National Security Adviser Hopefuls Promised Autonomy

Vice Admiral Robert S. Harward turned down the offer of national security adviser. Reuters

President Donald Trump's next pick for national security adviser will have autonomy over staffing and key decisions, the White House said on Sunday as it scrambles to fill the post following the turbulent departure of Michael Flynn.

Trump fired Flynn, a retired U.S. Army general, on Monday after it was revealed that he discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador in Washington ahead of Trump's inauguration and later misled Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.

His first choice to fill the job, Vice Admiral Robert Harward, turned it down citing family and financial reasons. Another potential choice, David Petraeus, a retired general and former CIA chief who resigned in 2012 over an extramarital affair, is also no longer on the president's short list.

Sources familiar with the candidates' thinking said they both wanted control over staffing of their team, and Trump was reluctant to grant that authority.

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus denied the reports that Harward and Petraeus wanted more control than Trump was prepared to give, and said in an interview on 'Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace' that the new adviser "can do whatever he or she wants to do with the staffing."

He said the issue never came up in discussions with Harward and they "hadn't really gone down the road" with Petraeus.

The national security adviser is an independent aide to the president and does not require confirmation by the U.S. Senate. The role has varied from administration to administration but the adviser attends National Security Council meetings along with the heads of the State Department, the Department of Defense and key security agencies.

Trump has added Steve Bannon, his chief White House strategist, as a regular attendee of NSC meetings. Political strategists have not typically been among NSC participants and Bannon's addition has drawn sharp criticism due his previous role heading right-wing website Breitbart News.

Trump is set to interview four national security adviser candidates on Sunday from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Acting adviser Keith Kellogg, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster and Lieutenant General Robert Caslen are currently on the president's list.

McMaster holds a senior post with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. Caslen is superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

"I'll make a decision over the next couple of days," Trump told reporters Saturday on Air Force One.