U.S. President Donald Trump is interviewing four candidates Sunday to be his national security adviser, after a tumultuous week in which he fired one former military leader from the strategic White House post and his first replacement choice turned down the job.
Trump is spending the weekend at his lavish oceanfront Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. He is planning to discuss the job, in person or on the phone, with acting national security adviser Keith Kellogg, a retired Army general; John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; Army General H.R. McMaster; and the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, General Robert Caslen.
Trump told reporters on Air Force One Saturday, “many, many that want the job.” Trump said, “I’ve been thinking about someone for the last three or four days, we’ll see what happens. I’m meeting with that person. They’re all good, they’re all great people.”
The White House has said there could be other meetings for the job, which became open when Michael Flynn was ousted from the position after just 24 days on the job.
Trump said the former Army general misled Vice President Mike Pence about phone conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to Washington before the new administration assumed power a month ago.
Then, Trump’s first choice to replace Flynn, a former Navy admiral, Robert Harward, turned down the new president’s offer to be the national security adviser.
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that the turmoil surrounding the key position has made U.S. national security operations “dysfunctional.”
“What happens if there’s a major crisis that faces this country?” Panetta said. “If Russia engages in a provocation, if Iran does something stupid, if North Korea does something stupid and we have to respond, where is the structure to be able to evaluate that threat, consider it, and provide options to the president?”
“Right now, that’s dysfunctional, and that’s what worries me a great deal,” said Panetta, who also once served as director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Trump’s consideration of new security adviser is occurring while his administration considers the scope of a new travel ban for immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries and a halt to refugees entering the United States to replace one that courts blocked in early February.
The new president told a news conference last week that the new edict would be issued this week and would attempt to incorporate legal guidelines outlined by judges who reviewed and blocked his first immigration executive order.
Trump also planned several phone conversations with foreign leaders on Sunday and a policy meeting on health care.
On Saturday, during a large campaign-style rally, Trump declared his administration has been making “incredible progress,” but complained again about what he called dishonest reporting by American news media.
A crowd of supporters gathered in an airport hangar in Melbourne, Florida, loudly cheered Trump’s comments. Some held signs urging him to run for re-election in 2020, even though his four-year term as president just began on January 20.
Trump repeated many of the angry comments he made about news reporters during a 77-minute news conference at the White House Thursday. He said most mainstream media outlets are purveyors of “fake news” and accused reporters of lying about their sources.
“They’ve become a big part of the problem,” he said.
The president then recounted what he said were the many things his administration has done in the past four weeks.
“I’m here to tell you the incredible progress we have made in making America great again,” he said.
“Our plans for the future, they’re big and they’re bold and it’s what our country is all about, believe me,” he said to prolonged cheers.
Melbourne police said about 9,000 people attended the president’s rally. The U.S. Air Force 1 jumbo jet was parked nearby, bathed in spotlights.
Trump rebutted news reports that the White House staff is disorganized, inefficient and overly contentious. He said again this was the result of false reporting.
“The White House is running so smoothly,” the president said, with his wife, first lady Melania Trump, standing nearby and smiling. “And we inherited one big mess.”