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NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump plans to nominate a third retired general for a top job in his new administration with the choice of a battle-hardened Marine commander to lead the agency set up after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to protect the U.S. homeland.

Trump is expected to name former Marine General John Kelly, 66, as head of the Department of Homeland Security, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Wednesday.

In confirmed by the Senate, Kelly will be in charge of the agency tasked with securing borders against illegal immigration, protecting the president, responding to natural disasters, coordinating intelligence and countering terror threats.

Like Trump, Kelly is believed to hold strong views on stopping illegal immigration. The four-star general told a congressional committee last year that the lack of security on the U.S.-Mexican border represents a national security threat.

The former head of the military’s Southern Command, Kelly was responsible for U.S. military activities and relationships in Latin America and the Caribbean. He was a proponent of keeping open the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Kelly, whose son was killed fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, retired in January after a 45-year military career. CBS first reported that Trump would nominate Kelly to the position, which would put him in charge of more than 240,000 employees. Those include Secret Service and Border Patrol agents as well as the agency that clears refugees for resettlement in the United States.

Trump energized voters in the election campaign by promising to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in order to keep out Mexican immigrants he described as rapists and murderers.

In 2015 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Kelly said people-smuggling activities on the southern border were a dire threat.

“Terrorist organizations could seek to leverage those same smuggling routes to move operatives with intent to cause grave harm to our citizens or even bring weapons of mass destruction into the United States,” Kelly said.

Such sentiments may have endeared him to Trump, who warned repeatedly during his presidential campaign of dangers from illegal immigration, and pledged to build a wall along the border and make Mexico pay for it.

The Republican president-elect, who has no military experience, also plans to nominate retired General James Mattis to lead the Pentagon and picked retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn to be his national security adviser.

MILITARY EXPERIENCE

Kelly served in Iraq several times, and in 2003 was the first Marine in more than 50 years to be promoted to the rank of brigadier general while in a combat zone.

In November 2010, his son, Marine 1st Lieutenant Robert M. Kelly, was killed in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, at the younger Kelly’s burial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, his father said he preferred not eulogize his son.

Rather, Kelly said, he wanted to honor all those who enlisted after the Sept. 11 attacks, ready to fight “an enemy that is as savage as any that ever walked the earth.”

Although Kelly’s military experience may give him insight into overseas threats like drug trafficking or Islamist militancy, he would face new challenges at an agency that oversees everything from airport security to protecting against cyber threats and responding to domestic security crises.

Kelly also questioned the Pentagon’s decision to allow women to serve in combat, and differed publicly with President Barack Obama over the Democrat’s attempt to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.

“There are no innocent men down there,” Kelly said of Guantanamo in a January interview with the Military Times newspaper.

The Republican-controlled Senate must confirm Kelly for the Homeland Security post. He would be the fifth secretary of the United States’ newest cabinet-level agency and the first to serve without a background in law.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Warren Strobel; Writing by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump appears with retired Marine Corps General John Kelly outside the main clubhouse after their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.