Politico - Keith Kellogg, who was named late Monday to be President Donald Trump's interim National Security Adviser, was the first of the retired generals to flock to Trump’s long-shot campaign for the presidency, advising him behind the scenes on foreign policy issues from early on.
Now the 72-year-old decorated Vietnam veteran who served as a top civilian official in post-war in Iraq, is guiding President Trump through his first White House crisis – the resignation of National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.
Kellogg, who was serving as executive secretary and chief of staff for Flynn, now takes the reins of the National Security Council and its hundreds of career staff as Trump searches for a permanent replacement to fill one of the most influential West Wing positions.
Flynn stepped down Monday after little more than three weeks after he misrepresented a phone call he had with the Russia ambassador during the transition. He is also reportedly the focus of an Army investigation into whether he took funds from the Russian government in 2015 and didn’t report it.
Kellogg, who retired from the Army in 2003, had little history of partisan politics before backing Trump and had a reputation of avoiding the limelight. For example, unlike Trump, Kellogg has eschewed social media. As of early Tuesday, he had tweeted only three times and had less than 100 followers.
When he took command of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in 1996, Kellogg famously delivered a two-minute speech.
But after officially backing Trump’s campaign as an adviser in March 2003, he steadily rose in Trump’s orbit as both confidant and surrogate.
"I happen to think my guy has the temperament to be commander-in-chief," he told CNN last summer, calling the real estate mogul a "black swan candidate, a change candidate” who offered "a change opportunity.”
But Kellogg was seen by at least one of his fellow retired generals as a placeholder for the NSC job.
Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who has known Kellogg for decades, said early Tuesday that he is a "good man" but doubted he will be a permanent replacement for Flynn.
"He won't be the selection," McCaffrey predicted.
He said he believe Flynn's permanent replacement will have to "someone with the chops needed to deal with Bannon and Miller,” references to two of the president's top political advisers, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.
Several administration sources indicated that Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a protege of Defense Secretary James Mattis, is the current favorite to replace Kellogg as the permanent National Security Adviser.
Harward served as the former Deputy Commander of the U.S. Central Commend directly under Mattis and does not bring the personal baggage to the administration, already growing fatigued after three weeks of seemingly never-ending controversies, that Petraeus would.
"It would make sense they would try to calm things down with someone who appears to fit in with everybody," said former Ambassador Chris Hill on Monday night. "He's more of a behind the scenes guy and a coordinator, which is what I think Mattis and [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson would like with this job -- someone who's a good briefer, who can get multiple agencies on the same page and who can work well with others, not someone who thinks he's more important than everyone else."
Harward is familiar with the National Security Council, having served as its director of Strategy and Defense issues during George W. Bush's administration before being assigned to the National Counterterrorism Center in 2005.
"There are a handful of good options, but it's clear he's at the top of the list," said an administration source, who pointed to Mattis's familiarity with Harward and the administration's desire for a lower profile, less controversial figure to replace the erratic Flynn.
Former CIA Director David Petraeus is also scheduled to meet with Trump this week, and administration officials confirm he is on the list of possible replacements. But despite Trump's admiration for him, Petraeus's higher profile and weighty personal baggage — he pleaded guilty to illegally sharing classified information and then lying about it — make him a less likely choice, two White House officials said Monday night.
Kellogg, a native of Dayton, Ohio, led a reconnaissance platoon in Vietnam and after retiring served as the chief operations officer of the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority in postwar Iraq. Earlier in his career he also worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
After he left his post in Iraq he held several positions in the defense industry, including for Oracle, the computer technology company.
Following Trump’s victory, Kellogg held a senior position on the incoming administration’s Pentagon transition team.
When he was tapped to work under Flynn at the White House, Kellogg said, "I am honored to not only be a part of this historic administration.”
Now, with the Trump White House stumbling in its first few weeks on several fronts and facing mounting probes on Capitol Hill, Trump is looking to Kellogg to help steady things.
It is the kind of challenge he seems to relish.
"I've been a paratrooper all my life,” Kellogg told an ABC television affiliate in Nevada weeks before the election, when it looked like Trump would lose. "And paratroopers are used to being surrounded and fighting in every direction out there and always look and say, 'This is a tough fight.' And we just look at it as a tough fight….We understand that we're against the establishment, as you would call it, that's out there. So we're fighting uphill the whole way. "