Donald Trump scrambles to fill national security adviser post

US President Donald Trump speaking to the press aboard Air Force One before addressing a rally in Melbourne, Florida, on Feb 18, 2017.
US President Donald Trump speaking to the press aboard Air Force One before addressing a rally in Melbourne, Florida, on Feb 18, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump may do another round of interviews for the position of national security adviser with new or existing candidates on Monday (Feb 20) as he scrambles to fill the post following the ouster of Michael Flynn.

Trump interviewed four finalists on Sunday and may meet with some of them again on Monday, White House spokesman Sarah Sanders told reporters.

The president interviewed acting adviser Keith Kellogg, former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster and Lieutenant General Robert Caslen at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

"We may have some additional meetings and names tomorrow, and may also meet with a couple of those people again," Ms Sanders said in Florida.

Mr Trump returns to Washington on Monday.

The national security adviser is one of the most senior jobs at the White House, holding broad influence over US foreign policy across the globe and presiding over the National Security Council (NSC) staff.

White House officials made clear on Sunday that the new adviser would have autonomy over staffing decisions, an issue that has been reported to have thwarted some other candidates.

Mr Trump's first choice to fill the job after Mr Flynn's departure, Vice-Admiral Robert Harward, turned it down, citing family and financial reasons. Another potential choice, Mr David Petraeus, a retired general and former CIA chief who resigned in 2012 over an extramarital affair, was cut from the president's short list.

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

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus denied the reports that Vice-Adm Harward and Mr Petraeus wanted more control than Mr 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 Vice-Adm Harward and they "hadn't really gone down the road" with Mr Petraeus.

The national security adviser is an independent aide to the president and does not require confirmation by the US Senate.

The role has varied from administration to administration, but the adviser attends NSC meetings along with the heads of the State Department, the Department of Defence and key security agencies.

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

Meantime the White House confirmed that Mr Craig Deare, the NSC's senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, had left that role. Politico reported that he was dismissed for criticising the president and his top aides.

"He was just sent back to his original position, so he wasn't fired," Ms Sanders said. Mr Deare is on the faculty of the National Defence University.

Asked if government employees should be concerned that they would lose their jobs if they criticised Mr Trump, Ms Sanders said: "I don't think that any person that is there in order to carry out the president's agenda should be against the president's agenda."