Donald Trump shakes up transition, begins to articulate priorities
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Washington: Vice president-elect Mike Pence is replacing Chris Christie as the head of Donald Trump’s transition team as Trump’s influential oldest children take formal roles alongside seasoned Washington hands.
Christie will stay on as a vice chairman of the transition executive committee, Trump’s transition office said on Friday. The move is a demotion following the conviction of two of the New Jersey governor’s former allies just days before the election on charges stemming from the George Washington Bridge traffic plot.
Senator Jeff Sessions, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former defence intelligence agency director Michael T. Flynn, and retired neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson were named other vice chairmen.
Trump’s three oldest children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — were named members of the transition executive committee, as was Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The four had prominent roles in Trump’s campaign, if not official titles. The move raises questions about how Trump, 70, intends to carry out his plan to turn over control of his vast business empire to his children and avoid conflicts of interest as president.
Also on the panel are venture capitalist Peter Thiel; Dune Capital Management CEO Steven Mnuchin, the Trump campaign’s national finance chairman; Rebekah Mercer, part of an influential conservative donor family with close ties to the Trump camp; and several lawmakers and other advisers.
Pence, 57, was sought for his Washington experience as Trump turns to the urgent task of filling thousands of administration jobs when he’s inaugurated in January following his surprise victory, said a person familiar with the matter. He served 12 years in the US House of Representatives before becoming governor of Indiana. Voters gave Trump and Pence majorities in the House and Senate to help enact their agenda after Trump campaigned on a promise to “drain the swamp” of the capital.
Pence is slated to speak on Monday in Orlando at a Republican Governors Association meeting, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, his first public comments since his victory speech.
Christie was named transition chairman in May, after his own presidential bid faltered and he backed Trump.
As Friday’s announcement approached, several aides close to Christie seemed to be expecting word of an undisclosed appointment. One donor to Christie’s presidential campaign, who requested anonymity to speak freely, said on Thursday that Christie is prepared to serve at any level in the transition regardless of title.
“I am proud to have run the pre-election phase of the transition team along with a thoroughly professional and dedicated team of people,” Christie, 54, said in a statement after the announcement.
The shakeup comes as Trump begins, post-election, to articulate his top priorities for when he takes office. He signalled in a Wall Street Journal interview that he may take a more flexible view of what to do with the Affordable Care Act, citing his conversation with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Thursday.
He also cited deregulating financial institutions to allow “banks to lend again,” along with securing the border, as urgent agenda items, according to the Journal.
And as he emphasized bringing the US together after a heated election, Trump rejected the notion that his rhetoric in past months had gone too far.
“No. I won,” he said, according to the report.
Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, said Friday it’s looking into new business structures that would transfer management control from Trump to three Trump children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — and other executives.
“This is a top priority at the Organization and the structure that is ultimately selected will comply with all applicable rules and regulations,” according to a statement.
The transition’s executive committee now includes a variety of figures from the campaign who are likely to end up with cabinet jobs, such as Mnuchin, who’s a top contender for Treasury secretary. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and campaign chief executive Steve Bannon, who came from the conservative Breitbart News, are thought to be leading contenders for White House chief of staff.
The list is notably light on two main groups usually active in politics: Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and Wall Street figures, many of whom were cool to Trump’s candidacy. Thiel co-founded PayPal and sits on the board of Facebook Inc. Anthony Scaramucci, a campaign fundraiser, is founder and co-managing partner of investment firm SkyBridge Capital.
Rebekah Mercer’s father is one of the country’s biggest Republican donors, and she joins the transition group after running a pro-Trump political action committee.
Trump also awarded spots to Republican Representatives Chris Collins of New York, the first House member to endorse him; Devin Nunes of California; Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; and Tom Marino and Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was also named.
Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager who became a paid CNN commentator, quit the network effective immediately and is expected to take a role in the administration, Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” said in a story posted to CNN’s web page.
“Together this outstanding group of advisors, led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, will build on the initial work done under the leadership of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to help prepare a transformative government ready to lead from day one,” Trump said in a statement.
Rick Dearborn, chief of staff to Sessions, was named executive director of the transition team, replacing Rich Bagger. Bagger is returning to the private sector but will continue to advise the transition team, along with Bill Palatucci, a lawyer and Christie adviser.
Don McGahn, a partner at the Washington law firm Jones Day, was named general counsel.
Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway will become a senior adviser on the transition staff, according to the announcement. Deputy campaign manager David Bossie will become Dearborn’s deputy. Stephen Miller, a former Sessions aide who worked on the campaign, will be national policy director. Campaign spokesman Jason Miller will be communications director and spokeswoman Hope Hicks will be national press secretary. As in the campaign, Dan Scavino will run social media.
RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh was named a senior adviser. Pence is bringing along three senior advisers of his own: Nick Ayers, Josh Pitcock, and Marc Short.
Christie’s demotion comes as New Jersey state Senator Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat who co-chaired the panel investigating the Bridgegate scandal, has promised in two news releases over two days to keep Christie’s role in the scandal front and center even if he leaves Trenton.
She issued a release warning Trump and Christie that New Jersey statute allows the legislature to impeach Christie for up to two years after he leaves office, and another calling on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to release records and all communication with Christie during the bridge probe.
The news also came a day after Christie appeared on NBC’s “Today Show” and said he didn’t think the lane closings would cloud his future with the Trump administration.
“No, I think the long shadow was cast well before that,” he said. “What happened last week with the verdict, was that they confirmed what I knew and did in January of 2014,” Christie said. “After three years of investigation and a trial, the same three people I fired in 2014 were the three people who were held responsible by the U.S. attorney’s office and the jury.”
Trump told Lesley Stahl in an interview for “60 Minutes” to air Sunday that both Hillary and Bill Clinton called him separately to offer congratulations, saying the former president was “gracious” and his former opponent “couldn’t have been nicer.”
“Hillary called, and it was a lovely call, and it was a tough call for her, I mean, I can imagine,” Trump said, according to excepts of the interview released by CBS. “Tougher for her than it would have been for me. I mean, for me, it would have been very, very difficult. She couldn’t have been nicer. She just said, ’Congratulations, Donald, well done.’And I said, ’I want to thank you very much, you were a great competitor.’ She is very strong and very smart.” Bloomberg