Biden’s delay in choosing the defense secretary exposes the best contestants to an awkward investigation

As a result, defense secretary candidates are under increased scrutiny to see if they have the political flange to reduce defense spending, as requested by some members of Congress, while continuing to fund innovative future technology and prioritize the challenges posed by Russia and China. meanwhile maintaining military deterrence against Iran, North Korea and ISIS.

Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat and honored combat veteran, is no longer getting a serious look, people in the case said, given Biden’s reluctance to create vacancies in the Senate.

Flournoy, a Pentagon veteran official, was once widely regarded as the lock of the position and is still very much in it, he told CNN by people familiar with the case, but ruled out growing insecurity around his candidacy in Biden’s first cab wave.

Some progressive groups have mobilized opposition to Flournoy’s nomination in recent days, although the delay may also be due to the intricate riddle Biden is putting together as he tries to deliver on his promise to build a cabinet that reflects America’s diversity – a potential factor in the CIA’s delay. also by the appointment of its Director.

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Critics have raised concerns about Flournoy’s potential conflict of interest and questioned whether continued support for former President Barack Obama’s violence and support in Afghanistan and continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia is in line with the business interests of Booz Allen Hamilton, a Pentagon entrepreneur where he served. the board of directors.

Mention was also made of Flournoy’s role as co-founder of WestExec Advisers, whose primary activity is helping U.S. companies with global footprints navigate geopolitical risks. Flounroy founded the consulting firm by electing Secretary of State Biden Antony Blinken.

“In Flournoy’s case, the apparent alignment of customer interests and the political positions expressed, such as the desire to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia in 2019, which is inconsistent with Biden and essentially all congressional Democrats, are particularly worrying,” CNN said. David Segal, co-founder and CEO of Demand Progress Group.

A Flournoy spokesman rejected this claim and told CNN, “Michele’s private sector experience does not affect his political views or work.” The spokesman also noted that Flournoy “as a member of Booz Allen’s board of directors” is not involved in any contracting or business development with any client, including the U.S. government.

A WestExec spokesman told CNN that the company is “undergoing an intensive customer due diligence process to ensure that the companies we work with and the nature of the work we do for them meet our strict ethical standards.”

Candidates face scrutiny because of their relationships with defense contractors

While serving on a defense contractor’s board is a conflict and usually requires a period of dismissal before anyone can be appointed defense secretary, individuals in the situation have a similar background.

Other candidates Biden is considering for the post are also tied to defense contractors.

Johnson is on the board of defense of the defense giant Lockheed Martin Corp., while Austin is on the board of another arms contractor, Raytheon Technologies.

Johnson served as General Counsel at the Pentagon and as Secretary of Homeland Security.

Austin, a retired Army general who led Central Command during the Obama era, would need a congressional resignation to reinforce a civilian position because he had only retired from active service four years ago.

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Johnson and Austin, who are African American people, would write history and be candidates for the first black defense minister. So would Flournoy, as the first woman to lead the Pentagon.

These factors, criticism, and the importance of the post pose a finely tuned political challenge for Biden involving Congress and its allies – it is important that their views on the candidate are taken into account.

Some Democrats on the Senate and House Armed Services Committee have publicly supported Flournoy these days.

“Michele Flournoy has a deep understanding of DOD’s current bureaucracy and the future of defense. It’s a rare combination. I’d like to be nominated as Secretary of Defense,” said Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat who served in the Marines. and is on the House’s Armed Services Committee, wrote a tweet last week.

A Democratic Senate assistant told CNN last week that senior board members believe Flournoy would be a good choice as well, but said there was little connection to the Biden transition and lawmakers are mostly in the dark about the president-elect. who will finally mark.

In a letter to Biden earlier this month that did not name Flournoy, but widely regarded it as a detention for his potential nomination, the Democratic Representative. Mark Pocan, of Wisconsin and Barbara Lee, of California, two senior leaders of the House, asked, “that the next National Defense has no previous employment with a defense contractor.”

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Flournoy, for his part, in his recent call to progressive foreign policy groups sought to address some of these concerns, two sources, including one in the line of conversation, told CNN.

“It’s interesting to understand the views of progressive groups, and that’s why he met them. To hear their views first-hand. And to clarify any misconceptions about his situation,” said another source familiar with the conversation and Flournoy’s views. an overview of the situation.

“I expect that if appointed, these talks will continue,” the source added.

A source familiar with Flournoy’s mindset told CNN that his interest in participating on the boards of private companies is partly learning. “How do you hold the industry and good oversight of acquisitions accountable if you don’t understand?” they said.

Asked whether Flournoy would disclose his clients if he was appointed Secretary of Defense, his spokesman said, “As always, Ms. Flournoy will fully comply with the law and disclosure requirements.”

The announcement of the next leader of the Pentagon is expected soon – perhaps this week or later – but the exact timing depends on the final decision that it has not yet been reached late on Sunday night, people in the case said.

Biden is considering the CIA director’s options

The opening of the Ministry of Defense is not done in a vacuum.

Biden is also still looking for someone to head the Central Intelligence Agency – and Johnson is thought to at least be considering this post, people in the case said.

Former CIA Acting Director Mike Morell will also remain a contender, as previously reported by CNN, but his lead status has been tested against attacks by Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat Ron Wyden, who has accused him of being an “apologist for torture.” “

Since Wyden’s attacks, interim senior officials have spoken to other Democratic senators, including members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to discuss possible candidates to lead the CIA.

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In addition to Morell, Sue Gordon, a former deputy director of National Intelligence, is also a competitor, people familiar with the case told CNN, as was Vincent Stewart, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and a Marine general. He would also need a congressional resignation to serve in the civilian post.

The intelligence committee is the first glove on the road to reinforcement, and Gordon would be “very popular if appointed,” one of his assistants told CNN, suggesting that it could be easier to confirm than Morell if more fires were to start. progressive.

“I would always serve my country,” Gordon told CNN on Monday. – If asked, I’d serve.

Former Obama senior adviser Lisa Monaco and former CIA deputy director David Cohen are also involved, according to several sources in the talks.

Tom Donilon, a former national security adviser to Obama who was among the most likely to lead the CIA, will no longer be considered for this post, CNN reported on Sunday.

A temporary official said the announcements for the Pentagon and the CIA would be made when Biden made his decisions, rejecting proposals for delays. Nominations for both positions, in addition to the other members of the cabinet, are expected in December.