Brett McGurk, an Obama administration appointee tasked with helping coordinate the war against the Islamic State, has been asked to stay in his position after President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
McGurk is one of about 50 Obama appointees who will remain in their posts at the Pentagon and across the federal government to maintain “continuity” until Trump’s picks are confirmed, incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday.
Others include Robert Work, deputy secretary of defense; Chuck Rosenberg, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration; Nick Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center; Tom Shannon, undersecretary of state for political affairs; Kody Kinsley, assistant secretary of management at the Department of the Treasury; and Adam Szubin, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence in the Treasury Department.
McGurk said recently that he told Trump’s transition team he was willing to stay on following the inauguration, noting the “apolitical” nature of his work.
Trump has consistently remarked throughout his campaign that he believes President Obama’s approach to fighting the Islamic State hasn’t been successful and that the United States needs to work with Russia to fight the extremist group. In September, he also said that U.S. generals fighting in the region “don’t know much.”
Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, gave lawmakers a more nuanced view of what to expect in the coming months during his confirmation hearing last week. Mattis focused on the Islamic State’s recruiting and financing operations, adding that U.S. forces need an “integrated strategy” to defeat the group. He did not suggest a radical change from how the Obama administration is handling the conflict.
McGurk worked with the provisional Iraqi government after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and on George W. Bush’s National Security Council. He was a proponent of the 2007 troop surge in Iraq and was one of the few holdovers from the Bush administration to work under Obama after the 2008 election. Following a brief stint in the private sector, McGurk came back to the State Department in 2013 as a deputy assistant secretary of state. In 2015 he replaced retired Marine Gen. John Allen as Obama’s envoy to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State.
McGurk was nominated to serve as Obama’s ambassador to Iraq in 2012, but his confirmation was derailed after leaked personal emails revealed that McGurk had been carrying on an intimate relationship with a Wall Street Journal reporter during an earlier diplomatic tenure in Iraq.
Karen DeYoung and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.