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What Do Trump's Cabinet Appointments Say About His Priorities?


President-elect Donald Trump continues to fill out his administration. He made three key appointments on Friday. Retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn is Mr. Trump's pick for national security adviser. Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas has been tapped to be the new director of the CIA. And Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is Trump's pick for attorney general. NPR's political editor Domenico Montanaro is joining us to dig into what these choices might tell us about the incoming administration. Hi, Domenico.


WERTHEIMER: Now, looking at these first appointments as a group, and we'll include in that group the White House staff appointments earlier in the week of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and Reince Priebus as chief of staff. So what jumps out at you when you look at the group?

MONTANARO: Well, obviously, you've got Donald Trump who likes to have these kind of warring factions of different power centers beneath him so that he can make decisions. And you've got very different types of people with Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus. Bannon's sort of more of this inspirational leader for Trump as he was during the campaign, but a very checkered background - ties to the alt-right as he had bragged that Breitbart, where he was the head of the conservative news organization, that he had made it a platform for the alt-right, so a very controversial pick there. Reince Priebus, on the other hand, somebody who will probably try to work with the Republican Congress to try to get some of Trump's agenda through.

WERTHEIMER: What about Lieutenant General Michael Flynn? There's been criticism of him for comments that he made earlier this year suggesting that fear of Muslims is rational. That was a tweet.

MONTANARO: Well, Flynn has been a fiery character. You might remember those hacked emails from Colin Powell earlier this year that said that he was fired from the Defense Intelligence Agency. He had been a top aide to General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan and had been widely respected within the military but was seen as too hard-charging in many ways. He apparently had been in on the Trump briefings from intelligence officials during the campaign, and he had questioned whether or not they were giving the full information, so a bit of a wild card with General Flynn to be sure.

WERTHEIMER: Jeff Sessions, Senator Jeff Sessions, is Trump's pick for attorney general. Perhaps he's getting the most attention. Of course, it's a very sensitive post. A president wants a trusted person in that job, somebody who has his back. Sessions is a very conservative senator from Alabama and the first Cabinet appointment.

MONTANARO: Well, he certainly does have Donald Trump's back. He was the only senator to endorse Donald Trump and stick by his side when nobody else would. But Jeff Sessions is a very controversial figure to put in charge of the Department of Justice. This is someone who, 30 years ago, couldn't get confirmed as a federal judge because of racially-charged comments that he admitted to making. And now he's going to be put in charge of, you know, overseeing things like voting rights, for example, which has definitely gotten a lot of civil rights groups up in arms. I mean, this is someone who had questioned back then, 30 years ago or so, whether or not Martin Luther King's aides had been trying to commit voter fraud. So very controversial pick in Jeff Sessions but something where loyalty has won out.

WERTHEIMER: So can you tell anything from these picks what the other picks will be like?

MONTANARO: I think that you can tell that they're going to mean that the people who've been loyalists to Donald Trump will probably be the people who are picked. But then again, you saw him meet with someone like Mitt Romney just today, someone who came out earlier in the campaign and called Donald Trump a con man and who is reportedly being considered as secretary of state. Although the meeting doesn't sound like it went very warmly, but they had cordial things to say about each other afterward.

WERTHEIMER: Domenico, thank you.

MONTANARO: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: That was NPR's political editor Domenico Montanaro joining us from Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.

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