President-elect Donald Trump on Friday named a libertarian election lawyer as his White House counsel and a hard-line former Reagan administration official to a top post on his national security staff.
Trump announced that Donald F. McGahn, a controversial former member of the Federal Election Commission who had served as Trump’s campaign lawyer, will be his White House counsel.
In that job, McGahn will serve as the president’s legal adviser — a job that in the past has involved occasionally arguing to restrain what the chief executive wants to do.
“It will be interesting to see how Don’s suspicion of government — his deep libertarianism — will affect his advice on questions of executive authority,” said Robert F. Bauer, who served as White House counsel for President Obama. “And as somebody who has never shied away from a fight, he would not likely be a ‘yes man’ in this or any other aspect of the job.”
For deputy national security adviser, Trump chose Kathleen “KT” McFarland, who in her most recent role as a Fox News analyst has expressed strident opposition to many of Obama’s national security policies.
She will serve as deputy under retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for national security adviser and a fierce critic of Obama’s stances on Islamist extremism.
McGahn, one of the country’s top election lawyers, is not a standard-issue Washington insider. Until recently, he wore his hair to his shoulders. He also plays bass in an ’80s cover band.
He spent nearly 10 years as counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee. During his tenure on the Federal Election Commission from 2008 to 2013, he led a GOP faction that was criticized for loosening enforcement of regulations on campaign spending.
The commission’s top lawyer resigned when McGahn attempted to keep his office from sharing information with federal prosecutors. But he also won praise for opening up many formerly closed-door deliberations.
“In some ways, he’s not a surprising choice for a Trump administration. He’s a total disrupter like Trump,” said Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic appointee to the FEC who often tangled with McGahn.
At a recent news conference, Obama credited the work of his White House counsels — he has had four of them in his eight years as president — for the fact that his tenure has been relatively scandal-free.
“We listened to the lawyers,” Obama said, “and we had a strong White House Counsel’s Office. We had a strong Ethics Office. We had people in every agency whose job it was to remind people: ‘This is how you’re supposed to do things.’ ”
Trump’s presidency will present his White House counsel with new — and unprecedented — sets of challenges.
The president-elect has said that his family will continue to run his global business enterprises, which could raise a host of potential conflicts of interest as he makes policy decisions at home and in dealing with foreign governments.
During his presidential campaign, Trump also suggested that he will take an expansive approach to executive power.
Among other things, Trump has talked of establishing a religious test for immigrants and setting up a national stop-and-frisk program despite the fact that policing policies are considered to be in the purview of state and local governments.
Neither McGahn nor McFarland will require Senate confirmation.
McFarland praised Trump’s judgment on international affairs. “Nobody has called foreign policy right more than President-elect Trump, and he gets no credit for it,’’ she said.
The announcement included bipartisan statements of support from former senator Joe Lieberman, who was the Democratic Party’s 2000 vice presidential nominee, and Robert C. “Bud” McFarlane, who worked with McFarland as President Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser.
“As a friend and colleague, I’ve watched KT’s depth of knowledge and understanding grow,’’ said McFarlane, who called Trump’s choice “one of our country’s most insightful national security analysts.’’
McFarland served on the National Security Council during the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations.
As a national security analyst and contributor for Fox News since 2010, she has called Obama weak on counterterrorism, criticized what she calls “open borders” in Europe and echoed Trump’s calls for a crackdown on letting Syrian refugees into the United States because of potential terrorism fears.
Along with Flynn, McFarland is likely to preside over a much smaller National Security Council than now, as Congress will soon vote on a national defense policy bill that is likely to reduce the size of the president’s in-house foreign policy advisory body. She once ran, unsuccessfully, for the Republican nomination to challenge Hillary Clinton for her Senate seat in New York.
The new administration appointees came as Trump remained at his Florida estate on Friday, keeping a limited Thanksgiving weekend schedule while speaking with more foreign leaders and preparing for further staff and Cabinet announcements.
Trump is planning no further personnel announcements until at least Monday, aides said Friday morning in a conference call with reporters.
Trump has spoken with five more foreign leaders since leaving New York for Florida on Tuesday, his transition team said.
They include two of Europe’s most high-profile populist heads of state: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, a left-wing leader who came to power after a series of recessions and whose term has been marked by some of the most dramatic moments of the Greek debt crisis; and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a right-wing leader whose policies have included a push to reject the migrants flowing into Europe from the war-torn Middle East.
At various points, both leaders have also broken from the rest of European Union members to pursue a closer relationship with Russia since the E.U. began to sanction Moscow over its activities in Ukraine.
Trump — whose campaign focused in part on populist issues such as trade and who has faced criticism for his frequent praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin — also spoke with the president of Slovenia, the country where his wife, Melania, was born.
After leaving Florida on Sunday, Trump plans to meet with at least seven possible job candidates on Monday, including several business executives, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
People familiar with the selection process have said Clarke is in contention to be Trump’s homeland security secretary, along with other candidates, including: Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, former chief of U.S. Southern Command; Frances Townsend, a top homeland security and counterterrorism official in the George W. Bush administration; and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Clarke, a vocal Trump supporter, could be a controversial choice because of his strong views, including a statement comparing the Black Lives Matter movement to the Islamic State.
Trump is also preparing to select Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary, according to officials with knowledge of the decision. Ross is a billionaire investor considered the “king of bankruptcy” for buying beaten-down companies with the potential to deliver profits.
Ross helped shape the Trump campaign’s economic agenda, particularly its hard-line stance on the need to renegotiate — or even withdraw from — free trade agreements. That position resonated with the working-class voters who were instrumental in delivering Trump’s victory. Elevating Ross to a position in his Cabinet could suggest that Trump intends to nurture the nationalist streak that was one of the hallmarks of his campaign.
Transition aides declined to comment Friday on Ross’s likely selection or the possible choice of Ben Carson to be secretary of housing and urban development. Trump had tweeted Tuesday that he is “seriously considering” Carson for the HUD post, and Carson tweeted Wednesday that “an announcement is forthcoming about my role in helping to make America great again,’’ though he declined to be more specific.
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has no known experience with housing issues, ran against Trump in the Republican primary before becoming an adviser and confidant.
Ben Terris contributed to this report.