Lawmakers decry possible removal of NSA director, call for hearings

Several key GOP members of Congress began to weigh in this weekend with strong disapproval over suggestions that Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, may be fired during the final weeks of the Obama administration.

In a statement Saturday, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he had asked Defense Secretary Ash Carter and National Intelligence Director James Clapper to testify about why they’d recommended that the President remove Rogers in October, citing a report in the Washington Post.

“Since Adm. Rogers was appointed as NSA director in April 2014, I have been consistently impressed with his leadership and accomplishments,” he wrote in a letter giving Carter and Clapper until 5 p.m. Monday to offer dates on which they’d be able appear before the committee.

Nunes is also a member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, and Rogers reportedly is under consideration by the Trump team to be the next Director of National Intelligence after having met with the President-elect late last week without disclosing the meeting to the current administration or the military’s chain of command.

But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who withdrew his endorsement of Trump in the waning days of the presidential campaign, also expressed displeasure about Rogers’ potential removal.

“Any suggestion that Adm. Rogers should be fired is certainly unwarranted,” McCain said Sunday, adding that the admiral has his full confidence. “He is an officer, a professional, and a warrior of the highest caliber. All too often, Adm. Rogers and the forces he leads have struggled to perform their mission because of the administration’s inability to formulate a clear cyber strategy and provide sufficient authorities.”

Both the Post and the New York Times, citing administration sources, reported Carter and Clapper’s recommendations had to do with issues completely separate from Rogers’ possible service in a Trump administration, including his handling of cyber war against the Islamic State, NSA leaks and internal administration debates over whether NSA should be led by a civilian director who is not also the commander of Cyber Command.

For his part, Rogers flatly refused to comment on the matter when asked about it during a Q&A session at the Halifax Security Forum Sunday afternoon.

“I’m accountable for my actions,” he said, repeatedly interrupting a reporter who tried to ask about the Trump meeting, the firing recommendation and the current administration’s possible motivations for leaking deliberations about his removal. “I’m just not going to go down this road, it’s not appropriate for me. If anybody else wants to ask about this, I’m going to give you the same response.”

Rogers, however, has gone on the record in opposition to any potential split between NSA and Cyber Command. Asked by McCain during a September hearing about press reports that senior advisers, including Carter and Clapper, had recommended the agencies be led by separate officials, Rogers said it was still his best professional military advice that the dual-hatted arrangement be kept as-is.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Saturday he was also disturbed by any potential change in the relationship between NSA and CYBERCOM while the Obama administration is in its final days, including one that would result in Rogers’ removal.

“The new administration should have the opportunity to review the situation and to make any decisions,” he said in a statement. “Military cyber and intelligence are too serious to be treated in such a manner.”

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