The Washington Post has reported that President-elect Donald Trump on Friday chose a former Reagan administration official and vocal critic of President Obama’s national security policies as deputy national security adviser, continuing the hard-line cast that is shaping his national security team.
Kathleen “KT” McFarland, a Fox News analyst who also served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, has accused the Obama administration of failing to confront the threat from the Islamic State and criticized Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
She will serve under National Security adviser designee Michael Flynn, a retired lietentant general and fierce critic of Obama’s stances on Islamist extremism, who is known for his occasionally incendiary online posts.
Trump also filled the key position of White House counsel with Donald F. McGahn, a veteran election lawyer, who was Trump’s campaign lawyer and an unofficial liaison to the Washington establishment that Trump spent much of the campaign opposing.
The president-elect praised both choices, which do not require Senate confirmation. “I am proud that KT has once again decided to serve our country and join my national security team,” he said in a statement issued from his estate in Florida, where he is spending Thanksgiving weekend. “She has tremendous experience and innate talent that will complement the fantastic team we are assembling.”
McFarland was quoted as saying she is “honored and humbled” and praising Trump’s judgment on international affairs, which has been subjected to intense criticism from Democrats and some Republicans. “Nobody has called foreign policy right more than President-elect Trump, and he gets no credit for it,’’ McFarland said.
The announcement included bipartisan statements of support from former senator Joe Lieberman (D), the Democratic Party’s 2000 vice presidential nominee, and Robert C. “Bud” McFarlane, who worked with McFarland as President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Adviser. “As a friend and colleague, I’ve watched KT’s depth of knowledge and understanding grow,’’ said McFarlane, who called Trump’s choice “ one of our country’s most insightful national security analysts.’’
McFarland served on the National Security Council during the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations has been a national security analyst and contributor for Fox News since 2010. She has called Obama weak on counterterrorism, criticized what she calls “open borders” in Europe and echoed Trump’s calls for a crackdown on letting Syrian refugees into the United States because of potential terrorism fears.
Along with Flynn, McFarland is likely to preside over a much smaller National Security Council than now, as Congress will soon vote on a national defense policy bill that is likely to reduce the size of the president’s in-house foreign policy advisory body. She once ran, unsuccessfully, for the Republican nomination to challenge Hillary Clinton for her Senate seat in New York.
McGahn is considered one of the top election lawyers in the country, a job so highly specialized that its practitioners are almost unavoidably “Washington insiders” by definition. He is credited as one of the people most responsible for loosening regulations on campaign spending. His wife, Shannon McGahn, is staff director for the House Financial Services Committee.
Ellen Weintraub, a Federal Election Commission commissioner who often tangled with McGahn, when he served on the commission, said of McGahn’s selection as counsel: “In some ways, he’s not a surprising choice for a Trump administration. He’s a total disrupter like Trump.”
The new administration appointees came as Trump remained at his Florida estate on Friday, keeping a limited Thanksgiving weekend schedule while speaking with more foreign leaders and preparing for further staff and Cabinet announcements.
After a Thanksgiving feast at Mar-a-Lago that included oven roasted turkey, lobster bisque and “Mr. Trump’s wedge salad,” the president-elect was planning no further personnel announcements until at least Monday, aides said Friday morning in a conference call with reporters.
Trump has spoken with five more foreign leaders since leaving New York for Florida on Tuesday, his transition team said. They include two of Europe’s most high-profile populist heads of state: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, a left-wing leader who came to power after a series of recessions and whose term has been marked by some of the most dramatic moments of the Greek debt crisis; and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a right-wing leader whose policies have included a push to reject the migrants flowing into Europe from the war-torn Middle East. At various points, both leaders have also broken from the rest of European Union members to pursue a closer relationship with Russia since the E.U. began to sanction Moscow over its activities in Ukraine.
Trump — whose campaign focused in part on populist issues such as trade and who has faced criticism for his frequent praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin — also spoke with the president of Slovenia, the country where his wife, Melania, was born.
After leaving Florida on Sunday, Trump plans to meet with at least seven possible job candidates on Monday, including several business executives, Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt (R) and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
People familiar with the selection process have said Clarke is in contention to be Trump’s homeland security secretary, along with other candidates, including: Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, former chief of U.S. Southern Command; Frances Townsend, a top homeland security and counterterrorism official in the George W. Bush administration, and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Clarke, a vocal Trump supporter, could be a controversial choice because of his strong stated views, including comparing the Black Lives Matter movement to the Islamic State.