
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 17, 2017
During a strange, combative 77-minute press conference yesterday, Trump told reporters that he had an “outstanding” replacement for retired US Army Gen. Michael Flynn.
Flynn resigned Monday after well-sourced news reports revealed he had been dishonest about his discussions of sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.
Trump was clearly referring to Harward, a former aide to Defense Secretary James Mattis during his time in charge of US Central Command and a veteran of the George W. Bush NSC. But Harward turned down the job just two hours after that ringing endorsement.
Harward reportedly wanted to clean house at the National Security Council and bring back the professionals and experts who have been sidelined or driven out. He also “wanted commitments that the National Security Council would be fully in charge of security matters, not Trump’s political advisers,” POLITICO reports.
But according to CNN, those preconditions became a major point of contention with Steve Bannon and Donald Trump, who reward loyalty instead of knowledge or expertise.
A Republican official told CNN that Harward made it a condition of taking the job that he could form his own team. In the end, he didn’t feel that was the case.
And a senior Republican familiar with the process added that “a question of clarity regarding the lines of authority” was central in Harward’s decision.
“I wouldn’t call it a disagreement as much as questions that could not be resolved to his comfort level,” the senior Republican said.
Loyalty works both ways in the Trump administration. According to CBS, one of the uncomfortable questions Harward raised was the fate of Deputy National Security Adviser KT McFarland. She has been out of government for 30 years, but remains a Trump favorite because of her past work as Fox News conspiracy theorist.
Bob Harward is an important indicator of the trajectory Donald Trump has taken with his military. Although his campaign bluster proved quite popular with the uniformed services and their families, Trump’s approach to governing has alarmed professional soldiers.
According to the White House schedule, Trump has not received any intelligence briefings since Flynn resigned.
“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil,” Gen. Tony Thomas, current head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), said on Tuesday. “I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war.”
Indeed, Trump seems eager to break American special forces by throwing them into battle “without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations” — the charge leveled by military officers after a disastrous raid on a village in central Yemen that killed dozens of civilians and a key tribal ally of the US-backed president in that country.
As he watched Trump’s press conference, Bob Harward also saw the president ‘joke’ about shooting a Russian spy ship “right out of the water.” Perhaps that flippant verbal display was the last straw.
Whatever the reason, former military personnel being recruited for the Trump White House will surely make note of Harward’s example — and not a few will be skeptical of his war with the intelligence services. It was already hard for Donald Trump to find good help, but it just became even harder.
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