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Pentagon Pick Could Have Deep Influence on Trump

Many look for clues as to what Trump intends when he names his choice to lead the Department of Defense.

President-elect Donald Trump has made inflammatory comments about some of the nation’s current or possible defense policies. He has hinted at a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, supported use of nuclear weapons, called NATO “obsolete” and claimed long-time allies like Japan and South Korea should be able to defend themselves without US troops.

In response to foreign leaders’ growing concerns about the new administration, President Barack Obama said on Monday that Trump will honor NATO and the alliance’s “core strategic relationships.”

But many in the US and abroad will look for clues as to what Trump really intends when he names his choice to lead the Department of Defense. Trump has made contradictory comments about defense spending over the last few months, saying “We can do it for a lot less” last year but calling for eliminating the sequester on defense spending earlier this year. Whoever lands on the top defense post would have a lot to say about the direction of military spending.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL): The president-elect’s biggest congressional surrogate is a top contender to lead the uniformed and civilian employees of DoD.

Sessions is a member of the Armed Services Committee and a strong supporter of Trump’s strict immigration policies, but he’s also known as an enthusiast of budget cutting, including defense spending.

The senior senator from his state has received contributions totaling $18.6 million since 1996. His top supporter is a gas and electric utility company, Southern Company; its employees and PAC have given him a total of $174,765, but some other big donors include military suppliers such as Collazo Enterprises and Lockheed Martin.

Political action committees and individuals in the defense sector have donated a total of $857,577 to Sessions.

Sessions’ campaign committee and leadership PAC have given a total of $2.7 million to other GOP candidates and party committees over the past 10 cycles, but he did not give to Trump.

Sessions’ name has also surfaced as a possible candidate to be attorney general or Homeland Security secretary.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH): The junior New Hampshire senator didn’t survive one of the fiercest and most expensive congressional bids of the cycle last week, but she could have an office waiting at the Pentagon.

The former attorney general of New Hampshire and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee has been a leading hawkish voice in the upper chamber. She supports stricter sanctions on Iran and North Korea, and has also written a censuring op-ed about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbass for The Hill.

It seems fitting, then, that the single biggest contributor throughout her career as a federal politician is a leading pro-Israel group, NorPAC, which has donated a total of $255,000 to Ayotte, over half of the $507,470 she has received from various pro-Israel groups.

Ayotte has also been named a potential ambassador to the United Nations. Her close ties with Trump might come as a surprise to some, because she had publicly declared last month, after the release of the controversial Access Hollywood video from 2005, that she “cannot and will not support a candidate who brags about degrading and assaulting a woman,” and that she “will not vote for Donald Trump.”

Elliot Management, a hedge fund run by Paul Singer, a big anti-Trump conservative megadonor, was another main financial supporter of Ayotte, donating $172,433.

Throughout her time in federal politics from 2011 to 2016, Ayotte has collected a total of $23.9 million in contributions, more than 77 percent ($18.5 million) of which came from this year’s competition against Democratic Sen.-elect Maggie Hassan.

Outside groups such as her single-candidate super PAC, Granite State Solutions, and the US Chamber of Commerce, a 501(c) nonprofit, also invested massive dollars for Ayotte this election, totaling $37 million.

Ayotte’s campaign committee and leadership PAC have contributed a total of $846,456 to other candidate committees and party committees. None went to Trump.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn: Once a potential running mate for Trump and currently a vice chair of his transition team, Flynn is now being considered for the top defense gig.

A registered Democrat raised in a “very strong Democratic family,” Flynn served as the director of Defense Intelligence Agency under the Obama administration for two years until he was reportedly forced out after clashing with superiors over the Islamic terrorism threat. Since then, he has been very critical of the Obama administration while working as a key surrogate of the Trump campaign.

Flynn is not a political animal in at least one sense: He’s never made a federal campaign contribution of more than $200 (that being the threshhold for identifying donors’ names to the public).

But in any confirmation hearings, Flynn would likely face questions about several issues, including the fact that his consulting firm was hired by a Dutch company closely tied to the Turkish government. An associate at Flynn’s company said the firm was going to keep its client “informed of US foreign and domestic policy.” Flynn didn’t disclose his client’s relationship with Turkey in a recent op-ed he wrote condemning the Turkish president’s chief rival.

In addition, there’s the matter of Flynn being paid by RT, a Russian state-owned media outlet, to attend a banquet last year at which he was seated with Vladimir Putin.

And putting Flynn in at DoD would bring an extra hurdle for Team Trump: It would have to get a waiver from Congress of a law barring former officers from taking the helm at the Pentagon for at least seven years after retirement.

Should the seven-year ban prove too much of an obstacle, Flynn has also been talked about as a potential Central Intelligence Agency director and National Security Adviser.

Stephen J. Hadley: The former national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration is a more appealing candidate for Republican party elders.

Currently the chairman of the US Institute of Peace’s board of directors, Hadley has contributed a total of $51,550 to various Republican candidates over the years. His big donations this cycle include $2,700 to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), $2,700 to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and $2,700 to GOP primary candidate Jeb Bush. He hasn’t made any direct contributions to Trump.

During the Syrian chemical weapons crisis in 2013, Hadley strongly advocated for attacking Syria with missiles; it was later revealed that he was on the board of defense contractor Raytheon and owned 11,477 shares of stock at that time.

Raytheon has contributed a total of $2.9 million this cycle. Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was the biggest beneficiary of gifts from the defense giant, receiving $72,599, followed by Ayotte, who received $45,920. Trump received $18,530.

Former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.): After only a few years in the private sector, former Senate Majority Whip Kyl would be a reverse revolver if he went to Defense.

Over his 23 years as a senator, Kyl raised a total of $25.3 million in contributions, $4.3 million of which came from individuals and PACs in the finance sector. Club for Growth topped the list of donors to Kyl, giving a total of $155,753, followed by the real estate and insurance industries. Donations from pro-Israel groups totaled up to $493,812.

Sen. Kyl contributed $30,400 under his own name over the years, mainly to the Republican Party of Arizona, and his campaign committee and leadership PAC gave $2.5 million to other candidates and party committees over the two decades. Senate Majority Fund’s biggest donations this year include $15,000 to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and $10,000 to Ayotte. The PAC also gave $5,000 to former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, but nothing to Trump.

Since retiring in 2012, the Arizona Republican has been enjoying a senior counseling job at DC lobbying and law firm Covington & Burling.

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