U.S. national security handover to Trump
bumpy, officials say
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[January 20, 2017]
By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect
Donald Trump's national security transition has been more chaotic than
others in recent memory, with important positions unfilled and many of
his people less able, or willing, to engage on substance, U.S. officials
The uncertainties surrounding Trump's personnel, policies, and rise to
power have rattled many of America's allies, including Japan, Germany
and Britain, at a time when China is more assertive, Russia more
aggressive, terrorism more diffuse, the Middle East still unstable and
North Korea nuclear-armed and unpredictable, said U.S. and foreign
Disruption and uncertainty can provide strategic advantages, Mark Lagon
and Ross Harrison of Georgetown University wrote in Foreign Policy
magazine. "But what is seriously in doubt is whether Trump's disruption
will be strategic or beneficial to U.S. foreign policy interests. Even
before getting elected, he acted like a missile without a guidance
Top Trump officials, however, described the transition as having gone
smoothly, including on national security.
Republican Trump's camp announced on Thursday it had asked more than 50
of Democrat Obama's appointees to stay on.
However, at least three officials, a senior intelligence officer and two
diplomats whose names are on a list of "requested political holdovers,"
Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Stephanie O'Sullivan,
Under Secretary of State Catherine Novelli and Assistant Secretary of
State Toria Nuland appear on a Jan. 17 partial list of people the
transition wanted to remain after Trump's inauguration on Friday.
The two diplomats have told colleagues they are going, and O'Sullivan is
keeping her long-standing plans to retire. A U.S. official said that
Nuland was never asked by the transition to stay on and was unaware of
her name appearing on such a list.
The State Department declined comment. The Trump transition and the
Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not immediately
respond to a request for comment.
It is not clearly whether the uncertainties extend to other parts of the
government, but another senior official at a national security agency
said Trump's effort was "much slower" than the 2001 Bill
Clinton-to-George W. Bush or the 2009 Bush-to-Barack Obama handovers.
"Personnel appointments were far more advanced in both those cases,"
said the official, who spoke on condition he not be identified. "In both
cases, advance teams were working on substance."
During the 2008-2009 transition, the official said, incoming and
outgoing officials had worked together on issues "in a very harmonious
"None of that is the case in this transition," he added. He said that he
had expected to have met by now with his likely replacement or others on
the transition, but had not. "It’s not just me. Everybody’s experience
is like mine."
'REAMS OF BRIEFINGS'
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Vice President-elect Michael Pence
said Trump's transition was being completed ahead of schedule and under
budget. "Our job is to be ready on day one. The American people can be
confident that we will be."
[to top of second column]
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the
Environment, Cathy Novelli, speaks with the media during the "Our
Ocean" conference at the Hotel Sheraton Miramar in Vina del Mar
city, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer also told reporters that contact between
the incoming and outgoing National Security Council staffs had been
"We've had reams of briefings," he said. "That is one area where
frankly they have been very, very aggressive and robust with both
meeting with their counterparts and ensuring that the team is ready
to go day one."Trump's team did not respond to requests for further
Three State Department officials, though, called the transition
there "a mess," and said that until recently the Trump team had
little contact with department officials and read few if any of
their briefing books.
That has left many career officials with misgivings about the
incoming administration and the possibility that many foreign policy
and national security veterans may be swept out.
A dozen serving officials at four intelligence agencies said they
are troubled by Trump's apparent disdain for their work; by his
designated national security advisor Michael Flynn's perceived bent
for conspiracy theories and hostility toward some of his former
colleagues; and by what some say is the incoming president's
disinterest in the briefings he has received.
Two officials with knowledge of those briefings said Trump's
attention has wandered, he has asked few questions, has read few if
any of the briefing books he's been given – including the one on
Russian hacking of the 2016 election - and has requested few topical
sessions, one of which was on North Korea.
Secretary of State John Kerry and his nominated replacement, Rex
Tillerson, were to meet on Thursday, but their schedules did not
mesh, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
One Obama official, who has dealt with the Trump transition team at
the State Department and spoke on condition of anonymity, said it
appeared 'totally disconnected' from Trump's top echelon of advisers
and from Tillerson.
Tillerson's nomination is not expected to get a Senate Foreign
Relations Committee vote before Monday at the earliest.
(Reporting by John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, Arshad Mohammed, Warren
Strobel, Phil Stewart, Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle;
Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by John Walcott and Grant
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