RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Retired General Michael Flynn has resigned as national security adviser. Flynn handed in his resignation letter to the White House late last night. Here's an excerpt from that letter. Quote, "I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador," end quote.
Those calls involved discussions about sanctions that the Obama administration had imposed on Russia in late December over the Kremlin's interference in the U.S. election. Flynn had initially denied sanctions were discussed at all. For more on this, we are joined in the studio by NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. Good morning, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: It did feel like pressure was mounting on President Trump to take some action here. What finally triggered this decision?
BOWMAN: Well, I think the term in his letter, quote, "incomplete information." He was clearly not forthcoming with Vice President Mike Pence, who went on TV, of course, some time back and said Mike Flynn did not talk about sanctions with the Russian ambassador. That was clearly not the case here.
And last night, when the White House said President Trump was basically reassessing Flynn's tenure, that was all but a coded term for it's time to resign. I thought when I heard last night - Kellyanne Conway came out and said that, you know, the president's behind him. And when the White House put out that statement I said, it's over.
MARTIN: Yeah, this isn't the first time Michael Flynn has been relieved of a high-level position by an administration, is it?
BOWMAN: No, Mike Flynn was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama. He was seen as a poor administrator and something of a hothead. In his defense, he tried to move this moribund bureaucracy, tried to streamline it, tried to move more people overseas - upset that bureaucracy, a lot of the people who worked there. And he also ruffled feathers, didn't work well with some Pentagon officials and also with those at the CIA. So he was ousted from there.
MARTIN: Although that is what endeared him to Donald Trump in some ways, this ability to kind of go against the grain, be this kind of rule breaker.
BOWMAN: That's right, rule breaker. But again, it was clear he - he has a hard time working within an organization. I think that was clear at DIA. And it was just time for him to go.
MARTIN: So Flynn being gone - is that going to help or hinder the White House's relationship with the various other national security agencies that have been a little bit fraught in the past few weeks?
BOWMAN: Well, I think it depends who you get in there. You know, you have Rex Tillerson at State. You have Jim Mattis over at the Pentagon. They'll have to get someone in there who can work with both those gentlemen. So we'll just have to see who they pick.
MARTIN: The new acting national security adviser is another retired general. He is Keith Kellogg. What do you know about him?
BOWMAN: Well, Kellogg is a retired senior army officer. He served in Vietnam with 101st Airborne Division in the 1990s. He was commander of the 82nd Airborne. And he served in Iraq as Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq under Jerry Bremer. That was, of course, widely seen as - didn't go very well...
BOWMAN: ...In Iraq with the Coalition Provisional Authority. So - and then he became the number two over at the National Security Council.
BOWMAN: And now he's the acting.
MARTIN: So he's the acting. But who's likely to get the permanent job?
BOWMAN: Well, a couple of names have emerged. One is Bob Harward. He was a Navy SEAL. He was deputy commander of U.S. Central Command under General Mattis. So that would be a good fit. He also was on the National Security Council during George W. Bush's presidency, very well-versed in counterterrorism strategy and someone with a low public profile. I used to run into him in the Pentagon. He's very much a character, something out of Central Casting as a Navy SEAL - shaved head - but...
MARTIN: So he looks...
BOWMAN: ...Wouldn't really talk about much with you.
MARTIN: So he looks the part, but does he know Donald Trump? Because as we have seen, even with Michael Flynn, Donald Trump prides loyalty and these close relationships. And Michael Flynn signed onto his campaign really early.
BOWMAN: You know, as far as I know, he doesn't really know Donald Trump at all. He's been away from national security issues for quite some time. But we also have David Petraeus as a potential, too. Of course, General Petraeus, commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, also headed Central Command, was...
MARTIN: Passed over for secretary of state.
BOWMAN: Passed over for secretary of state. He is in the mix as well. So those are, you know, three of the names that we have here that could potentially be replacements for Mike Flynn.
MARTIN: There have been a lot of reports about chaos at the NSC, that there hasn't been a lot of process that the civilian staff has been able to work with. What kind of department would the NSC - the national security adviser be inheriting?
BOWMAN: Well, it's a very tough job. You have a president that doesn't have a lot of background in national security or really governing. And then you have people freelancing, like political strategist Steve Bannon, who had a role in writing the immigration ban. So it's going to be hard for someone to take that job, very tough.
MARTIN: NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Rachel.
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