1 month ago

Cliff Sims reflects, previews what’s next after serving as right hand to America’s top spy

From the Wiregrass to the White House, Cliff Sims has seen a lot over the past five years.

The Enterprise native served as a key adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump’s ultimately successful 2016 campaign before being appointed as director of White House message strategy and special assistant to the president when Trump took office in January 2017.

Sims served in the West Wing through May 2018, before publishing the best-selling “Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House.”

However, his journey in the Trump administration was far from complete at that point. Sims this past September was appointed as deputy director of National Intelligence for strategy and communications — making him one of the highest ranking officials in our nation’s intelligence community.

Sims’ service in that important role ended this past Friday, following the inauguration of President Joe Biden and confirmation of new Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

Yellowhammer News conducted the following Q&A with Sims on his unique service to our country and what comes next for the Alabamian:

YHN: You’ve certainly had a rollercoaster ride over the past five years, from being on the 2016 Trump campaign to serving in the White House, writing a NYT bestseller and ending up in a legal dispute with President Trump, coming back to run speechwriting for the 2020 Republican National Convention and finally ending as Deputy Director of National Intelligence. There’s probably enough there for a second book, but walk us through how you ended up back at the senior levels of the Trump administration.

Sims: Yes, it’s been a rollercoaster ride, to say the least. There was really only a brief period there in the middle when the President and I had a misunderstanding over my book, but it was resolved pretty quickly. After that I worked with the White House on a daily basis from the outside on a wide variety of projects.

When the Republican National Convention came around, the President needed someone to lead the messaging and speechwriting operation, but it couldn’t be someone currently in the White House. I was asked to do it because I had written so much for him and had a deep understanding of his views on various issues and how he liked them to be communicated. At the time I had just led communications for the Senate confirmation of John Ratcliffe, the president’s nominee to be Director of National Intelligence. I had already agreed to go back into the government as one of the DNI’s deputies, but I knew the convention was an important flashpoint in the campaign and agreed to help out.

We pulled together the entire convention in just a few weeks in the middle of a pandemic. Some of the team who produced “The Apprentice” TV show were brought in to handle the production. We had a team of about a dozen speechwriters who come together every four years to volunteer their time for the convention. We probably wrote upwards of 80 speeches. We didn’t know if it would all come together, but it did, and the President was over-the-moon about it all. I came back into the government as Deputy DNI right after the convention.

YHN: Your last post was certainly different from the more political job you originally had in the White House comms shop. Having what is commonly known as an “above top secret” clearance, what kind of new perspectives did you gain as a senior intelligence official and being the right hand of the nation’s top spy?

Sims: I gained a heightened appreciation for the threats we face as a nation and for the people whose names the world will never know who sacrifice a great deal to keep us safe. The China threat in particular sticks out. The extent of Chinese espionage activities in the U.S. is alarming—from targeting dozens of members of Congress, to infiltrating academia and think tanks, to stealing intellectual property. They play hard and they play dirty, and they intend to dominate the planet technologically, economically and militarily. One of the things I am most grateful for is that I was able to be a part of the DNI’s team that shifted focus and resources to address the China threat. I believe history will judge that to be an important moment.

YHN: Speaking of your intelligence tenure, it’s been reported by The Washington Post and Axios, among other national outlets, that you had a significant role in closing the deal for Space Command to come to Alabama in recent weeks. Did you have a role, and, if so, how did that unfold behind the scenes?

Sims: One thing that hasn’t gotten enough attention is that career people inside the government — defense, intelligence and space experts — determined over a year ago that Redstone was the ideal location for Space Command. One of them told me it was a “no brainer.” I’ve seen politicians from other states that were in the running try to claim this was some kind of political decision. That’s nonsense. Governor Ivey’s team deserves a lot of credit, and of course Senator Shelby is an absolute juggernaut in D.C. Congressmen Rogers and Aderholt were well-positioned from a committee standpoint to play important roles as well. Alabama punches above its weight in D.C. It was a team effort and a huge win for the state.

Director Ratcliffe made it a top priority to bring Space Force into the Intelligence Community as its 18th member, and space is a priority intelligence domain, so we were deeply involved in a lot of space issues. But any conversations I had with the White House or Pentagon during the decision-making process simply pointed to the facts, which made Redstone the best choice to ensure the U.S. maintains the ultimate high ground for decades to come.

YHN: Someone who we know has done heavy lifting with Space Command and countless other transformational projects for Alabama is Senator Richard Shelby, a longtime friend of yours. In your view, what does the prospect of his possible retirement mean for our state? And, from everything you have experienced behind the curtains since 2016, how has this current term cemented his legacy?

Sims: Richard Shelby is probably the most consequential Alabama politician in modern history. Name a major win for Alabama in the last 30 years and he was involved, if not the driving force. For example, the widening and deepening of the Port of Mobile is something he’s been working on for many years, long before he was the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. That initiative alone will do more for economic development in Alabama than most politicians do in their entire careers. He’s still on top of his game. What he’s done in recent years to bring FBI’s “HQ2” to Huntsville, and now Space Command—these are transformational things. Every lawmaker in D.C. has a story about how they thought they were getting something done for their state, only to find out at the last minute that Sen. Shelby had swooped in and got it done for Alabama. I hope he stays for many years to come because he will be missed when he’s gone.

YHN: Whether it be at the White House or in the intelligence community, what are the top highlights that stand out from your service to our country since 2016? Tell us about some of your favorite moments, achievements and/or projects. Similarly, is there anything in particular — if you could — that you would go back and do over again?

Sims: It’s the small moments that stick out to me right now after having just come out of it. I remember being with the President when he was told for the first time that a member of the military was KIA during a special operations mission he had ordered. I remember getting to be the first one to tell the President that we’d reached a deal in Congress and were about to pass the largest tax cut in a generation. I remember the first time I walked up to the memorial wall in CIA and saw fellow Alabamian Mike Spann’s name written in the Book of Honor as the first American KIA in Afghanistan after 9/11. There are so many. There are plenty of things I would do differently with the benefit of hindsight, but it has been an extraordinary run these last few years so I’m glad everything played out the way it did, even if it wasn’t always a smooth ride.

YHN: The Republican Party, post-November and post-Georgia, is certainly looking in the mirror right now to figure out what went wrong and where the GOP goes from here. What’s your outlook on the future of the Republican Party, post-Trump?

Sims: There will have to be some soul searching. Regardless of what anyone thinks of Trump, he reshaped the political map by building a coalition of working class voters across demographic groups. He made serious inroads with Black and hispanic voters because he actually pursued their votes and talked about issues that resonate in their communities. Republicans cannot return to being the party of the so-called elites and Wall Street. Keeping those rural, working-class voters turning out for the GOP could be the difference between being stuck in the political wilderness or rebuilding a long-term governing majority.

YHN: We’ve covered a lot about your recent past here, but knowing you, you’re just getting started on the next big thing. What are you planning to do now that you’ve served your final day in the federal government?

Sims: Well, I hope it’s not the final day. I don’t know what it will look like in the future, but I definitely hope to serve again if the opportunity presents itself.

My wife and I just adopted a three-year-old little boy, Shep, from Colombia so I’m excited about spending more time with them and not having to commute back-and-forth to D.C. I’m returning as CEO of Telegraph Creative, a branding, marketing and advertising agency in Birmingham. We just finished construction on a brand new office and we’re probably the fastest-growing creative services firm in the state, so we’re building something really special there.

I’ll continue to be involved in the national security space and have some other things in the pipeline that I look forward to sharing with everyone soon.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Rep. Jerry Carl introduces bill to prevent bureaucrats from removing, altering certain historical monuments

Congressman Jerry Carl (AL-01) on Monday filed his first-ever piece of legislation, titled “The American Heritage Protection Act of 2021.”

The Republican freshman representative from Mobile noted that his bill comes after the D.C. Facilities and Commemorative Expressions Working Group (DCFACES) last fall recommended 150 sites in our nation’s capital be either removed, contextualized or have their name changed. Sites specifically under fire include the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Woodrow Wilson High School and the fountain at Chevy Chase Circle.

Other historical figures with listed buildings or monuments included Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, George Mason, Andrew Jackson and Christopher Columbus.

“Today, I was proud to introduce the American Heritage Protection Act of 2021, which protects our nation’s history from being erased or altered based on the whims of government bureaucrats,” said Carl in a statement.

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Carl’s bill would explicitly prohibit the U.S. Department of Interior from changing the names, removing or altering the following monuments in D.C.: the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial and Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Additionally, the legislation would prevent Interior from removing or altering statues related to the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 or Civil War battlefields under its purview.

“While many people wish to erase or rewrite our history, I believe the best path forward involves learning from our complex history and avoiding judgment of historical figures based on today’s standards,” the Coastal Alabama congressman concluded. “If we erase or rewrite our history, we are unable to learn and grow from our past. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in this endeavor so we as Americans can engage in honest, accurate, and unifying discussions that enable us to move forward as one nation.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

What Alabamians need to know about the latest activity on Goat Hill — March 2, 2021

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature on Tuesday will convene for the 10th day of its 2021 regular session.

There is also one committee meeting scheduled for the day, as well as one subcommittee meeting.

Read about what occurred last Thursday on the ninth legislative day here.

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Looking ahead

The Alabama Senate will gavel in at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

This will come after the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee meets at 1:00 p.m. The committee’s agenda includes four election-related bills; especially of note, SB 235 sponsored by Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) would ban curbside voting in Alabama. Curbside voting is not provided for in Alabama law, however it is also not explicitly barred at this time.

The committee is further scheduled to take up SB 259 by Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road) that would allow the legislature to call itself into a special session. The provisions of the bill would require a joint proclamation by the Senate pro tem and the House speaker to call a special session; a resolution carrying the support of 2/3 of each chamber would then have to be adopted before business could be taken up in such a special session. The bill was officially introduced last week on the first legislative day following Governor Kay Ivey’s “herd of turtles” remarks. Between Barfoot and 16 cosponsors, the bill already has the support of an effective majority of the Senate, which only has a maximum of 32 members in attendance so far this session. SB 259 is a companion bill to Rep. Becky Nordgren’s (R-Gadsden) HB 21, which was prefiled back in October. Her bill is set to be considered in a House committee on Wednesday.

The House will convene at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Before that, the County and Municipal Government Committee’s Government Service Subcommittee will meet at 11:00 a.m. On that docket is SB 107 by Sen. Chris Elliot (R-Daphne).

The lower chamber’s floor action is set to focus on a 16-bill special order calendar, which can be viewed here.

Included on that calendar is Rep. Jamie Kiel’s (R-Russellville) HB 103, which would effectively erase the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” businesses during a pandemic or other declared emergency.

Also slated for consideration is Rep. Scott Stadthagen’s (R-Hartselle) HB 391; this bill would mandate that public school students can only compete in athletic competitions aligning with the gender on their birth certificates.

Another notable bill on the House special order calendar is Rep. Paul Lee’s (R-Dothan) HB 249. This legislation would cap a health insurance beneficiary’s cost-sharing or co-pay for an insulin drug prescription at $100 per 30-day supply.

Observers may also be interested to know that Rep. Jeremy Gray’s (D-Opelika) HB 246 is on the calendar; this is the bill that would allow yoga to be offered in public K-12 schools.

Finally, Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) HB 392 is set to be considered. This bill would create a formal layer of legislative oversight — and additional transparency — on executive branch contracts, leases and agreements exceeding $10 million.

“It is important that we maintain a system of checks and balances, and the Legislature must be able to access important information about agreements that obligate the General Fund to substantial expenditures,” Jones said in a Monday statement. “This bill provides an additional layer of oversight on large executive branch agreements in a manner that is fair, transparent, and, most of all, constitutional.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) stated that he supports the bill.

“Whenever an administration enters into agreements involving millions of taxpayer dollars, the Legislature deserves to have its questions answered and any concerns addressed,” McCutcheon said. “Rep. Jones’s legislation offers a commonsense method of protecting taxpayers and reassuring lawmakers when large sums of dollars are being obligated.”

While it could pertain to items similar to Governor Ivey’s prison plan in the future, the legislation would not be retroactive and would not apply to current contracts, leases and other obligations.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

LISTEN: Actor Robert Ri’chard previews upcoming faith-based movie ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

Robert Ri’chard grew up in South Central Los Angeles in a very challenging environment. He had to make disciplined choices at an early age that would help determine his future and get him to where he is today.

Robert, an actor, entertainer, entrepreneur and mentor, lives with purpose every day.

In this episode, we discuss the choices we all need to make each day to become who God calls us to be. We also talk about the upcoming movie he c0-stars in which will be coming out this month, “My Brother’s Keeper.” The movie deals with the struggles of PTSD and how God can help people overcome it. TC Stallings stars as a veteran returning from war and trying to reestablish a life back home. Robert plays his best friend, Donnie, and the two struggle to maintain their relationship after division arises between the two of them. The film also features Keisha Knight Pulliam and Joey Lawrence.

This is a great faith-based movie that is good for the whole family. Check local listings and online for viewing options starting March 19.

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14 hours ago

William Bell officially launches campaign to retake Birmingham mayor’s office

Former Birmingham Mayor William Bell officially launched on Monday his campaign to take back the office he held from 2010 through 2017.

Bell, 71, was prevented from earning a third term in office when Randall Woodfin, then-president of the Birmingham City School Board, beat him at the ballot box in 2017.

In his nearly three-minute video announcement released Monday, Bell listed several serious problems he felt Birmingham was facing, including violence in neighborhoods and poorly managed finances.

“Clearly, we need an experienced hand to get us back on track,” Bell intones.

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Though he never mentions Woodfin by name, Bell does not shy away from criticizing the man who ousted him in 2017.

“Four years of ineptitude and mismanagement has our city hurting and adrift,” Bell says in the video.

“The stakes are just too high for the current mayor to learn on the job. He is in over his head, and it shows,” continues Bell.

The announcement video includes images of Bell shaking hands with former President Barack Obama and President Joe Biden, two popular figures within the Democratic Party to which Bell belongs.

Other figures who have previously entered the Birmingham mayor’s race include Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales and businessman Chris Woods.

Woodfin has built a sizeable fundraising advantage over the three candidates seeking to unseat him, reporting over $1,000,000 cash on hand in his 2020 year-end finance report.

Bell’s campaign website, with information on his priorities for the city, can be accessed here.

Magic City residents head to the polls on Tuesday, August 24.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

14 hours ago

Watch: U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville delivers maiden floor speech

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) on Monday delivered his maiden speech on the floor of the United States Senate.

In his remarks, which spanned more than seven minutes, the freshman senator thanked the people of Alabama for sending him to Washington, D.C., spoke about his background as an educator and mentor, and emphasized that he looks forward to serving as Alabama’s voice as the people’s senator.

“In the end, I asked the people of Alabama to trust me with the responsibility of representing them here in Washington,” he said. “And they did. It’s humbling. It’s an opportunity to serve my country that I respect, cherish and will always honor. My staff and I will work hard every day to live up to that trust.”

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Continuing his emphasis on and passion for education, Tuberville subsequently remarked, “One thing I’ve learned, is that education is the key to freedom — freedom to live the life you want. I’ve seen firsthand how education can give you a leg up and a way out. It’s a way to achieve the American Dream. When we empower our young people with a quality education, we give them the gift of an opportunity — the greatest gift our country can give our citizens. And what I’ve found as a coach is that when people are given an opportunity to better themselves, they usually take it.”

He also outlined the following about education:

I found that we are failing our young people by not providing the quality education they deserve. It is not about money. It is about people. It is about what we value and what we each. Improving education in this country should be one of, if not the, top priorities we have. That is why I am proud to be a new member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

On the HELP committee, we need to work together – as a team – to do three things: first, we need to recognize that parents and teachers know how to best educate our young people in their community because we’re all different… We do not need a one-size-fits all education curriculum. What works in San Francisco will not necessarily work in Scottsboro, Alabama.

Second, we should recognize that education takes many forms. Not every student in America needs to go to a four-year college or university. To ensure our country remains competitive in the 21st century, we need to promote STEM education to those students who have an interest in math and science. But, to remain strong, this country also needs welders, plumbers, nurses, equipment operators, electricians, and craftsmen. These jobs have excellent pay and great futures.

If the Democrats want to pass a massive infrastructure bill, they need to first ask: ‘who’s going to build it?’ That’s why I’ll be looking for any opportunity to support career technical programs that prepare a skilled workforce.

And number three: we’ve got to start teaching our young people moral values again. That starts with putting God and prayer back in schools.

Watch Tuberville’s entire maiden floor speech here or below:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn