World / Politics

Trump pushes back amid transition tensions rumors, wages tweet storm

AP, Reuters

President-elect Donald Trump rejected claims of chaos and infighting straining his transition, declaring that he is running a “very organized process.” His son, Eric Trump, said new appointments were likely to be announced Wednesday, though other aides suggested a slower process.

Trump has kept a low-profile since his stunning upset victory a week ago, letting advisers and allies set the tone. He has wielded his Twitter account as his main tool for disputing talk of his transition as unwieldly and unprepared.

“It is going so smoothly,” Trump wrote Wednesday.

Despite Trump’s assurances, people close to the transition process described advisers “fighting for power” as the Republican plunges into the enormous task of setting up his administration. Trump will be inaugurated Jan. 20.

The billionaire businessman has effectively created two power centers in his White House even before taking office. He named Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as his chief of staff and flame-throwing media mogul Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, calling them “equal partners.” Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also is deeply involved in the transition

Some people close to Trump’s efforts expressed misgivings with the uncertain organization. They weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The beginning of any transition like this has turmoil because it’s just the nature of the process,” said Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an ardent Trump ally, said as he left Trump’s transition headquarters in Washington. “I think what you’re seeing will become clearer over the next two or three weeks as they build out the Cabinet and figure out some civic things.”

Advisers arrived at Trump Tower Wednesday for meetings, including Eric Trump, who told reporters it was “likely” some positions would be announced during the day. However, Trump spokesman Jason Miller later said the team was “not going to rush to put names forward until we’re absolutely sure.”

Trump emerged from his eponymous New York tower briefly Tuesday night for a private dinner with his family. He traveled without the traditional press pool of journalists, breaking a protocol designed to ensure the public has access to information about the president-elect’s whereabouts, schedule and meetings.

Many of those entering Trump Tower Wednesday are involved in planning for the incoming president’s national security and economic teams.

Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker and a top Trump economic adviser, told reporters the transition team was working on plans for regulatory and tax code changes, and creating an infrastructure bank to pay for improvements to roads and bridges.

“Right now we’re still in the planning stages. We want to be in a position where in the first 100 days we can execute the economic plan,” said Mnuchin, who is said to be a candidate for Treasury secretary.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a loyal Trump supporter, is in contention for multiple jobs, including Pentagon chief and attorney general. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who fiercely challenged Trump during the GOP primary but ultimately endorsed him for president, is also among those being considered for the attorney general post, though he is not viewed as a top contender, according to a senior transition official.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is a possible secretary of state. But Trump’s transition team was reviewing Giuliani’s paid consulting work for foreign governments, which could delay a nomination or bump Giuliani to a different position, according to a person briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Giuliani founded his own firm, Giuliani Partners, in 2001, and helped businesses on behalf of foreign governments, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. He also advised TransCanada, which sought to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and helped the maker of the painkiller drug OxyContin settle a dispute with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

A Trump official said John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also was in contention for the top diplomatic job. While he has years of foreign policy experience, Bolton has raised eyebrows with some of his hawkish stances, including a 2015 New York Times op-ed in which he advocated bombing Iran to halt the country’s nuclear program.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence is now running the transition team after a shakeup that included the demotion of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Pence spent several hours meeting with Trump on Wednesday. Aides described the session as detailed and extensive.

Pence planned to travel to Washington later Wednesday to meet Vice President Joe Biden at the Naval Observatory, the residence for the nation’s No. 2.

Trump denounced reports of disorganization in the team overseeing his transition to the White House in January, singling out the New York Times for saying world leaders have had trouble getting in touch with him.

Trump took to Twitter to list several world leaders he had spoken with since his upset victory in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

The Republican real estate magnate said he had received and taken “calls from many foreign leaders despite what the failing @nytimes said. Russia, U.K., China, Saudi Arabia, Japan.”

“Australia, New Zealand, and more. I am always available to them. @nytimes is just upset that they looked like fools in their coverage of me,” Trump continued.

The Times, a frequent target of Trump’s Twitter blasts, said on Tuesday that U.S. allies were “scrambling to figure out how and when to contact Mr. Trump” and blindly dialing in to Trump Tower in New York to try to reach him.

The newspaper said Trump, who has never held public office, was working without official State Department briefing materials in his dealings with foreign leaders.

“The failing @nytimes story is so totally wrong on transition,” he tweeted, without specifying what it was in the article that was incorrect. “It is going so smoothly. Also, I have spoken to many foreign leaders.”

Trump has mostly stuck to normal practice for a U.S. president-elect with the order in which he has spoken to foreign leaders since his surprise election victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

But some of his contacts have stretched the limits of the usual protocol, leaving some U.S. allies rattled about Trump’s foreign policy instincts and priorities.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, an army general who seized power three years ago, appears to have been the first leader to speak to Trump after the election, ahead of closer allies like the leaders of Britain and Germany.

Sisi’s office called Trump last Wednesday and the incoming U.S. president told him it was “the first international call he had received to congratulate him on winning the election.”

Trump also has talked on the phone in recent days to the leaders of Britain, Germany, Turkey and other allies.

But a phone call on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which the two men agreed to aim for “constructive cooperation,” raised eyebrows among Democrats and traditionalist Republicans worried about a resurgent Moscow.

Trump also met Britain’s anti-EU Brexit campaigner, Nigel Farage, at Trump Tower last weekend, way ahead of any meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday will be the first foreign leader Trump meets with as president-elect. They will hold talks in New York and an adviser to Trump said the Republican would reaffirm the U.S-Japan alliance, despite campaign rhetoric that raised questions about it.

In a tweet on Tuesday night Trump had said he was “the only one who knows who the finalists are” for appointed positions in his administration, which takes over on Jan. 20.

When Trump’s son, Eric, entered Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday morning he was asked by reporters if any positions would be announced on Wednesday and responded, “Likely.”

Despite fevered speculation, Trump has yet to say who will fill Cabinet positions such as secretary of state, Treasury secretary or defense secretary. His team said this is not unusual and is in line with the timing of the transition of Barack Obama to the White House after he won the presidency in 2008.

On the ground floor of the State Department, more than a dozen empty conference rooms await Trump’s transition team. State Department officials said Trump’s team had not yet contacted the department’s counselor, Kristie Kenney, who is overseeing the transition there.

As of Wednesday morning, the Trump team also had not contacted the Pentagon about the transition, officials said.

Trump denied he was trying to get security clearance for his children and son-in-law, which would allow them access to classified government information.