The honeymoon seems to be ending between retired Gen. James N. Mattis and Donald Trump’s transition team amid an increasingly acrimonious dispute over who will get top jobs in the Defense Department — and who gets to make those decisions.
With only two weeks left before Inauguration Day and days before Mattis’s Senate confirmation hearing, most major Pentagon civilian positions remain unfilled. Behind the scenes, Mattis has been rejecting large numbers of candidates offered by the transition team for several top posts, two sources close to the transition said. The dispute over personnel appointments is contributing to a tenser relationship between Mattis and the transition officials, which could set the stage for turf wars between the Pentagon and the White House in the coming Trump administration.
The Trump transition team was already considering candidates for a host of Defense Department top jobs when Trump announced Dec. 1 that he intended to nominate “Mad Dog” Mattis to lead the military. The Mattis pick was seen by Republicans around Washington as an indication that Trump would rely on senior and experienced officials to shape and implement his national security and foreign policies. Many “Never Trump” Republicans also thought this might be their way into service despite having opposed Trump in the GOP primary.
Initially, both Mattis and the Trump team intended to engage in a collaborative process whereby Mattis would be given significant influence and participation in selecting top Pentagon appointees.
But the arrangement started going south only two weeks later when Mattis had to learn from the news media that Trump had selected Vincent Viola, a billionaire Army veteran, to be secretary of the Army, one source close to the transition said.
“Mattis was furious,” said the source. “It made him suspicious of the transition team, and things devolved from there.”
Again, I can't overstress how ridiculous it is to have the President-elect and the Secretary-designate to be having this level of acrimony before either one is actually in the job. And again, this is a fight over our nation's intelligence agencies as well.
One position that is a source of tension is undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a powerful post that overseas all Defense Department intelligence agencies, which include the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Retired General Michael T. Flynn, President-elect Trump’s national security adviser-designate, was DIA director until he was sacked by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. following a dispute with then-Undersecretary for Defense for Intelligence Michael G. Vickers.
Mattis has rejected all of the names the Trump team has offered to be the top intelligence official in the department, another transition source said. Mattis is also unlikely to accept Trump’s top Pentagon transition landing team official, Mira Ricardel, as a top official. She was rumored to be in line to be undersecretary of defense for policy, a hugely influential job.
“Let’s put it this way, he’s being very picky about the options presented to him,” said the source, who was not authorized to talk about internal deliberations.
So yes, this is already a serious personnel disaster. Trump ultimately believes he's the smartest guy on Earth, it's why he won the election duh he's the smartest and best. And yet he's already fighting with his Pentagon pick.
I expect this is a preview of what's to come, anyone who wasn't already a sycophant will be by the time Trump is done...or they'll be done.