President Trump’s chosen replacement for ousted national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has turned down the job, the White House confirmed to The Daily Beast.
Robert Harward, a well-respected retired admiral and U.S. Navy SEAL, nixed the offer in large part because Trump would not let him bring in his own team, according to two sources familiar with the matter. They spoke anonymously in order to discuss sensitive personnel decisions.
A Trump administration official said Harward’s offer was “subject to overcoming financial and family commitments, after 40 years in the military. “He came back today and said he could not overcome either (especially re: his wife),” the official wrote in an email. The official requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
In a statement Thursday evening, Harward said: “I spent the last 40 years as a Naval Officer where I was deployed and in combat for the bulk of my life. Since retiring 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. My thoughts and prayers are with those that carry such heavy burdens and responsibility for taking care of our country’s national security concerns. God bless this great country of ours.”
According to CBS News, Trump insisted that Harward keep as his deputy K.T. MacFarland, a one-time Fox News commentator whose last stint in government was as a Pentagon public affairs chief in the 1980s. Harward refused.
The news, first reported by the Financial Times, was greeted with alarm in the Washington national security community, which hoped Harward would be able to steady the roiling National Security Council after it was buffeted by an ugly rollout of Trump’s executive order on travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations—and a growing scandal surrounding Flynn’s contacts with the Russian government.
A friend of Harward’s told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the retired admiral called the offer to calm such a restive operation a “shit sandwich.”
National Security Council staff “are all worried, they don’t know who’s going to come in,” a White House official told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. But another NSC staffer said retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, currently the acting national security adviser, had been running matters smoothly.
And Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka on Thursday told a special operations conference that the NSC was on track to deliver a new national security strategy “soon” despite the reports of chaos.
As a SEAL officer, Harward had worked in the NSC under President George W. Bush, as well as serving as second in command to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis twice during his time in the military. Harward served as a former assault team leader in the Navy’s DevGru—popularly known as Seal Team 6. In later years, he led combined special operations forces in Afghanistan, launching dozens of missions in Afghanistan after 9/11. Years later, Harward ran detainee operations there and was credited with helping revamp the military’s often-troubled prison system.
Former U.S. officials who had backed Harward to lead the NSC said the White House erred in letting news leak of Trump’s offer, because now the also-ran, retired Gen. David Petraeus, was unlikely to entertain taking the post after it was made clear he wasn’t the first choice. The other known candidate is Kellogg.
Flynn resigned earlier this week after reports surfaced that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about the content of his phone calls with the Russian ambassador. (The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Flynn was not completely forthright about those conversations with the FBI, either.) During a press conference on Thursday, Trump said his decision to seek Flynn’s resignation was made simpler because he had an “outstanding” candidate in line to replace him.
“He was doing his job,” Trump said of Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador. “I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence.”