President-elect Donald Trump announced Friday that he plans to nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as attorney general and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) as CIA director, a pair of hard-line conservatives who offer early signs of the shape of Trump’s Cabinet.
Trump also confirmed the news reported a day earlier that he has selected retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn as his national security adviser, a position that, unlike the other two, does not need to be confirmed by the Senate.
“The president-elect is a man of action, and we’ve got a great number of men and women with great qualifications who look forward to serving in this administration,” Vice President-elect Mike Pence told reporters in New York. “Our agency teams arrived in Washington D.C. this morning, and I am very confident it will be a smooth transition that will serve to lead this country forward.”
The announcements were greeted with widespread applause from Republicans, but Democrats and civil rights groups denounced Sessions and Flynn for their hard-line views on Muslims and immigrants that have put them in close alignment with Trump. The criticism could portend a messy Senate confirmation process for Sessions, though several of his GOP colleagues, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), lavished praise on him.
And Senate Democrats will not be able to filibuster Trump’s nominations to executive branch positions, having eliminated that option in 2013 for all nominations except Supreme Court justices.
Flynn has spoken out frequently against radical Islam and clashed with the Obama administration while serving as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, from where he was ousted in 2014. Sessions supported Trump’s call last year for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States and has called for deporting millions of people who are in the country illegally.
In a statement, Trump called Sessions one of his most trusted campaign advisers and cited his “world-class legal mind.”
“Jeff is greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him,” Trump said.
Trump said he was pleased to have Flynn at his side “as we work to defeat radical Islamic terrorism, navigate geopolitical challenges and keep Americans safe at home and abroad.”
Late Friday, Robert L. Woodson Sr., who heads the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise in Washington and advises House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) on poverty issues, said he is under consideration to be secretary of housing and urban development in Trump’s Cabinet. Woodson is scheduled to meet with Trump in Bedminster, N.J. on Saturday. If selected, Woodson, who is black, would add diversity to Trump’s team.
Also Friday, Trump spoke by phone with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and the two men “underlined NATO’s enduring importance,” according to a statement from a NATO spokeswoman. During the campaign, Trump had said he might reconsider the United States’s commitment to the alliance. Stoltenberg invited Trump to Brussels for the NATO Summit next year.
GOP officials working with the Trump transition operation said that the president-elect plans to meet Friday with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R), amid reports he is being considered to be U.S. ambassador to Israel. Also spotted at Trump Tower on Friday was Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), reportedly a candidate for defense secretary.
Among those Trump will meet with on Saturday are former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has been cited as a possible candidate for secretary of state, former D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts and retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, whose name also has been mentioned as a potential defense secretary nominee.
Meantime, the Trump transition named agency landing teams for the departments of Defense, State and Justice, along with the National Security Council, to help smooth the transfer of power in the weeks leading up to Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20.
Sessions, 69, was Trump’s first endorser in the Senate and quickly became the then-candidate’s chief resource on policy, but the fourth-term senator has been dogged by accusations of racism throughout his career.
In 1986, he was denied a federal judgeship after former colleagues testified before a Senate committee that he joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought they were “okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.”
“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, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said in a statement. “No senator has fought harder against the hopes and aspirations of Latinos, immigrants, and people of color than Sen. Sessions.”
The NAACP wrote in a Twitter message that Sessions’s nomination is “deeply troubling, and supports and old, ugly history where Civil Rights were not regarded as core American values.”
Sean Spicer, a Republican National Committee spokesman who has been assisting the Trump transition operation, said on a conference call with reporters that the nominees’ personal view “isn’t what matters. You are serving the president-elect of the United States and his views . . . Everybody who serves in a Trump administration will serve Donald Trump and Mike Pence. They will implement their vision and their ideas.”
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), appearing at a Federalist Society convention in Washington, did not mention Trump’s nominees in her remarks. But Haley, whose parents immigrated from India, urged the Republican Party to remind the public that it is the party who will offer opportunities “to all citizens, regardless of their race, gender or where they are born and raised.”
Sessions served as a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and as Alabama’s attorney general. In a statement, he said there was “no greater honor” than to lead the Justice Department.
“I enthusiastically embrace President-elect Trump’s vision for ‘one America,’ and his commitment to equal justice under law,” Sessions said in a statement. “I look forward to fulfilling my duties with an unwavering dedication to fairness and impartiality.”
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz), a key Judiciary Committee member who had been wary of Trump during the campaign, intends to support Sessions’s nomination, his office said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), also at the Federalist Society convention in Washington, said that Sessions would make an “extraordinary” attorney general.
“He is a committed and deeply principled conservative,” Cruz said.
Several Senate Democrats pledged a rigorous confirmation review.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who will become Minority Leader in January, said Sessions’s rhetoric and opposition to a comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 make him “very concerned about what he would do with the Civil Rights Division.”
But some conservatives suggested it would be politically damaging to Democrats if they attempt to block Trump’s nominees.
“Mr. Trump has a plane and double-digit victories where Senate Democrats are up for reelection,” said Leonard A. Leo, executive vice president of The Federalist Society. “Obstructing his nominees will be a political loser.”
Pompeo, 52, was elected to the House in 2010 as part of the first wave of so-called tea party lawmakers. A U.S. Military Academy and Harvard Law School graduate, he has a varied background. He served as a U.S. Army cavalry officer before founding an aerospace company, serving as president of an oil-field equipment manufacturing firm and — in a brief, little-known chapter of his early career — was an attorney with the Washington, D.C. mega-law firm Williams and Connolly.
He currently serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and is a close ally of Pence.
“He has served our country with honor and spent his life fighting for the security of our citizens,” Trump said of Pompeo in a statement.
Notably, Pompeo backed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) over Trump in the Republican presidential primary. In May, a Pompeo spokesman gave a somewhat tepid endorsement, saying the congressman would “support the nominee of the Republican Party because Hillary Clinton cannot be president of the United States.”
Pompeo is a vocal critic of President Obama’s nuclear accord with Iran. “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism,” he tweeted Thursday, before his offer to become CIA director was public.
The choices of Sessions and Pompeo follow Trump’s decision to offer the position of national security adviser to Flynn, and confirm the president-elect’s desire to assemble his Cabinet by naming national security and law enforcement leaders first.
At the same time, Trump is soliciting the help of Romney, a mainstream consensus figure who had been the face of the Republican resistance to Trump’s candidacy, in assembling his government.
Trump sought a meeting with Romney, who had fiercely criticized him during the campaign, to broker peace — and Sessions, a vice chairman of Trump’s transition, told reporters that Trump could consider the 2012 GOP presidential nominee for an administration position, perhaps secretary of state.
The presence of Flynn and Romney in Trump’s orbit sends mixed signals to already jittery leaders around the globe, as well as officials in Washington’s foreign policy community, about the tone and substance of the Trump administration’s posture to the world.
Flynn, who would hold the most powerful national security position, is a retired three-star general and decorated intelligence officer who established a close relationship with Trump while campaigning at his side this year. His behavior and a string of controversial and dark statements about Islam, among other topics, have alarmed many of his former colleagues.
Trump’s selection of Flynn comes after the president-elect enraged Democrats and civil rights groups by appointing Stephen K. Bannon, former chairman of Breitbart News, an alt-right news site that has become a forum for the white nationalist movement, as his chief strategist and senior counselor in the White House.
Karen DeYoung, Robert Costa, Mike DeBonis, Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller, Phillip Rucker and Katie Zezima contributed to this report.