Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are looking for ways to get incoming National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon before the committee. “If you look at his résumé, you’re kind of torn. On the one hand he was one of the Fannie Mae Democrats who helped create the financial mess we’re in today and you’d like to hold him accountable,” says a GOP committee staffer. “On the other, the man was a press secretary and chief of staff to a Clinton State Department that has little to show for itself other than Sen. George Mitchell’s efforts, and Donilon had nothing to do with that. Maybe we should just let him go and see how much further into the ditch he can drive America’s foreign policy.”
The National Security Advisor post is not a Senate-confirmable position. Donilon, who as a member of President Barack Obama’s transition team vetted candidates for State Department positions, was thought to have his eye on a senior post at Foggy Bottom, particularly since as Deputy National Security Adviser he directed an inter-governmental “deputies committee” out of the White House. But any major State Department post would have required Senate confirmation, and White House sources say that given Donilon’s job at Fannie Mae in the 1990s and early 2000s, it’s doubtful the Obama team would have exposed him.
Donilon was executive vice president position at Fannie Mae, and one of his jobs was directing lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill. “He was one of the architects of the strategy to keep the regulators out of Fannie Mae’s business by putting pressure on them from Congress,” says a House Financial Services committee staffer. “You look at all the reports on the accounting scandals at Fannie Mae in that period of his leadership and he’s all over the place.”
Donilon not only ate at the Fannie Mae trough like so many Democrats, he earlier in his career also played a pivotal role in the political destruction of Judge Robert Bork. As a senior “informal” adviser to then-Senate Judiciary Chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden, Donilon has claimed credit for advising Biden to aggressively fight Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
“The man is a political hack with little to no real foreign policy experience beyond talking about it,” says a career State Department official. “He’s played the game, gone to the Bilderberg conference, but he’s earned his bones as political operative for the likes of Biden, Clinton and Dukakis and now Obama. When the best thing anyone can say about your foreign policy skills is that you’re good coordinator, it should make people who care about our country’s security worried.”
Outgoing National Security Adviser James Jones is believed by many foreign policy hands to have never fully gained the trust of Obama or his tight-knit inner-circle. Obama used Jones to help blunt criticism that his team — and by extension, he — was inexperienced in the ways of foreign policy. Donilon, given his Biden pedigree and his eagerness to jump from the Biden 2008 presidential campaign to the Obama team after Biden dropped out, is seen as more of an Obama team player.