Robert Harward Turns Down Trump's Offer to Be National Security Adviser

News & Politics

Robert Harward, a respected former Navy Seal who earned high marks for his management skills, has turned down Donald Trump’s offer to replace Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

He said that the Trump administration was “very accommodating to my needs, both professionally and personally”.

“It’s purely a personal issue,” Harward said. “I’m in a unique position finally after being in the military for 40 years to enjoy some personal time.”

Two sources familiar with the decision told Reuters that Harward turned down the job in part because he wanted to bring in his own team. That put him at odds with Trump, who had told Flynn’s deputy, KT McFarland, that she could stay.

During a freewheeling press conference on Thursday in which Trump claimed his administration was running like a “a fine-tuned machine”, the president implied that he was able to let Flynn go in part because he already had a replacement in mind.

“I have somebody that I think will be outstanding for the position – and that also helps, I think, in the making of my decision,” he said.

Harward, a retired three-star admiral with deep experience in Afghanistan and the Middle East, emerged from the same special-operations circles as Flynn. 

Flynn was forced to step down over contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington and his subsequent attempts to cover up the true nature of those contacts, which included misleading Vice-president Mike Pence.

Harward was under consideration for a senior White House position even before the national security adviser job came open, the Guardian has learned.

 The downfall of Michael Flynn: a timeline

Initially, Trump had discussed making Harward, who is close to defense secretary James Mattis, one of his five special assistants to the president, a job that offers substantial access to the Oval Office.

But when Flynn was forced to resign on Monday, the job discussions with Harward recentered on the national security adviser role.

Former officials who worked with Harward considered his amiable temperament, bureaucratic competence and lack of discernible ideology a notable contrast to Flynn.

They said an early test for Harward would have been restoring the primacy of the National Security Council (NSC), the traditional interagency forum for foreign and security policymaking. Under Flynn, the NSC had been challenged by competing bodies, particularly one helmed by Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and a white nationalist.

Harward is said to share Mattis’ view of Iran as a primary security threat, though with less ideological fervor: he spent much of his youth in pre-revolutionary Iran, where his father, also a navy officer, was stationed.

Colin Kahl, the former national security adviser to Joe Biden and before that a senior Pentagon official, called Harward a “hard-charging patriot” who would have stabilized a volatile White House.

One of the rumored replacements for Flynn is the former CIA director and retired four star general David Petraeus, a man far more amenable to the intelligence agencies than Flynn.

But Petraeus resigned as director of the CIA in 2012 and is still on probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor violation of mishandling classified information, which he provided to his biographer – a woman he was having an affair with.

The other name floated is Keith Kellogg, the acting national security adviser.

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