The White House is strongly defending Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst picked for the pivotal role of National Security Council chief of staff, in the face of strident criticism from what conservatives say are left-wing, pro-Obama pressure groups.
A senior NSC official told The Washington Times that the “baseless … vengeful smear campaign” is coordinated by the Southern Poverty Law Center. A legal advocacy nonprofit specializing in civil rights, the SPLC has thrived on liberal funding, targeted conservatives such as Mr. Fleitz, assigned derogatory labels and won coverage among Washington media.
“Many of the attacks originated from the left Southern Poverty Law Center, which in recent years has raised money by putting out press releases or statements falsely grouping conservative Americans with neo-Nazis and white supremacists,” the NSC official said.
Mr. Fleitz is a prominent conservative scholar recruited last week by National Security Adviser John R. Bolton as he revamps a staff inherited from retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
Mr. Fleitz spent nearly two decades as a CIA analyst, served on the staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and most recently resided at the Center for Security Policy, run by Ronald Reagan appointee Frank Gaffney.
Mr. Fleitz has taken a hard line on North Korea and its nuclear weapons and adamantly opposed President Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. He criticizes radical Islam and worries openly about certain Muslim communities wanting to assimilate in the U.S.
These views, often relayed as a columnist and a commentator on Fox News, put him in lockstep with President Trump as well as with Mr. Bolton, with whom he worked at the State Department on arms control policy.
But his appointment was not in accordance with the political left, which pounced immediately.
“Fleitz leaves an organization that serves as the premier megaphone for stoking fears about American Muslims,” said the SPLC, taking aim at a favorite target, Mr. Gaffney’s group. “For decades, CSP has peddled absurd allegations that shadowy Muslim Brotherhood operatives have infiltrated all levels of government. CSP warns this is part of a greater conspiracy known as ‘creeping Shariah,’ or Islamic religious law, which CSP claims poses a threat to American democracy.”
The liberal Washington Monthly proclaimed Mr. Fleitz a “neo-Nazi” and referred readers to the SPLC for details.
“The SPLC focuses primarily on the domestic role of the Center for Security Policy and on their Islamophobia, and certainly having a raving Islamophobe as NSC chief of staff has alarming national security ramifications and risks all on its own,” the magazine said.
The left justifies the “neo-Nazi” label based on Trump supporters who applaud national populism in the U.S. and in Europe. There is no evidence that Mr. Fleitz supports neo-Nazis.
The senior NSC official told The Times that the SPLC “has been known to attack prominent conservative thought leaders and label them bigots. … The attack is a deliberate smear campaign from the left against the Trump administration.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations urged the president to fire Mr. Fleitz.
“An individual who held a leadership position in a notorious hate group should not be placed in a policy-making post in the White House,” said CAIR Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw. “We urge the Trump administration to drop Mr. Fleitz and to remove all other staffers who espouse bigoted views or back discriminatory and unconstitutional policies.”
The Justice Department in 2007 listed CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case against five Holy Land Foundation defendants convicted of funneling $12 million in illicit money to Hamas, a U.S.-deemed terrorist organization.
‘Clarity and experience’
CAIR’s critics say it was set up by the same people who support Hamas, a Sunni Muslim extremist group that vows to destroy Israel. A federal judge ruled in 2009 that the government presented sufficient evidence to show Hamas-CAIR ties and thus was rightly listed as a co-conspirator.
Israel said Sunday that Hamas, which is funded by Iran, has fired more than 100 rockets from Gaza in the past two weeks in an attempt to hit Israeli civilian targets.
Ben Rhodes, who ran Mr. Obama’s NSC communication strategy and famously created a journalist “echo chamber” in Washington to sell the Iran nuclear deal, tweeted of Mr. Fleitz, “Hard to overstate how far this choice is outside what used to be the mainstream.”
Mr. Fleitz opined on a Breitbart podcast that he worries that Somali refugees resist American assimilation, especially in Minnesota, where about a third of 85,000 Somalis live in the U.S.
A relatively small number of Somalis sought to leave the U.S. to join the violent Islamic State in Syria-Iraq during its heyday; the Justice Department charged six Somalis in 2015 in Minnesota.
Candidate Trump made Somali refugees an issue late in his campaign as polls showed the presidential race in Minnesota tightening.
“Here in Minnesota, you’ve seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with very large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval,” Mr. Trump said two days before the Nov. 8, 2016, election.
Online conservative sites such as the National Review and Power Line blog have leapt to Mr. Fleitz’s defense. Power Line accused The Washington Post of publishing a “hit piece” that quoted from the Breitbart podcast.
Mr. Fleitz distinguished between peaceful, hermitlike religious sects in the U.S. and some Islamic enclaves.
“The problem with these Muslim communities is that it is making them susceptible to this radical worldview that wants to destroy modern society, create a global caliphate and impose Shariah law on everyone on Earth,” Mr. Fleitz said. “These other communities aren’t trying to do that. They’re peaceful religious communities.”
“Are any of these views false? The Post makes no attempt to show they are,” Power Line said.
National Review said Mr. Fleitz has been careful to separate radical Islam from Muslims as a population.
Like Mr. Fleitz, the Center for Security Policy’s Mr. Gaffney has felt the sting of the left for some of the same issues promoted by his former colleague. He said Mr. Fleitz’s ties to Mr. Bolton make him a perfect choice as negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal get underway.
“Fred is one of the most talented, dedicated national security thinkers in the country today,” Mr. Gaffney told The Times. “He is a terrific choice for the NSC chief of staff and executive secretary. Not just because of his long and very constructive professional relations with John Bolton, but just by virtue of the fact he brings a clarity and experience to a whole host of issues, most especially issues such as nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea and alike because he’s really been in the business of securing America for decades.
“The kinds of attacks waged against him are simply political warfare aimed at trying to prevent him from helping the president and Ambassador Bolton succeed in making American great again,” said Mr. Gaffney, referring to the NSC adviser’s time as ambassador to the United Nations.
Why has the left made Mr. Fleitz a prime target?
“They’re trying to take everybody out,” Mr. Gaffney said. “The more capable and formidable the individual, the more intense is the criticism. I think that they recognized that he has skills and this is a very important set of responsibilities he’s been assigned. They are determined to try to preclude him from doing the job.”