During a rambling press conference Thursday, Donald Trump claimed to have an “outstanding” candidate in line to become national security adviser, after Michael Flynn resigned Monday over his contact with Russian officials. But just hours later, that “outstanding” candidate rejected the offer outright.
In the adversarial press conference where he frequently lambasted the media and claimed his administration was being run like a “fine-tuned machine,” Trump was asked about a replacement for Flynn. “I have somebody that I think will be outstanding for the position,” he said, adding that the quality of his candidate had helped make the decision to ask for Flynn’s resignation easier.
But the candidate — 40-year military veteran Robert Harward — announced later in the day that he wouldn’t be taking up the position. “This job requires 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week focus and commitment to do it right,” Harward said in a statement. “I currently could not make that commitment.”
While Harward said the decision was purely a personal one, sources within the White House — whom Trump called criminals during his press conference — were quick to report that Harward might have had other concerns about taking the job:
- Chaos — National security officials speaking to the New York Times said that Harward had strong reservations about “Trump’s unpredictable style and the level of chaos that has engulfed his White House.” His concerns grew when Trump told Flynn’s deputy, K.T. McFarland, that she could remain in her role despite Flynn’s departure.
- Staff — The Washington Post and CNN, citing people close to Trump with knowledge of the discussions, says Harward turned down the offer partly because he was unable to get assurances that he could select his own staff. Asked about this issue, Harward told AP: “I think that’s for the president to address.”
- Financial — Leaving his job at aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, where he is a senior executive, would have meant a major financial hit. The top White House salary in 2016 was capped at $176,461, a fraction of what an executive at Lockheed Martin would receive. In 2015 CEO Marillyn Hewson received a salary — cash and equity — worth over $20 million.
- Family — Related to the financial implications, sources speaking to the Post said “family considerations changed his mind.” In a statement, Harward said that having spent four decades in the military, he finally had “the opportunity to address financial and family issues that would have been challenging in this position.” The Daily Beast reports that the concerns of Harward’s wife in particular could not be overcome.
Harward’s decision to turn down the offer will only add to the troubles Trump and his team have faced this week. Following Flynn’s resignation, Trump’s pick for labor secretary, fast-food exec Andrew Pudzer, withdrew his nomination, and the administration is facing continuing allegations over its links to the Russian government during last year’s election campaign.
According to the New York Times, retired Gen. David Petraeus has stepped up his campaign to be considered for the position. Complicating his nomination is the issue that the former director of the CIA is still serving a two-year probation after being found guilty of passing classified information to his biographer. It is unlikely Petraeus would be able to get the necessary security clearances while he is on probation, a term due to end in April.