Center for Security Policy President Frank Gaffney discussed his reasons for opposing the nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state with SiriusXM host Raheem Kassam on Wednesday’s Breitbart News Daily.
“I have misgivings about it, I must say, Raheem,” Gaffney declared. “There’s much that commends Tillerson to us all, in terms of the obvious attributes: a skilled executive, you need that in an unruly department like the State Department; a man who knows the world, indisputably; a man who has an intimate knowledge of lots of the trouble spots and foreign leaders with whom this country is going to have to be engaged, in some form or fashion.”
“That said, some of those qualities or attributes, if you will, are potentially problematic,” he continued. “He has said he has a very close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. One of the few things that has been of concern to many of us in the pro-Trump-foreign policy community has been some of the statements he’s made over the course of the campaign about how he views Putin, how he views the opportunity to work with Putin, how he has sort of envisioned a – well, to coin a phrase, a ‘reset’ with Russia. And this would be the man to do that; I think there’s very little doubt about it.”
“The question is – and I think it’s a question that’s weighing on a lot of senators, and probably more in the future, Republican as well as Democrat – is, does that closeness to Putin, does that knowledge of him, does that having done business deals with him, having received a friendship award from him, constitute a potential affinity, as well as knowledge, that is not in America’s interest? That’s kind of weighing on me at the moment, I must say,” Gaffney confessed.
Gaffney thought the intensity of Republican opposition to Tillerson would largely depend on “what Democrats decide to do.”
“If those three Republicans, and perhaps a couple of others, decide to peel off, but enough Democrats vote for him for whatever reason, it may not make a difference in his nomination,” he explained, referring to the small number of GOP senators who have currently expressed opposition to Tillerson’s nomination.
“I just hate, personally, to see the President-elect having to have what could be a bruising fight over an individual who has, as I say, many qualities that it would be desirable to have in the service of our country, but in this particular role, may prove to be both controversial and possibly even disqualifying,” Gaffney said.
“I think on so many of these other tough calls, he has made appointments that are going to be – well, to coin a phrase, ‘Yuuuge!’ Really, really super people. I’m thinking particularly of Jim Mattis and John Kelly, respectively, at the Defense Department and Homeland Security Department. These are very impressive individuals, and I think they will get through the Senate confirmation process without a hiccup. But I do worry that this one will be either simply a distraction, possibly one that throws the President-elect off his game early on, and at worst, becomes a setback for him that is avoidable and unnecessary,” he worried.
He said the bigger problem is “the merits of the case” for Tillerson and predicted they would be “fully thrashed out” during his confirmation hearings, although he added that the Senate does not generally reject cabinet appointments.
“The last one, I think, was my old boss John Tower, back under George H.W. Bush,” he recalled. “But this is an appointment that is going to require serious vetting, as I think will the larger policy that is troubling a lot of people at the moment, namely that with Russia.”
Kassam asked what it would take to truly “reset” relations with Russia and reach a new “mutual understanding,” as Trump evidently wants.
“That’s a great question. A true reset, as you say, requires both parties to be interested in that,” Gaffney replied. “The thing that I find so troubling is, I think – as we’ve written a book on it recently at the Center for Security Policy, which is available for free to your listeners, if they choose to go to SecureFreedom.org; it’s called Putin’s Reset: The Bear is Back, and What America Must Do to Respond. It’s an eight-essay analysis of what Putin has been doing across the board, from his adventurism, his military buildup – notably and particularly worrying his nuclear weapons modernization and his entire strategic triad, and his tactical forces, and his threats to use them, that is very worrying. His economic warfare, his intelligence and influence in information operations, and on and on.”
“You come away from that analysis, I think, with the unmistakable impression that this guy is hostile to the United States, is seeking to expand his sphere of influence, to restore the greatness of Russia – whatever it is – at our expense, and that of freedom-loving people. My concern is, we can want to reset all day long. We can hope for it, we can offer all kinds of incentives to it, we can have guys who have a good working relationship with him, and so on. But if, as I believe is the case, Vladimir Putin is absolutely at odds with the United States and its interests, and seeks, in a way, to get even with what he thinks is the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century – namely, the fall of the Soviet Union, which my old boss Ronald Reagan helped propel – that’s not a man you can do business with, certainly not safely, I’m afraid,” Gaffney warned.
He said there would be many opportunities for America to “work with and find common interests with Russia,” but as long as Putin remains president, “that will be problematic.”
One of the problems with Putin is his “strategic alliance with China at our expense,” which Gaffney believes is “turning a blind eye at best, and at worst, is really enabling some very problematic behavior out of that quarter as well.” He hoped Tillerson would be “clear-eyed” about the dangers of Putin’s alliance with China and other Russian strategic arrangements that were not formulated with America’s best interests in mind.
Breitbart News Daily airs on SiriusXM Patriot 125 weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Eastern.