Profiles of Trump’s National Security Picks: Flynn, Sessions and Pompeo

People make policy, so the saying goes. And on Friday, the Trump transition team unveiled three more names of men who would help President-elect Donald Trump make decisions, steer policy and run the interagency process. Trump announced that he’d selected retired Army Lt. Gen Michael Flynn to be his national security adviser; Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, to serve as attorney general, and Mike Pompeo, a Republican congressman from Kansas, as CIA Director. Flynn will not need Senate confirmation to take on his new role, but Sessions and Pompeo do. If confirmed, all of them will have a profound effect on national security law and policy.

So who are they? What do their records tell us? Below is a short bio for each, plus links where you can read more.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (National Security Adviser): Flynn is a retired three-star Army general who served in the military’s top intelligence jobs before being forced to retire in August 2014. Flynn says he was fired from his post as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency because he was sounding the alarm bells on ISIS and the Obama administration didn’t want to hear it. While Flynn did flag the rise of ISIS early on, his departure from the Pentagon came about due to his management at DIA, where he reportedly created a toxic environment in which to work. That “and several examples of near-insubordination,” led to his firing, according to one former senior Pentagon official. Colleagues describe him as intelligent and well versed on current threats, but remark that his departure from the military left him so angry, he “let it cloud his judgment.” Flynn is singularly focused on the threat posed by Islamic extremism, but like Trump, he has “at times crossed the line into outright Islamophobia,” write Matthew Rosenberg and Maggie Haberman for The New York Times. His position does not require Senate confirmation, which means his consulting company — the Flynn Intel Group — and the work it’s done (including on behalf of Turkey), and his accepting money from RT, which is funded by the Kremlin, will not received scrutiny from Congress. 

How Mike Flynn Became America’s Angriest General by James Kitfield for POLITICO

Head of Pentagon Intelligence Agency Forced Out, Officials Say by Greg Miller and Adam Goldman for The Washington Post

An Interview with The Washington Post’s Dana Priest

An interview with Charlie Rose (video)

An interview with Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hassan (video)

Sen. Jeff Sessions (Attorney General): Born in Selma, Alabama, Sessions has a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Alabama. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1973 to 1986. That same year, Ronald Reagan nominated him to be a federal judge, but in an unusual move, the Senate rejected the nomination after several attorneys testified that he had made explicit racist comments. Later, he served as Alabama’s attorney general for two years before joining the Senate in 1997. In the Senate, Sessions served on the Judiciary Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Environment and Public Works Committee. He was one of the first members of Congress to endorse Trump in February, and has been shaping Trump’s policy and campaign ever since. He is a fierce opponent of immigration reform, a military hawk, and a climate change skeptic. Worth noting that in 2005, he voted against John McCain’s 2005 anti-torture Detainee Treatment Act, and his statement from that time can be read here. In 2015 he was one of 21 senators to vote against an anti-torture provision in the National Defense Authorization Act.

Specter of Race Shadows Jeff Sessions, Potential Trump Nominee for Cabinet by Matt Apuzzo for The New York Times

An interview with POLITICO’s Glenn Thrush for his ‘Off Message’ podcast (audio)

The Total Trumpism of Jeff Sessions, Attorney General Nominee by Amy Davidson for The New Yorker

Amnesty’s Worst Enemy by Eliana Johnson for The National Review

Senate Panel Hands Reagan First Defeat on Nominee For Judgeship by Lena Williams for The New York Times (1986)

Early signs point to confirmation for Sessions by Burgess Everett and Elana Schor for POLITICO

Rep. Mike Pompeo (CIA Director): Pompeo is a third-term Republican “tea party” congressman from Kansas. He graduated from West Point and went on to serve in the Army. After Harvard Law School, he returned to Kansas, and founded the company Thayer Aerospace, and served as its CEO for more than a decade providing components for commercial and military aircraft, according to his official bio. A congressman since 2011, Pompeo serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as the House Intelligence Committee. Pompeo also played an outspoken role on the House Select Benghazi Committee. He’s a vocal critic of the Iran deal (tweeting on Thursday, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”) and an advocate for expanded domestic surveillance.

Time for a Rigorous National Debate About Surveillance by Mike Pompeo and David B. Rivkin Jr. for The Wall Street Journal

GOP Lawmaker: U.S. Muslim Leaders ‘Complicit’ in Terrorist Attacks by Pete Kasperowicz for The Hill

‘The Tea Party Now Controls the Drones’: Firebrand Congressman Mike Pompeo Tapped for CIA Chief by Shane Harris for The Daily Beast

Mike Pompeo Is Trump’s Choice as C.I.A. Director by Mark Mazzetti and Julie Hirschfeld Davis for The New York Times

Watch Trump’s Pick to Run the CIA Call Edward Snowden a ‘Traitor’ Who Should Be ‘Given a Death Sentence’ by Jesse Walker for Reason.com

Pompeo Questions Former Secretary of State Clinton at Benghazi Committee Hearing (video)

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About the Author(s)

Kate Brannen

Editorial Director of Just Security; nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council; previously senior reporter covering the Pentagon for Foreign Policy Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).