Trump Sees Petraeus as Secretary of State Fight Continues

  • Meeting comes after outcry among Trump aides over Mitt Romney
  • Petraeus shared classified information in extramarital affair

Trump Meets Petraeus Amid Secretary of State Fight

President-elect Donald Trump met with retired General David Petraeus Monday, as a senior official with the transition said the former CIA director is being considered for secretary of state amid open infighting among Trump’s advisers about who to pick for the post.

“Just met with General Petraeus -- was very impressed!” Trump said in a Twitter post after their session at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Petraeus, a celebrated four-star general who left government under a cloud for sharing classified documents during an extramarital affair, told reporters that Trump “showed a great grasp of a variety of the challenges that are out there and some of the opportunities as well. So a very good conversation, and we’ll see where it goes from here.”

The possibility that Trump might instead tap former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is scheduled to meet with the president-elect again Tuesday, has fueled an extraordinary public lobbying campaign against him.

Kellyanne Conway, who managed Trump’s campaign and is now a senior adviser to his transition, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she is “just astonished at the breathtaking volume and intensity of blowback that I see” against the possibility of Romney serving as the nation’s top diplomat.

“In the last four years, I mean, has he been around the globe doing something on behalf of the U.S. of which we’re unaware? Did he go and intervene in Syria where they’re having a massive humanitarian crisis?” she asked on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Two Generals

A top transition official said that many in Trump’s camp support having Petraeus fill the position. Trump is “inclined" to pick Petraeus, according to the official, yet he is weighing whether it’s a good idea to have two retired generals heading the State Department and Pentagon. General James Mattis has been under consideration to lead the Defense Department.

Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who’s also been mentioned as a possible State Department pick, is among those due to meet with Trump or Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Tuesday. Frances Townsend, a national security expert who served in President George W. Bush’s administration, was among those who visited Trump Tower on Monday.

Since leaving the CIA, Petraeus has been teaching and working as chairman of the KKR Global Institute, which analyzes global trends for KKR & Co., the New York-based investment firm. The role took him around the globe to Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

He also made frequent presentations to the firm’s existing and potential investors, and he was promoted to a partner of KKR in December 2014. Some stock analysts have said Petraeus’s unit has helped differentiate KKR from its publicly traded peers.

CIA Resignation

If Petraeus is nominated and wins Senate confirmation, it will represent one of Trump’s boldest appointments and a remarkable comeback for the 64-year-old general who won acclaim overseeing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq before serving as director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. The Senate voted 94-0 to confirm him for that post.

Petraeus’s government career collapsed after revelations that he had an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, and shared classified documents with her. He resigned from the CIA in November 2012 and avoided a criminal trial by agreeing to a plea deal in April 2015. It required him to serve two years on probation and pay a $100,000 fine on a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized possession of classified information.

Lives ‘Destroyed’

While that may create the unusual prospect of a cabinet secretary who could still be on criminal probation for his first months in office, Trump said during the presidential campaign that Petraeus’s violations paled compared to those of Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who shared classified information on a private e-mail server.

“Other lives, including General Petraeus and many others, have been destroyed for doing far, far less,” Trump said at a rally in October. “This is a conspiracy against you, the American people, and we cannot let this happen or continue.”

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, who oversaw both the Petraeus and Clinton investigations, disagreed. In a July 7 hearing, he told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Petraeus’s behavior was worse than Clinton’s, saying that he deliberately “lied” when first questioned by investigators.

“So you have obstruction of justice, you have intentional misconduct and a vast quantity of information” that was highly classified, Comey said. “He admitted he knew that was the wrong thing to do. That is a perfect illustration of the kind of cases that get prosecuted.”

The issue could be an impediment for Petraeus in a confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee, according to Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a libertarian who is opposed to most U.S. intervention abroad.

"The problem they are going to have if they put him forward is there are a lot of similarities to Hillary Clinton," Paul said Monday on CNN.

Advising Obama

Obama’s administration continued to seek occasional advice from Petraeus on strategy in Iraq. White House press secretary Josh Earnest pointed to his record of service in justifying the decision to still rely on his counsel despite the scandal.

Before the scandal, Petraeus was lauded as one of the most brilliant generals of his generation and the go-to choice of presidents George W. Bush and Obama.

Bush tapped him in 2007 to lead the surge of 21,000 U.S. troops into Iraq to rescue the crumbling U.S. war effort there. He revamped U.S. strategy in Iraq to emphasize using counterinsurgency tactics and flooding Iraq urban centers with troops to protect them. The new strategy was credited with reducing violence in the country and sparing the U.S. a humiliating defeat.

In an interview with the BBC, Petraeus had said he would serve in the Trump administration if asked by the president-elect.

“I’ve been in a position before where a president has turned to me in the Oval Office in a difficult moment, without any pleasantries, and said ‘I’m asking you as your president and Commander in Chief to take command of the international security force in Afghanistan,”’ Petraeus said. “The only response can be: ‘Yes, Mr. President.”’

Strategic Surprise

Despite Trump’s praise of Petraeus on the campaign trail, the two have not always aligned on policy. Petraeus disagreed gently with Trump on one issue during the campaign, rejecting the candidate’s criticism of the Pentagon for announcing in advance that it was readying the long-promised campaign to retake Mosul in Iraq from Islamic State terrorists.

“What is going on here is, in a sense, a distinction between so-called strategic surprise, which is not possible when you’re moving tens of thousands of troops and thousands of vehicles and logistics and everything else, and then tactical surprise, which I think probably was achieved to some degree when the Iraqi forces launched the original operation several days ago,” Petraeus said Oct. 20 on the PBS NewsHour.

At a conference on U.S.-Arab ties in Washington last month, Petraeus advocated a no-fly zone in Syria and more military support for Syrian groups that are fighting against President Bashar al-Assad as well as those combating Islamic State. He also said that the U.S. should be ready to face down Assad’s Russian backers, while Trump has suggested the U.S. could work more closely with Moscow to fight Islamic State.

“I think that it is inaccurate to say, as some do, that there is no military solution to this problem,” Petraeus said. “At the very least, I’m not sure that Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin have gotten that memo.”

But Petraeus had also clashed with Obama before the president took office. During a 2008 campaign visit to Iraq, the then-senator and Petraeus had a heated debate over troop levels in the country, according to a book by Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe.

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