Former Transition Team Member Describes Trump's National Security Plan
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Former Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo for head of the CIA, retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn for national security adviser. President-elect Donald Trump is slowly but surely filling out his national security team. And Mike Rogers, the head of the former House Intelligence Committee until recently had a key role in that process. He left the transition last week, he said, because the Trump team wanted to go in a different direction.
I spoke to Rogers today about Trump's picks and the direction Trump is taking on national security.
MIKE ROGERS: Well, I think you'll see a bit of a switch. You'll see a little bit more aggressive behavior, I think, in places like Syria. And I don't mean big troops on the ground. I mean that there are things that we can do to push back against the Iranians. There are things that we can do to make life fairly miserable for ISIS holding large swaths of ground in both Syria and western Iraq.
They're more screwdriver nuance turns of the wrench than they are massive overhauls, but they can have a major impact in those regions.
CORNISH: You brought up Syria. And looking back over the last few months at Donald Trump's kind of friendly comments towards Vladimir Putin, you know, by working more with Russia on Syria, for example, where Russia backs the regime, is the U.S. under a President Trump essentially going to be giving up on the rebels, they're giving up on the people there?
ROGERS: You know, I don't see it that way. And, you know, it's yet to be told if the president elect does make a decision to do that without regards to what happens for a transitional government, then that would be a fundamental change. I'm not sure that's what he's talking about. And I look back when George Bush said that he looked in Putin's eyes and, you know, saw the soul of a good man and Hillary Clinton went and did the reset with the Russians.
I think this is a natural thing that you want to come in and you want to tear down those barriers to good diplomatic relations. Nothing like reality to change people's mind. It certainly did with George Bush, it certainly did with the Obama administration. And my guess is unless there's, you know, he accomplishes something that the other ones couldn't, there'll also be some change in behavior toward Russia and Putin as well.
CORNISH: You know, this election cycle we've had the U.S. intelligence community say Russia was directly involved in a cyber-campaign designed to disrupt the U.S. election. Donald Trump has disputed that. As a former FBI agent, as someone who headed the House Intelligence Committee, you know, what are your concerns about a president who does not trust the judgment of the security community?
ROGERS: And, again, I would only caution in that he has not been fully - at the time, didn't have full access to what the intelligence community had.
CORNISH: But he was being briefed.
ROGERS: Remember, those briefings are not - pre-election, are not presidential - a PDB they're called, Presidential Daily Brief classification. They're just not. So they're much more limited, you don't get into a lot of depth.
CORNISH: But was damage done to that relationship before it even began?
ROGERS: With the intel?
ROGERS: Well, I mean, I never always think it's helpful to dispute if you don't have all the facts. He certainly felt pretty strongly about it. Once he gets exposed to the way that the information is presented, how they get to that conclusion, I think he'll feel more confident in the materials that he gets from the intelligence community.
CORNISH: And do you think he'll speak differently as president once he has the information compared to how he spoke of intelligence that came to him during the campaign?
ROGERS: I would hope so. I think he will. I think - again, I think there's a maturation process...
CORNISH: You can see why that would be kind of a scary answer - right? - to someone sitting in their car when we're facing all kinds of national security threats...
ROGERS: Yeah, no, I understand that. But I also understand this notion why so many Americans decided they wanted something completely different than that inside baseball government that they've been getting and not been very happy with. And so he's challenging all of those norms that we've come to understand about what is the right behavior and the right way to answer a question.
I do think that he will mature in office like every president has matured in office and I mean everyone.
CORNISH: Well, Mike Rogers, thank you so much for coming in to speak with us.
ROGERS: Yeah, thanks for having me.
CORNISH: That was Mike Rogers, a former Republican congressman of Michigan and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and as of last week, former national security advisor to the Trump transition team. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.