The Cable

The Romney national security transition team that might have been

Before Mitt Romney lost his presidential bid Tuesday night to President Barack Obama, he had set up a multi-layered national security transition team with dozens of experts and former officials who were working to prepare for a Romney administration that will never come to be.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt was the overall head of "Project Readiness," the secretive transition planning effort run out of Washington, and former World Bank President Bob Zoellick was in charge of the national security substructure, which included teams to prepare for the transition of the National Security Council, the Defense Department, the State Department, USAID, the Homeland Security Department, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Brian Hook, former foreign-policy aide to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, was Zoellick's deputy in the effort and played a key role in organizing and directing the now-defunct national security transition structure.

Multiple former Romney foreign-policy advisors told The Cable that the national security agency transition teams were not direct indications of who might get what job in a future Romney administration and that they were separate from the transition project's personnel team, which would vet potential senior officials. The agency teams were meant to swoop in after the election, if Romney won, and prepare the national security bureaucracy for the changes President Romney wanted to impose.

"The project moved pretty well," Rich Williamson, the NSC transition team chair, told The Cable today. "Governor Leavitt did a good job of structurally organizing it. He set in course a process of identifying key issues and trying to develop 100-day plans so that if Romney became president he could start on day one to move the things he was committed to. It was further advanced than any other transition efforts I've seen."

Confidence in Romney's victory persisted until the last minute and the planning was extensive. In recent weeks, preparations included the drive to prepare drafts of agency transition plans and policy papers coordinated by interwoven task forces that focused on specific issues. The drafts were due Tuesday, the same day of the election, multiple former Romney foreign-policy advisors said.

"I feel quite comfortable with the analyses and options we teased out that the president elect would have had to begin to address," Williamson said. "Now we go into the loyal opposition and try to do our job raising concerns, improving the dialogue, and trying to influence how the president proceeds."

Had Romney won, Williamson would have been assisted by two NSC transition team co-chairs: former Navy Secretary William Ball and Harvard Professor Meghan O'Sullivan. The NSC "Team Leader," who led the day-to-day activities of the group under the direction of the chair and co-chairs was Foreign Policy Initiative Executive Director Jamie Fly.

The Pentagon transition team had three co-equal co-chairs: Former Sen. Jim Talent, former Navy Secretary John Lehman, and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman. Roger Zakheim, professional staffer for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), was the Pentagon transition team leader.

Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff chaired the homeland security transition team, with help from team leader David Howe. The intelligence transition team was chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former State Department official Philip Zelikow; Michael Allen, chief of staff for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI), was the team leader.

For the State Department there were four co-chairs: former State Department and NSC staffer Dan Fisk, former Treasury Department official and Goldman Sachs executive John Rogers, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Michael Singh, and former Ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobel. The team leader was former State Department official Ken Juster.

Several sources involved in the transition said that Zoellick set up the State Department transition team without any cabinet-level leaders because he wanted to set himself up to become secretary of state if Romney was elected. These sources also said that in the last weeks before the election, Zoellick's role in the project had diminished, partially due to the backlash in GOP foreign-policy circles when his role was revealed.

"After the groups were established, Zoellick's involvement appeared minimal. His deputy, Brian Hook, oversaw the work of the agency and policy groups," said one person involved in the transition project. "It was a collaborative process that helped build and strengthen relationships within the conservative foreign-policy community that will hopefully continue to pay dividends for years to come."

Zoellick did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

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The Cable

Berman’s loss reshuffles the foreign policy deck on Capitol Hill

The departure of House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) from Congress following his loss to Brad Sherman Tuesday night will shake up the foreign-policy leadership in the Democratic caucus and leave a large gap in several specific issues that Berman made his own.

Berman lost one of the ugliest and most costly of this political season Tuesday to fellow Californian Brad Sherman night despite having the endorsements of several top lawmakers and former officials from both sides of the aisle, including California Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and the three amigos of Senate foreign policy John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sherman outspent and out campaigned Berman in the contest to represent the newly drawn district that forced the two sitting senior lawmakers to go head to head.

In Congress, Berman will be remembered for his decades of tireless work on foreign policy and his reputation as a legislator who sought to build consensus to push forward a bipartisan agenda, including sanctions against Iran, the strengthening of the alliance with Israel, and the defense of the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. Berman was also a globetrotter, spending time maintaining relationships with foreign officials abroad, something Sherman attacked him for during the campaign.

"Howard Berman has been one of the most effective legislators in Congress, someone who has inspired both bipartisan and bicameral respect for his principled and thoughtful leadership on national security issues, as well as for his warmth and decency," Lieberman told The Cable. "Although Howard's time in the House of Representatives is unfortunately now ending, he leaves behind an unmatched record of accomplishment, and I hope the next administration finds ways to make use of his unique talents in our nation's service."

With Berman's exit, the top Democrat spot on the committee is set to be vacant. The next three Democrats on the committee in order of seniority are Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Eni Faleomavaega (D-Samoa), and Sherman. But the odds-on favorite to replace Berman on the committee is Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), according to House aides.

Ackerman is retiring. Faleiomarvarga wants the job, but as a delegate without full congressional powers, he will face difficulty lobbying for the honor. He's said to be in poor health, is not a lawmaker known for his fundraising prowess (which counts when it comes time to choose committee chairs), and his reputation has suffered by revelations that he has been taking free trips to Bahrain sponsored by his lobbyist friend while also defending the Bahraini regime.

Sherman may make a play for Berman's committee leadership post, but his vicious election battle may have earned him some enemies on the committee, and members could block Sherman's accession a final favor to their departing colleague Berman, aides said.

"That leaves Engel, who has the seniority, visibility, and is on the right side of the foreign-policy issues most people care about in Congress," one House Democratic aide told The Cable.

On the Republican side, HFAC committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has reached her term limit and must hand over the reins of the panel. The next five Republicans on the committee by seniority are Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Donald Manzullo (R-IL), and Ed Royce (R-CA).

The consensus on Capitol Hill is that Royce will get the job. Smith is hugely active on human rights issues but not known for leadership on the wider range of issues for which the committee is responsible. Rohrabacher is known for invoking controversy and sometimes igniting international scuffles and is likely to stay as the chair of the oversight and investigations subcommittee. Gallegly and Manzullo are retiring, Manzullo to be the next president of the Korea Economic Institute. Ros-Lehtinen is said to be angling for the Middle East Subcommittee chair now held by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH).

When Berman leaves, some of his pet issues will lose their biggest advocate and perhaps their legislative momentum. Berman and his staff wrote a foreign aid reform bill. He also wrote comprehensive legislation to reform the export control regime. He dived deep into the issue of international intellectual property rights. He once lobbied Egypt to allow the export of Lulavs (palm fronds) to head off a shortage before the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Hill aides said that Berman will be missed.

"He's the last of the Mohicans, very much in the mindset and style of [departing SFRC ranking Republican Sen.] Richard Lugar. At their heart, they are both policy wonks," one House Democratic aide said. "Neither of them are flashy, nor care for gratuitous headlines, but are more concerned with getting things done. When it comes to foreign policy in the House, there just aren't many people like Howard left, certainly not on the House Foreign Affairs Committee."

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