Trump’s Cabinet picks raise red flags

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick as national security adviser, arrives at Trump Tower in New York last week.
Retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick as national security adviser, arrives at Trump Tower in New York last week. AP

As President-elect Donald Trump puts together his inner circle, we have to remember these powerful advisers matter more than for “normal” presidents.

For someone with as little government and foreign policy experience and knowledge as Mr. Trump, it’s dangerous if he’s surrounded by like-minded loyalists who won’t challenge him or control his worst instincts.

The picks announced Friday for his national security team don’t come close to passing that crucial test. Instead, they will amplify his extreme positions on immigration, terrorism and Russia.

For national security adviser, Mr. Trump selected retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, his top military adviser during the campaign and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Flynn also doesn’t distinguish between Islam — the religion of 1.6 billion people around the world — and “radical Islamic terrorism,” as Mr. Trump calls it.

With our allies rightly concerned that Mr. Trump has been cozying up to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, Mr. Flynn also has called for closer ties with Russia. He was paid for a speech by RT, the Kremlin-funded U.S. cable network, and was seated at the same table as Mr. Putin at RT’s 10th anniversary gala in Moscow last December.

Mr. Flynn’s selection also conflicts with Mr. Trump’s vow to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists and special interests in a corrupt Washington. It is being reported that a consulting firm founded by Mr. Flynn has been lobbying for a company with ties to Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Despite all these red flags, he’s in like Flynn, as the saying goes, because the national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation. Mr. Trump’s nomination for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, is also troubling, but will face a Senate review.

After soothing words about uniting all Americans, Mr. Trump tapped alt-right provocateur Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. He now wants another divisive figure as the person supposed to guarantee that all Americans are treated equally under the law.

The first U.S. senator to endorse Mr. Trump and vice chairman of his transition team, Sen. Jeff Sessions backed Mr. Trump’s hard line on immigration. Civil-rights groups and Democrats immediately objected to Sen. Sessions, based on those views and a record of racially charged comments.

For director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mr. Trump nominated a lesser known but no less vocal critic of President Obama on terrorism and international relations. Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, a West Point grad on the House Intelligence Committee, was elected in the 2010 tea party wave.

Like Mr. Trump, he has attacked Mr. Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and supports the Guantánamo Bay detention camp.

So far in his picks, Mr. Trump appears to be putting personal loyalty first.

Rudy Giuliani, one of Mr. Trump’s most vociferous attack dogs during the campaign, was reportedly in the mix to be secretary of state, however, his business dealings with foreign governments may get in his way.

The president-elect still has important cabinet posts to fill, and we want to give him the benefit of the doubt. But if he stays on this track, it will soon become very clear how dangerously extreme his administration will be.

This editorial first appeared in the Sacramento Bee.