Amid reports of turmoil, Trump and Pence reshuffle transition team

USA TODAY - Donald Trump huddled with top advisers Tuesday about filling key administration posts amid reports of staff changes and turmoil within his transition team.

Several officials, allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have left the team in the wake of Trump's decision last week to replace Christie as transition chairman with running mate Mike Pence. Pence and the transition's newly installed executive director Rick Dearborn also are removing lobbyists from the transition, as Pence works to reshape the organization, according to a transition team member with knowledge of the decisions but who was not authorized to discuss them publicly.

Pence met with Trump at the latter's Manhattan tower to discuss filling White House and Cabinet slots — and also to review required legal papers to effect the change of leadership within the transition team, another reason the process has been delayed.

Trump himself took to Twitter late Tuesday to describe what he called the "very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions."

"I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!" he added.

Early Wednesday morning, Trump followed up with another tweet in which he attacked The New York Times for reporting on his transition difficulties.

"The failing @nytimes story is so totally wrong on transition," Trump wrote. "It is going so smoothly. Also, I have spoken to many foreign leaders."

Officials said late Tuesday that Pence has signed a memorandum of understanding that governs the process by which Trump officials work with the current White House staff on transition issues.

"The next step is for the president-elect's transition team to provide us with the names of the individuals they have authorized to represent their transition effort across the government," said White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine.

She added: "Once we have received those names and related materials, those individuals will be able to receive the briefing materials we have prepared and begin to communicate with their Obama administration agency counterparts as we continue our work to facilitate the transition to the next Administration."

Meanwhile, a former George W. Bush administration official and Trump critic advised other "Never Trump" Republicans not to cooperate with the transition team.

Eliot Cohen, a former counselor at the Bush State Department, tweeted: "After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They're angry, arrogant, screaming "you LOST!" Will be ugly."

Trump did announce the leadership of his Presidential Inaugural Committee. Financier and private-equity adviser Thomas J. Barrack Jr. will chair the organization that plans the Jan. 20 inauguration.

In addition to Pence, other aides — including some said to be in line for top Cabinet jobs — also took the elevators up to Trump transition offices.

"There's a lot of things," Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama told reporters. "This is such an exciting time, I've got to tell you."

Sessions is mentioned as a possible attorney general and Defense secretary.

Trump and Pence also received their first post-election global intelligence briefing.

Campaign finance chair Steve Mnuchin, a possible pick for Treasury secretary, said he and aides are "working on the economic plan with the transition, making sure we get the biggest tax bill passed, the biggest tax changes since Reagan, so a lot of exciting things in the first 100 days of the Trump presidency."

Asked if he has been offered a job, Mnuchin said: "I'm not going to comment."

Trump is also pondering appointment of a new secretary of State. Possible candidates include John Bolton, the hawkish former ambassador to the United Nations, and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and top surrogate for Trump.

During a forum Monday sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, Giuliani said he would not be attorney general.

Bolton, meanwhile, would be "a very good choice" for secretary of State.

Asked if there is anybody better, Giuliani said: "Maybe me; I don't know."

Another Trump supporter rumored to be in a line for a Cabinet slot, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, suggested he would not be joining the administration. "The way I'm leaning is to work from the outside and not from the inside," Carson told The Washington Post.

Carson, who sought the Republican presidential nomination, said he lacked government experience.

Trump and aides worked amid reports of discord within his transition team.

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who had worked on national security issues for the transition, announced his departure Tuesday, saying "it was a privilege to prepare and advise the policy, personnel and agency action teams on all aspects of the national security portfolio during the initial pre-election planning phase."

Before his departure, Rogers had been mentioned for CIA director or homeland security secretary, among other jobs.

Rogers is an ally of Christie, whose influence within the Trump camp is reportedly being diminished. The New York Times reported that Matthew Freedman, who had been coordinating Trump's phone calls with foreign leaders, has also left the transition team.

Also spotted Tuesday at Trump Tower: Marla Maples, Trump's second wife.

Trump, who campaigned against lobbyists and promised to "drain the swamp" in Washington, has faced intense criticism from Democrats in recent days over the number of lobbyists the transition tapped to serve in key transition posts.

On Tuesday, officials in the transition said Trump is committed to upholding his pledge to restrict the involvement of lobbyists in his administration.

Copyright 2016 USA TODAY


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