Trump steers to right for his first choices

Civil rights lead­ers, Democrats es­pe­cially crit­i­cal of Ses­sions

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Halper and David S. Cloud

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump be­gan fill­ing his Cabi­net on Fri­day with stal­warts of the right, sig­nal­ing with a trio of top na­tional se­cu­rity and law en­force­ment se­lec­tions that he will ag­gres­sively pur­sue prom­ises he made dur­ing the cam­paign that have caused deep anx­i­ety among im­mi­grant and Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties.

Trump’s choices dimmed spec­u­la­tion that he would move to the cen­ter as he be­gins to gov­ern a na­tion still deeply frac­tured and on edge, un­cer­tain how the pres­i­dent-elect would pro­ceed.

On Fri­day, Trump pro­vided some clar­ity about his in­ten­tions.

Trump’s choice for at­tor­ney gen­eral, Repub­li­can Sen. Jeff Ses­sions of Alabama, is an anti-im­mi­gra­tion cru­sader deeply dis­liked by civil rights ac­tivists.

The pres­i­dent-elect’s choice for na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, re­tired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, is an ex­pe­ri­enced war­rior who has sug­gested that Americans should

fear all Mus­lims.

Rep. Mike Pom­peo of Kansas, who got the nod for CIA di­rec­tor, broke with col­leagues on the House Beng­hazi Com­mit­tee to co-au­thor a mi­nor­ity re­port ac­cus­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton of a cover-up.

The choices re­newed the ran­cor Trump set off ear­lier in the week when he named as his top White House strate­gist Stephen Ban­non, the me­dia ex­ec­u­tive who has aligned him­self with white na­tion­al­ists.

They pre­saged a con­tentious start to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, with Democrats and civil rights ac­tivists vow­ing to use Se­nate hear­ings to put the spot­light on the con­tro­ver­sial pasts of the se­lec­tions who must be con­firmed, which in­clude Ses­sions and Pom­peo.

Trump ad­vis­ers and GOP law­mak­ers moved quickly to high­light mo­ments in the ca­reers of the men when they worked with col­leagues across the aisle. They sug­gested that Fri­day’s an­nounce­ments don’t nec­es­sar­ily in­di­cate Trump is head­ing in a sharply ide­o­log­i­cal di­rec­tion, as many more top spots have yet to be filled.

GOP es­tab­lish­ment fa­vorite and 2012 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney, for ex­am­ple, is slated to meet with Trump this week­end, months af­ter giv­ing a speech ar­gu­ing that Trump would be an un­qual­i­fied and dan­ger­ous pres­i­dent. Trump is also talk­ing with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Ha­ley, an­other fa­vorite of mod­er­ates.

But the po­si­tion­ing did lit­tle to quiet an out­cry, with the an­gri­est and fiercest re­sponse di­rected at Ses­sions.

“If you have nos­tal­gia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, im­mi­grants were in­vis­i­ble and women stayed in the kitchen, Sen. Jef­fer­son Beau­re­gard Ses­sions is your man,” Rep. Luis Gu­tiér­rez, D-Ill., said in a state­ment.

Ses­sions, 69, was one of the ear­li­est and For­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor Mitt Rom­ney is ex­pected to meet with Don­ald Trump over the week­end. most en­thu­si­as­tic back­ers of Trump’s pres­i­den­tial bid. While he is gen­er­ally liked by col­leagues in both po­lit­i­cal par­ties, he is among the hard­est-lin­ers on im­mi­gra­tion in Congress, and his se­lec­tion en­sures that the lim­its on im­mi­gra­tion and ex­panded de­por­ta­tions that Trump called for dur­ing the cam­paign are likely to be at the fore­front of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies.

Ses­sions made racially in­sen­si­tive re­marks that cost him a fed­eral judge­ship in 1986, when the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee drilled down on the com­ments. If con­firmed to be at­tor­ney gen­eral, Ses­sions would lead an agency that un­der Pres­i­dent Obama has waded ag­gres­sively into civil rights is­sues, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the un­rest South Carolina Gov. Nikki Ha­ley is men­tioned as one of the more mod­er­ate fig­ures Don­ald Trump is con­sid­er­ing for of­fice and plan­ning to speak with. sparked by the killings of black men by po­lice of­fi­cers in re­cent years.

Ses­sions’ Repub­li­can col­leagues quickly closed ranks around him Fri­day, sug­gest­ing that his con­fir­ma­tion is likely. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky praised him, point­ing to how Ses­sions has col­lab­o­rated with some of the Se­nate’s most lib­eral law­mak­ers on leg­is­la­tion..

In­com­ing Se­nate Demo­cratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York warned that his cor­dial re­la­tion­ship with Ses­sions, with whomhe ex­er­cises at the gym, does not give the nom­i­nee a pass on tough ques­tion­ing. The ap­point­ment of Flynn, which does not re­quire Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion, raised sim­i­lar con­cerns of racial and eth­nic an­i­mos­ity. Sen. Ron Wy­den, D-Ore., a se­nior mem­ber of the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, put Flynn in the same cat­e­gory as Ban­non, say­ing the two em­body Trump’s “most di­vi­sive rhetoric.”

Flynn has been an out­spo­ken critic of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach to Is­lamic mil­i­tancy. He has ar­gued that acts of ter­ror­ism com­mit­ted by Mus­lims are rooted in main­stream Is­lamic faith. In Fe­bru­ary, Flynn tweeted a YouTube video that says all Mus­lims should be feared and lists bomb­ings per­pe­trated by Mus­lims. “Fear of Mus­lims is RATIONAL: please for­ward this to oth­ers: the truth fears no ques­tions,” Flynn wrote.

“He is fa­mil­iar with the com­plex set of se­cu­rity chal­lenges we face,” Sen Jack Reed, D-R.I., the rank­ing mem­ber of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said in a state­ment. “And Pres­i­dent-elect Trump does not have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in this arena.” But Reed also ex­pressed con­cern with com­ments Flynn made “in the heat of the cam­paign.”

Pom­peo, a for­mer Army of­fi­cer and aero­space ex­ec­u­tive, was elected as part of the 2010 tea party wave elec­tion. He has de­fended as le­gal the CIA’s wa­ter­board­ing and other tor­ture, which Trump has said he wants to bring back over the ob­jec­tions of mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence lead­ers.

Pom­peo’s nom­i­na­tion to run the CIA “is pro­foundly dis­turb­ing,” Glenn Carle, a for­mer se­nior of­fi­cer who was in­volved in the CIA’s in­ter­ro­ga­tion and de­ten­tion pro­gram, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view from Dubai. Carle, who spent 23 years as a spy be­fore re­tir­ing in 2007, has crit­i­cized the agency’s bru­tal treat­ment of de­tainees.

Democrats took a less hos­tile pos­ture to­ward Pom­peo than Trump’s other se­lec­tions. The top Demo­crat on the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, Rep. Adam Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia, called Pom­peo “very bright and hard­work­ing.”

Rep. Mike Pom­peo of Kansas has been cho­sen to head the CIA.

Sen. Jeff Ses­sions is to be nom­i­nated as at­tor­ney gen­eral.

DON CAMP­BELL/AP

JOHN RAOUX/AP

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