With Zach Montellaro and Connor O’Brien
THE REVOLVING DOOR OF TRUMP’S SECDEF SHORTLIST: The names are flying over who’s going to lead President-Elect Donald Trump’s Pentagon. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who had emerged as a front-runner early in the week for the Pentagon post, appears to be leaning toward attorney general now, according to sources close to the Trump transition, although new names are still being floated for that role, too. And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has surfaced as a front-runner for secretary of state.
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If not Sessions, then who? Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was a new prospect Tuesday, according to one source close to the transition team. Stephen Hadley, a national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration, is still in the mix, according to another source, although some are suggesting he’s been pushed aside amidst the transition power struggle. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) and former Clinton CIA Director Jim Woolsey are still out there as possibilities, too.
Proof the rumor mill is operating at warp speed: Around 6 p.m., a stray tweet (since deleted) said CNN was reporting Cotton would be Defense secretary. It rocketed around Twitter — except that CNN didn’t actually report that, but only had added the Arkansas Republican to its list of possible Defense secretary candidates.
— THE GOP FOREIGN POLICY ESTABLISHMENT IS NOT PLEASED: The emerging Trump national security and foreign policy team is making Republican foreign policy leaders despondent, our colleagues Michael Crowley and Shane Goldmacher report: “Republican foreign policy veterans are newly alarmed over the emerging shape of Donald Trump’s national security team after signs that Trump is passing over well-regarded establishment figures in favor of controversial and less-experienced political allies including Giuliani, a likely secretary of state pick.
“After the initial shock of Trump’s election last Tuesday, some GOP elites had consoled themselves over early talk that the New York real estate mogul might choose for the most sensitive posts in his government several well-known centrists with conventional views who might temper Trump’s boldest impulses. But that mood has darkened sharply since the weekend. In recent days Trump aides have signaled that Giuliani — who has no formal diplomatic experience and who critics say is tangled in conflicts of interest — may run the State Department.”
— GIULIANI PROBLEMATIC FOR PAUL, TOO: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a critic of hawkish Republican foreign policy, also has problems with the prospect of Giuliani at Foggy Bottom, as well as another prospect, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton. “I supported Donald Trump because I agree that the Iraq war was a mistake. It was a big part of his platform,” Paul told reporters Tuesday. “I think both Bolton and Giuliani explicitly disagree with Donald Trump’s position. So if they need to be somewhere, they need to be somewhere where they’re not in charge of foreign policy.”
— ANOTHER TROUBLING SIGN FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT: ROGERS EXITS, our colleague Andrew Restuccia has more here: “Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers has resigned from Donald Trump’s presidential transition team. … The news comes just days after Trump’s team demoted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had been running the transition team for months, and several of his aides. The transition is now being led by Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, Sen. Jeff Sessions and others. A person with ties to the transition said Rogers was purged for being a Christie ally.”
— TWEET OF THE DAY: Eliot Cohen, a George W. Bush official who led the Never Trump effort, said he was rescinding his recommendation for young foreign policy hands to work in the Trump administration. “After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away,” he tweeted. “They’re angry, arrogant, screaming “you LOST!” Will be ugly.”
— McCAIN IS STAYING OUT OF IT PUBLICLY: Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain is not sharing his thoughts on Sessions, Giuliani or any other potential Cabinet pick. “I have no thoughts about any of the appointees of the president,” McCain told reporters as he sped through the Senate basement. “That’s his prerogative.”
HAPPY WEDNESDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we’ll do our best to separate fact from the Trump rumor mill. Keep the tips, pitches and new rumors coming at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow on Twitter @jeremyherb, @morningdefense and @politicopro.
MORNING D TRIVIA: Belated congratulations to Joseph Steinfels, who correctly answered Friday’s question that soldiers in the field were first allowed to cast ballots in a presidential election in 1864, when the move was controversial and helped Abraham Lincoln win the election.
HAPPENING TODAY — CARTER IN TEXAS: Defense Secretary Ash Carter is in Texas to visit Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Brooke Army Medical Center and Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, where he’ll take part in a training mission in a T-1 trainer aircraft, according to the Pentagon.
ALSO TODAY — HERITAGE RELEASES ITS MILITARY STRENGTH INDEX: The the new Trump administration will face growing threats with diminished military power, the conservative Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of U.S. Military Strength finds. The annual report assessing the military’s capacity, capability and readiness, includes numerous “troubling findings about the declining state of American military might and the rise of major powers able to threaten U.S. interests and America itself, both in terms of intent and ability,” Heritage said in a statement to Morning D. “Quite simply, the world is getting more dangerous, while the United States’ ability to respond to threats across the globe continues to decline.”
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) is the keynote speaker at an event this morning rolling out the index.
Also this morning, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Security Cooperation Thomas Ross talks counterterrorism security assistance at the Center for a New American Security.And this afternoon, Robert Scher, assistant defense secretary for strategy, plans, and capabilities, speaks on a panel on the Asia-Pacific region hosted by the National Bureau of Asian Research.
— IF HE’S PICKED AS SECDEF OR AG, SESSIONS HAS CONFIRMATION HURDLES, we report with Connor O’Brien: “The last time Jeff Sessions faced a Senate confirmation hearing, Judiciary Committee members in both parties blocked his nomination to be a federal judge after hearing accusations that he had called the NAACP ‘un-American’ and addressed a black lawyer as ‘boy.’ Thirty years later, Sessions is a senior member of the same panel and established himself as one of the chamber’s most conservative members, staking out hard-line opposition to illegal immigration, opposing trade deals and advocating deep spending cuts that at times have chafed fellow Republicans.
“It’s an approach that has won the Alabama Republican favor with President-elect Donald Trump, who sources say is considering him for either defense secretary or attorney general as a reward of his early support during the presidential primary. Yet if past accusations of racial insensitivity and his unyielding views on immigration come back to haunt Sessions, his confirmation may not be the slam-dunk the Senate often affords to members selected for Cabinet positions. Instead, Trump’s critics would have an opening to oppose one of the president-elect’s most important personnel decisions.”
** A message from the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition: Help Save Taxpayers Up To $500 Million: Buying materials in advance for the construction of the next two new U.S. Navy aircraft carriers will save taxpayers up to $500 million over the course of their construction and will keep the industrial base strong. Learn more at acibc.org **
NDAA WATCH — ONE REASON A VETO IS LESS LIKELY NOW: House and Senate Armed Services leaders are still finalizing the National Defense Authorization Act, but there’s one controversial issue that could get dropped from the bill for one simple reason: Trump was elected president. The provision rolling back workplace protections based on sexual orientation — which drew a veto threat — was targeting an Executive Order from President Barack Obama, and President Trump can remove it with his pen, making social conservatives less concerned if it’s dropped from the final bill.
“It probably helps in terms of that particular provision because it is an Executive Order and can be rescinded by the president at any time,” Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told POLITICO. “I think it would be a different situation if Secretary [Hillary] Clinton was the president-elect.”
LOOKING TO THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION — McCAIN WARNS ON COZYING UP TO RUSSIA, our colleague Bryan Bender writes: “Sen. John McCain on Tuesday blasted any attempt to play nice with Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging the new Trump administration to stand ‘on the side of those fighting tyranny’ and not with ‘a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny.’ The broadside from the chairman of the Armed Services Committee that must confirm Donald Trump’s nominee for Defense secretary came after recent statements from Trump and Putin that they are looking forward to better relations.”
— ASSAD SAYS SYRIA AND TRUMP CAN BE NATURAL ALLIES: “Bashar Assad and President-elect Donald Trump will be “natural allies” so long as Trump “will fight the terrorists,” the Syrian leader said in an interview on Portuguese television, according to an account by the Syrian state news agency,” writes our colleague Yousef Saba.
— UKRAINE ASKS FOR ‘RESOLUTE SUPPORT,’ via POLITICO’s Brent Griffiths: “Just a day after he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, whose country continues to grapple with Russian occupation and annexation of its territory. According to a Ukrainian government readout of the call, Poroshenko stressed the ‘need for the Washington’s resolute support of Ukraine in countering the Russian aggression and implementing crucial reforms.’”
— Trump could face a nuclear strike decision soon: POLITICO Magazine
— A suicide bomber on a motorbike kills at least four people in Kabul: Reuters
— Iraqi special forces push deeper into Mosul from the east: The Associated Press
— Airstrikes pound Aleppo after a weeks-long pause: Reuters
— The attorney for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl plans to seek dismissal of his case once Trump takes office, over Trump’s comments about the former Taliban captive: Stars and Stripes
— North Korea says it does not care who the U.S. president is: Reuters
— Yemeni bankers get in trouble over a customer, Al Qaeda: The New York Times
— One man’s escape from Islamic State execution: The Washington Post
— The fate of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could do a 180-degree turn, with the potential for Trump to add detainees: AP
— A senior Libyan Al-Qaeda leader is killed in a drone strike: AP
— China sees its first military deaths abroad in decades: The Wall Street Journal
— A retired Navy captain pleads guilty in the “Fat Leonard” scandal: The Washington Post
— Boeing plans to consolidate its defense and space business, shuttering sites in Texas and Virginia and cutting 500 jobs: Defense News
— Secretary of State John Kerry says a ceasefire has been reached in Yemen: The Guardian
— The Pacific Command chief sees no major changes in the U.S. military’s relations with the Philippine military: Stars and Stripes
— Two robotic helicopters from Lockheed Martin complete a mock rescue mission: Defense News
— An Asia Foundation report warns of a potential arms race in Asia if the U.S. withdraws from the region: AP
— The Armed Forces Network will go totally HD by the end of 2017: Stars and Stripes
** A message from the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition: Congress Can Help Save Taxpayers Up To $500 Million: Buying materials in advance for the construction of the next two U.S. Navy Ford-class aircraft carriers, Enterprise (CVN 80) and the yet-to-be-named CVN 81, will save taxpayers up to $500 million over the course of their construction and will keep the industrial base strong. The advance purchase of construction materials will mean reduced construction costs and greater efficiency in construction. Learn more at acibc.org **