Trump taps hardliners for justice, CIA and national security

AFP , Friday 18 Nov 2016

In this photo taken Nov. 17, 2016, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. speaks to media at Trump Tower in New York. President-elect Donald Trump has picked Sessions for the job of attorney general (Photo: AP)

President-elect Donald Trump Friday tapped arch-conservative Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to be attorney general and hawkish congressman Mike Pompeo, a strident opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, as his CIA director.

The incoming commander in chief also appointed retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn, a top military counsel to the Republican billionaire and one of his earliest campaign surrogates, as his national security advisor.

All three have accepted their appointments, Trump's transition team said in statement.

"I enthusiastically embrace President-elect Trump's vision for 'one America,' and his commitment to equal justice under law," said Sessions, a 20-year veteran of Congress.

"I look forward to fulfilling my duties with an unwavering dedication to fairness and impartiality," added the 69-year-old, who was also one of Trump's earliest backers.

Trump described him in the statement as a "world-class legal mind" who was "greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him."

The appointments represent the president-elect's first steps to appoint a cabinet after a transition effort that so far has been marred by infighting and reshuffles on the team getting ready for the January 20 inauguration.

For director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Trump tapped Pompeo: a congressman who became well known in the controversy over a deadly militant attack against the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012.

"He will be a brilliant and unrelenting leader for our intelligence community to ensure the safety of Americans and our allies," Trump was quoted as saying in the statement.

The 52-year-old co-authored a report slamming then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton's handling of the attack, in which the US ambassador and three other Americans died.

And as national security adviser, Trump turned to the 57-year-old Flynn, who is set to play a key role in shaping policy for a president with no experience in government or foreign policy.

"I am pleased that Lieutenant General Michael Flynn will be by my side as we work to defeat radical Islamic terrorism, navigate geopolitical challenges and keep Americans safe at home and abroad," Trump said.

A registered Democrat, Flynn served as Trump's leading national security adviser during the campaign and was a highly visible surrogate, with a hardline stance on Islamic extremism. He described it in an interview with the New York Times as an existential threat on a global scale.

Flynn is highly respected as a decorated military intelligence officer who helped combat insurgent networks in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he left the military after President Barack Obama fired him as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 following complaints about his leadership style.

Flynn's appointment does not need approval from the senate.

But that of Sessions as attorney general does, and he's got baggage: racially charged comments he made in the 1980s and which once cost him a chance for a job for life as a federal judge.

Back in 1986 Sessions said that a prominent white lawyer was a "disgrace to his race" for defending African-Americans.

Sessions acknowledged saying this in testimony to the US Senate at the time, but he insisted he did not mean it.

In the 1980s he also allegedly addressed a black prosecutor working for him as "boy," and joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he had thought its members were "OK, until I found out they smoked pot," according to The New York Times.

The reported appointments came a day after Trump met with a foreign leader for the first time -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

He was the first representative to meet with Trump from a US ally rattled by Trump comments during the campaign that questioned US loyalty to joint security arrangements and free trade accords, among other commitments.

Abe said after the 90 minute meeting in New York that Trump was a leader "in whom I can have great confidence."

Trump was headed Friday to his exclusive golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, transition officials said, a location that offers more seclusion and comes amid complaints about the congestion in front of Trump Tower on New York's bustling Fifth Avenue.

Trump is reportedly set to meet over the weekend with Mitt Romney, the moderate, failed presidential candidate -- and formerly vehement critic of Trump -- who is thought to be in the running for secretary of state, alongside former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Romney, who lost to Obama in 2012, had described Trump as vulgar, dishonest and out of line with US values, rebuking the tycoon for proposals such as banning the entry of all foreign Muslims.

If chosen Romney would bring a more orthodox Republican worldview to foreign policy. In 2012 Romney described Russia as the top geopolitical threat -- a sharp contrast to Trump, who has exchanged compliments with President Vladimir Putin.

Trump has drawn outrage by tapping anti-establishment firebrand Stephen Bannon, who pushes white identity politics, as chief strategist. House Democrats urged him to cancel the appointment.

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