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Former Trump chief of staff Priebus is selected to join the Navy, with backing from Mattis

Then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in the Rose Garden in 2017.

JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASHINGTON POST

By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: December 14, 2018

Reince Priebus, a former chief of staff to President Donald Trump and Republican power broker, could join the Navy after a monthslong process in which Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recommended him and a board of officers selected him as a reserve officer, according to defense officials and a memo obtained by The Washington Post.

Priebus, 46, will be required to attend two weeks of training in Newport, Rhode Island, and drill once a month as a reservist if commissioned. He would join a list of Navy reserve officers with political connections that include Sean Spicer, Trump's former press secretary, and Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton's former presidential campaign manager.

Priebus declined to comment Friday.

In a statement submitted to the Navy and obtained by The Post, Priebus wrote that he has proudly watched his sister serve as a Navy doctor and remembers his father teaching at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois when he was growing up. He added that he especially felt called to serve after an Oval Office meeting in which Trump met with the wife and children of Senior Chief William "Ryan" Owens, 36, a Navy SEAL who was killed early in the administration in a Special Operations raid in Yemen.

"At that moment, the gravity of every action we take in the West Wing rushed down upon my shoulders," Priebus wrote. "Everything suddenly became extremely real and raw. As some time passed, a few other senior aides joined me in the Cabinet Room and we discussed the consequences, harsh realities and weight of what we do every day."

A Navy review board reviewed 42 candidates this month and "professionally recommended" Priebus and four others to join the service through a competitive direct-commission program for human resources officers, the memo said.

Cmdr. Jereal Dorsey, a Navy spokesman, confirmed in a statement Friday evening that Priebus was recently selected and said that Priebus is "currently moving towards earning a commission as an ensign," an entry-level officer.

Anyone over the age of 42 needs a waiver to join as an officer and has to sign an agreement in which they acknowledge potential limitations on their career.

The board selected Priebus after Mattis personally recommended him in a letter over the summer.

Mattis wrote that "Reince's experience, education, and personality make him an ideal fit to be commissioned into the Navy Reserve." Mattis added that he has "had the privilege and opportunity to work with Mr. Priebus on numerous occasions, including most recently when he served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff."

A spokeswoman for Mattis, Dana White, said in a statement that it is customary for Navy Reserve applicants to request letters of recommendation from members of Congress, governors and other high-ranking officials.

"Secretary Mattis agreed to write a letter of recommendation on his behalf," White said. "The letter is consistent with applicable standards."

The letter was seen by some Navy officials as a political favor that complicated consideration of Priebus as a potential officer, said one Navy official, speaking on the condition of anonymity owing to the sensitivity of the situation. A review board decided in September not to recommend Priebus as a reserve intelligence officer, according to a Navy memo.

White did not respond to questions about whether Mattis was concerned that his recommendation could look like a political favor.

Priebus was spotted at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland in July while considering joining the Navy Reserve and was open to doing legal work, human resources or intelligence, Politico reported at the time.

Navy officials have declined to comment on Priebus's selection process.

"As a matter of policy, we do not comment on the cases of individual applicants due to privacy concerns," said Lt. Cmdr. Ryan de Vera, a Navy spokesman.

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The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.

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