As he prepares for a Friday intelligence briefing on alleged Russian hacking, President-elect Donald Trump's transition hit some snags in the defense, national security and intelligence arenas on Thursday. Top advisers have resigned, and it's rumored high-profile Cabinet picks are expressing some frustration with staffing. The common thread appears to be Trump national security adviser Ret. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
On Thursday, former director of the CIA, James Woolsey, who has served on the transition team as an adviser to Trump, resigned his post with an email statement from spokesman Jonathan Franks:
“Effective immediately, Ambassador Woolsey is no longer a Senior Advisor to President-Elect Trump or the Transition. He wishes the President-Elect and his Administration great success in their time in office."
The Washington Post suggested in a piece Thursday that Woolsey was responding to the reality he was merely an informal adviser to Trump and wasn't playing a direct role in decisions regarding national security. They wrote, "he had been excluded in recent weeks from discussions on intelligence matters with Trump and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the incoming White House national security adviser."
Woolsey himself appeared on Megyn Kelly's show on Fox News Thursday night and downplayed his decision, saying he simply needed to clarify that he did not have much role in advising once the campaign ended.
Kelly asked why it was important to him to make that distinction, and Woolsey acknowledged he "was not really called upon to go to meetings or participate in work on the transition." When Kelly pressed him on The Post report that he "chafed" at Trump's loose style and called for reform in the intelligence framework, Woolsey said it was important to realize there are multiple ways to conduct reform. "I think the direction the reform has taken is not a good one," he said.
Meanwhile, The Post also reported Thursday that Trump's pick for Secretary of Defense, retired Gen. James Mattis, is experiencing some frustration with the transition team's choice of personnel to fill key defense positions in the Pentagon. At least one instance indicated a failure to report a key hire to Mattis, leading him to learn of the position selection through the media. From The Post:
But the arrangement started going south only two weeks later when Mattis had to learn from the news media that Trump had selected Vincent Viola, a billionaire Army veteran, to be secretary of the Army, one source close to the transition said.
“Mattis was furious,” said the source. “It made him suspicious of the transition team, and things devolved from there.”
Mattis, The Post reports, has rejected all the names the transition team has given him to fill a particularly powerful position: undersecretary of defense for intelligence, the post that oversees all Defense Department intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Flynn was DIA director until he was ousted by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper after a dispute with then-Undersecretary for Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers.
Clapper appeared before an Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, offering testimony that he believed the Russians did have some hand in attempting to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump. Woolsey gave an interview to ABC News' Martha Raddatz where he said there was a strong chance the Russians were behind the hack of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta's emails. Trump has downplayed potential Russian involvement, saying the suggestion is merely an attempt to delegitimize his win over Hillary Clinton.
The intelligence briefing on the alleged Russian hacking is scheduled for Friday afternoon.