Trump Takes to Twitter in Defense of Transition
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday that his transition was not in disarray, assailing news media reports about firings and infighting and insisting in an early-morning Twitter burst that everything was going “so smoothly.”
But the process of picking Cabinet members continued to be a volatile one, as people who were described as leading contenders earlier in the week were said to be less likely to be nominated now. And the failure to take the basic organizational steps to begin the formal transition blocked the official handoff of critical information from 100 federal agencies.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, had been a leading candidate to be secretary of state. But people familiar with the latest discussions and one person who has spoken directly with Trump said the president-elect had growing reservations about Giuliani, who for 48 hours eagerly stoked news of his possible appointment.
Disclosures from Trump’s 27th-floor office in Trump Tower in Manhattan continued throughout the day. Laura Ingraham, a conservative radio host and author, could join the Trump administration, according to two people who have spoken to the transition team. Ingraham, a critic of the news media who worked on domestic policy for the Reagan White House, has told Trump aides that she would be interested in a number of posts.
Late Wednesday, reports surfaced that Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina, who backed Sen. Marco Rubio in the Republican primaries, might now be a candidate for secretary of state.
In a series of Twitter posts on Wednesday morning, Trump kicked off a concerted effort to reshape the narrative of a chaotic transition that has taken hold in the week since he won the election. In several conversations with reporters, Trump’s aides said that their efforts to assemble a new government were not in turmoil.
The president-elect criticized, and misrepresented, a report in The New York Times that said Trump had taken calls from several world leaders, but had done so haphazardly and without the normal State Department briefings that traditionally guide conversations with foreign leaders.
Trump wrote that he had received “calls from many foreign leaders despite what the failing @nytimes said.” Of the transition effort, Trump added in another post, “It is going so smoothly.”
Advisers to Trump said that reports of chaos were being spread by disgruntled former members of the transition or people bitter about the election results. Rep. Devin Nunes of California, who is a member of the executive committee advising Trump and is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the transition was operating differently because it was not filled with Washington elitists.
“The only people who are in chaos are the press,” Nunes said.
Aides to Trump acknowledged that members of the transition team had been fired since the ouster of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey as the head of the transition. But they denied that the firings were the result of a purge of Christie’s allies orchestrated by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. “Completely inaccurate,” said Jason Miller, a spokesman for Trump.
Instead, they said that the housecleaning was part of a renewed effort by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the new transition chief, to eliminate lobbyists from the transition team. They declined to provide details about how many lobbyists had been fired or to name them, but said it was a priority for Pence and Trump.
“When we talk about draining the swamp, this is one of the first steps,” Miller said.
Trump has been ensconced in Trump Tower for days as he deliberates. A steady stream of potential nominees and transition officials arrived for meetings with Trump on Wednesday as the team released a list of 29 foreign leaders that he and Pence had spoken with in recent days.
The lobby of Trump’s transition headquarters a block from the White House in Washington appeared to be bustling with activity Wednesday, with national security, transportation and other policy advisers arriving for meetings.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft was spotted walking into the building Wednesday afternoon with banker Steven Mnuchin, according to a pool report. Kraft, who praised Trump before the Massachusetts primary earlier this year, briefly spoke with Mnuchin before going upstairs shortly before 2 p.m. It was not immediately clear whether they arrived together.
Kraft was then seen leaving Trump Tower by himself around 2:30. He did not answer any questions from reporters about the purpose of his visit.
Little progress has been made toward transferring control of the 2.8-million person federal workforce. A White House official said that administration officials at government agencies remained legally barred from delivering the guidance and briefings to Trump’s transition team because essential documents had still not been completed.
The wholesale shake-up of Trump’s team, including Christie’s ouster, forced Pence to sign new documents required by law. White House officials said Pence delivered them Tuesday.
But by Wednesday night, Trump’s team still had not delivered a series of required supporting documents, including certifications that each transition member would abide by a code of conduct and would not divulge sensitive information about the inner workings of the government.
“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 Brandi Hoffine, a spokeswoman for the White House. “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.” (BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM.) The lack of progress fit with Trump’s image during his presidential campaign as a self-styled disrupter of the status quo in Washington, disdainful of the institutions of government and reluctant to submit to the protocols and traditions that fuel so much of what happens here.
Trump was not the first president-elect to preside over a disorderly transition. George Bush’s transition in 1988 was marked by Republican infighting after many of Ronald Reagan’s aides were denied jobs in the new administration. Bill Clinton’s 1992 transition was marred by a personnel shake-up and a difficult-to-accomplish campaign promise he had made to slash the White House staff by a quarter. George W. Bush had a late start because of the disputed 2000 election result, and Obama had to replace his head of personnel several times. But veterans of Washington’s transition rituals said Trump seemed to be further behind.
(END OPTIONAL TRIM.) Officials in Obama’s administration said Wednesday that they were ready to engage with Trump’s team. But they said little contact had been made. At the State Department, officials said that no one from the transition office had requested briefings ahead of Trump’s meeting Thursday with Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan.
“We stand ready to support him and his team with any information that they might require,” said John Kirby, the State Department spokesman. “We are ready and able to provide context if it is desired.”
“There has been no outreach to date,” Kirby added.