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Retired generals set to fill key roles in the Trump White House

November 21, 2016 (Photo Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Retired generals appear poised to play a significant role in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, with a number of notable names consulted in recent days about possible Cabinet appointments.

Already one former high-ranking officer has been tapped by the incoming president: retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former Defense Intelligence Agency director who served as Trump’s top military adviser through the campaign. He’ll now shift to being the White House's national security adviser, filling a similar role for the businessman turned commander in chief.

But a number of other prominent retired military leaders are also under consideration by Trump.

Over the weekend, he had formal transition meetings with retired Marine Corps Gens. James Mattis and John Kelly. Sources say both men are under consideration for the secretary of defense post, as well as other positions.

On Saturday, Trump emerged from his meetings to publicly praise Mattis, the former head of U.S. Central Command, as “the real deal” but without offering any clarity about what his future role might be.

In a statement, incoming administration officials said the meeting between Trump and Mattis was “an incredibly in-depth conversation on plans for national security” that included discussions on Islamic State fighters, the Middle East, North Korea, China and NATO.

Transition officials said Sunday’s meeting with Kelly, the former head of U.S. Southern Command, included “a frank discussion about the global national security situation in the United States and various areas of conflict in the Middle East.”

Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane told NPR that he was offered but declined the defense secretary post earlier in the month, citing personal reasons.

The former Army vice chief of staff did offer his own recommendations for the post: Mattis and retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, the one-time CIA director forced to resign after revelations about an extramarital affair and improper handling of classified documents.

Trump has spoken highly of Petraeus in the past, but has not given any indication in recent days about what role he might fill in a new administration.

If any of those men are offered the top Pentagon job, they’ll have to obtain a waiver from Congress before they can assume the position. Federal law mandates a seven-year wait between active-duty service and assuming the post of defense secretary, a rule designed to reinforce the concept of civilian control of the military.

However, with a Republican-controlled Senate and high marks from many lawmakers for each of those names, getting that exemption should not be a major hurdle.

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Rosenker, the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, has been rumored as a possible pick for Trump’s transportation secretary.  

And Trump’s transition team is stocked with other generals who could be offered posts as the administration takes shape.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who served as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, has become a key leader on defense issues behind the scenes for Trump. Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Thomas Carter, who worked for Coalition Provisional Authority Ambassador Paul Bremer in Iraq, and retired Army Gen. William Hartzog, former commander of U.S. Training and Doctrine Command, are also both heavily involved in those talks.

U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Earl Matthews, retired Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Bert Mizusawa and retired Army Col. Sergio de la Pena are also in the mix.

Trump is expected to name several more high-profile nominations early this week.



Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com .
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