Austin names top State Department official as next chief of staff

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has chosen the No. 3 official in the State Department as the Pentagon’s new chief of staff, the Defense Department announced Monday.

Derek Chollet, the State Department’s current counselor, will start his new Pentagon role in July, replacing current chief of staff Kelly Magsamen, who will leave this month.

An adviser to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chollet has played a key diplomatic role in the Biden administration’s response to the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

The choice, first reported by The Washington Post, comes as the Biden administration looks to shore up defense priorities ahead of the November election.

“He is one of the most distinguished, far-sighted, and skillful national-security practitioners of his generation, and I am grateful to him for taking on this key assignment at such an important moment,” Austin said of Chollet in a statement.

Blinken, meanwhile, described Chollet as providing “wise counsel and steady hand” as a leading diplomatic figure over the past nine months since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza.

Chollet has also taken leading roles on U.S. policy in Asia, on the civil war in Myanmar, on ties with Europe pushing back against Russia’s war in Ukraine, and amid dialogues in the Balkans.

He previously served at the Pentagon as assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs from 2012-2015, and last year the White House nominated him to be the building’s top policy official.

His nomination, however, was bogged down by Senate Republicans who vowed to oppose the pick due to the Pentagon’s abortion policy as well as Chollet’s role in the Biden administration’s panned 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Austin’s announcement comes after Magsamen — a key figure in the January hospitalization scandal involving the Pentagon chief and members of his staff — said earlier this month she would step down.

Austin and his aides were intensely scrutinized after it was revealed he had undergone a surgery to treat prostate cancer in December and was later hospitalized Jan. 1 in intensive care but had not notified the White House, Congress or the public for several days.

Chollet’s role at the State Department will be filled by Tom Sullivan, a veteran foreign policy hand serving in the Obama administration and the younger brother to Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

“Tom has an unmatched depth of knowledge about how national security policy is formulated and implemented, one that he brings to bear every day on behalf of the American people,” Blinken said in a statement.

“He has traveled the world with me and been by my side for meetings with heads of state, foreign ministers, and other world leaders as we rebuilt our alliances and partnerships, confronted Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, stabilized our relationship with China while standing up for American interests, and worked to build lasting peace, security, and stability in the Middle East,” he continued. “I look forward to continuing to draw on his wit and wisdom in this new role.”

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