Trump says he invoked Fifth Amendment, declined to answer questions

Rogers urges 2016 focus on security

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Newly retired U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers likes to introduce himself as a “recovering member of Congress.” But the Howell Republican still hopes to help shape policy and have an impact on the election of President Barack Obama’s successor.

The former House Intelligence Committee chairman has launched a single-issue organization aiming to influence the 2016 presidential campaign by promoting “strong” American foreign policy and mobilizing citizens in New Hampshire, Iowa and other key states to vote with national security interests in mind.

Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security already has separately hosted Republican candidates Carly Fiorina, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at forums on national security in New Hampshire and Iowa since April.

A forum featuring Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is set for Monday in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Michigan events are in the works. All the GOP candidates have expressed interest in participating, and “we hope the Democrats will do the same,” Rogers said.

“It’s pretty easy on the campaign trail today to go through a place like Iowa and say, ‘Putin is bad; I support Israel; we need to do something about ISIS; now, let’s talk about ethanol,’ ” he said in an interview.

“You can fool somebody in a five-minute stump speech or a two-minute answer in a debate, but you can’t do it in 45 minutes of answering questions.”

Rogers, who is not running for president, left Congress in December after 14 years to produce daily commentaries on national security for a national radio syndicate. He says the most critical matters facing the next commander in chief will be foreign affairs.

Critics say his group is too cozy with the defense industry and its lobbyists, which benefit from a hawkish foreign policy and any rise in military spending.

Among APPS advisory board members is Rich Ashooh, a vice president at BAE Systems, one of the world’s largest defense contractors, and a former GOP congressional candidate who last week hosted former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at his home in Bedford, New Hampshire. BAE Systems has a facility in Warren.

Counting Ashooh, APPS advisers include at least a half-dozen current or former executives or board members for defense contractors such as Raytheon and SAIC. APPS does not disclose its donors.

William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, says APPS should be more transparent about those special interests.

“It’s a way for the industry to exert influence at a remove, and I think in a presidential campaign, especially, they want to get to the candidates early,” Hartung said.

“I’m curious if the voters attending these forums knew how heavily they’re supported by the defense industry, whether they would take more with a grain of salt, how the questions are framed.”

Bobby Schostak, former Michigan GOP chairman and a consultant on the APPS initiative, said such criticism is shortsighted and unfair. No matter what industry one works in, all Americans should be concerned about national security matters, he said.

Walt Havenstein, chairman of the New Hampshire chapter of APPS, is retired from BAE and SAIC and said he has “nothing to benefit from this other than get as qualified assessment of these candidates as we can. I’m long past any interest in defense contracts.”

Havenstein felt the public was shortchanged on campaign discussion about national security and foreign policy in the 2008 and 2012 elections.

“We didn’t really know in a comprehensive way where people stood,” said Havenstein, a Republican who ran for governor of New Hampshire last year. “I really want to encourage the conversation here.”

Other advisers include former Michigan Gov. John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable.

Schostak is working on fundraising and messaging in setting up a Michigan chapter of APPS, which he considers a “great way to help affect the 2016 selection process for the Republican nominee.”

Moderated by journalists, the forums are meant to push each candidate to fully outline policies on complex issues from Iran to China to cybersecurity, Rogers said.

This forces them to have someone on their campaign who is well-versed in these issues,” he said.

Rogers himself would like to see Congress reject the proposed Iran nuclear deal and authorize the use of military force to resist Islamic State gains in Syria and Iraq.

He also warns about the destructiveness of Chinese and Russian cyberattacks, stressing the urgency of pending legislation that would allow companies to exchange information on cyberthreats with one another and the government.

APPS won’t endorse a particular candidate, but the forums are helpful for vetting them, said Sam Clovis, an Air Force veteran and economics professor directing the APPS chapter in Iowa.

“The candidates are brought up on stage, and a small panel asked a lot of penetrating questions on national security,” said Clovis, whose forum in Des Moines last month hosted Perry. “It was a really very detailed interview.”

Last week, Graham participated in an APPS forum in Manchester, New Hampshire. Fiorina’s forum was in late April, also in Manchester. Questions for the candidates are selected from the audience and social media users following the hashtag #APPSforum.

Nearby in Concord, Arnie Alpert coordinates a project for the American Friends Service Committee that trains and dispatches volunteers to forums by APPS and other groups to ask whether foreign policy should be “dictated by self-interested corporations,” he said.

“This is a group that’s deeply integrated with corporations that make tons of money selling goods and services to the Pentagon,” Alpert said.

“If you look at the issues they’re talking about, it seems the answer to every one is more military intervention. I think it’s worth pushing a little bit on those questions.”