Mr. Obama often speaks of how much he valued the stellar efforts of Mr. Bush and his administration to conduct a thorough and seamless transition. At each agency and in almost every respect, the 2008 transition was a model for its thoroughness, collegiality and efficacy.
Finally, I was national security adviser in 2016 during the handoff from Mr. Obama to President-elect Trump. Under strict instructions from Mr. Obama to provide his successor, whoever it may be, with a quality start that matched or exceeded that which he had received from Mr. Bush, the National Security Council staff worked for months in advance of the election to prepare more than 100 briefing papers.
I personally reviewed every memo on subjects that ranged from staffing, budget and the most complicated policy issues, to numerous potentially dire national security contingencies that might arise early in a new administration, along with recommended steps for how to deal with them.
Shortly after my successor, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, was named, I called to congratulate him and pledged to give him as much of my time until the Trump inauguration as he wanted. It took a couple weeks for General Flynn to take me up on my repeated offers to meet but, ultimately, we met on four occasions, spending more than 12 hours together.
I answered all of his questions on how to approach the job of national security adviser and laid out in depth the numerous challenges he would confront immediately — from the campaign to defeat the Islamic State to threats posed by Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. I also stressed the need to be prepared for less obvious threats, like the potentially catastrophic collapse of the Mosul Dam in Iraq and pandemic disease.
At the conclusion of our last meeting, I wished General Flynn well and offered to be of assistance, if needed, after he took office. Following our goodbyes, but before he left my office, General Flynn surprised me by asking for a hug. It was a collegial and respectful, if slightly awkward, request, and I obliged.
As it turns out, my hours with General Flynn and those of other White House officials with their incoming counterparts, plus President Obama’s two-hour meeting with President-elect Trump, proved to be the sum total of the 2016 national security transition at the highest levels. That’s because the incoming Trump cabinet was apparently told not to meet with their Obama counterparts in their respective departments and most did not do so. The exception was one three-hour tabletop exercise in January, which is mandated by law, during which cabinet officials on both teams sat together to review mock threat scenarios relating to terrorism, cybersecurity and pandemic disease.