The White House may be forced to draw from a less qualified pool of candidates and focus on those who would be less likely to push back against Bannon or other political advisors. Former colleagues of Harward, who has strong ties to Defense Secretary James Mattis dating back years, said he could have posed a potential problem for Bannon and his aides as he would have stood his ground in a disagreement over principle and insisted on clear lines of authority.
Harward was Trump’s top choice to replace Michael Flynn, who resigned on Monday under a cloud after he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December. Flynn’s phone calls with the Russian diplomat have fueled questions about the Trump team’s contacts with Moscow after an election in which Russia sought to undermine the president’s opponent, Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Harward’s dispute about the terms of the job comes amid a weeks-long disagreement between Mattis and the White House over proposed appointments to senior civilian positions in the Defense Department. So far, the White House has rebuffed proposed appointments of Republican policy experts because they signed letters opposed to Trump’s candidacy or criticized him publicly.
A White House official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, did not confirm accounts about differences with Harward over staffing. The official told Foreign Policy that Harward had cited difficulties in severing financial ties to Lockheed Martin, where he is currently employed as an executive, and “family considerations,” as he had just moved his family to Abu Dhabi.
But former officials familiar with the matter said Harward had set conditions that would allow him to select who would serve as his deputy or possibly other senior positions in the NSC. The current National Security Council is populated by several former military officers handpicked by Flynn and Harward asked for the flexibility to decide who he would keep on. One of the sticking points reportedly was over K.T. McFarland, the current deputy national security advisor, who Harward wanted to replace — but the White House resisted.
Former officials from the Obama and Bush administrations said morale was already low in the National Security Council even before Flynn’s departure, as many staff members felt their work was being ignored or marginalized by political advisors who harbor a distrust of career civil servants. They said the episode drove home Bannon’s heavyweight status in the White House and how Trump trusted his political advisors above all.