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Mike Pence to take over Trump’s transition team

Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Darron Cummings/Associated press

WASHINGTON — Vice President-elect Mike Pence will take over as the leader of Donald Trump’s transition effort, pushing aside Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, as Trump moves quickly to assemble a government after his stunning upset victory, the transition team said Friday.

The reorganization puts the urgent task of selecting Cabinet members and key West Wing officials in the hands of Pence, whose loyalty to Trump and deep contacts with the Republican establishment on Capitol Hill are seen as critical to navigating the often politically treacherous transition period.

But in shuffling those responsible for shaping his administration, Trump is also keeping close the inner circle of campaign advisers who are deeply skeptical of Washington and who helped design an outsider campaign built on angry and often divisive rhetoric. Stephen K. Bannon, the conservative provocateur and chairman of the Breitbart News website, will be a top transition adviser.


Three of Trump’s adult children and his son-in-law, who were among his closest campaign advisers, will join a 16-member advisory committee to help guide his choices. Rick Dearborn, the chief of staff to Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican who is a fierce advocate for Trump, will move from the campaign’s Washington office to help direct the transition.

Christie will become a vice chairman of the transition, the campaign said.

The Washington Post reported Friday that Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, a member of the Armed Services Committee, was a candidate for secretary of defense under Trump. Ayotte lost her reelection race this week to Democrat Maggie Hassan, the state’s governor.

The new inner circle at the transition offices will direct the activities of dozens of corporate consultants, lobbyists, and other specialists who will be responsible for recommending candidates for agency jobs across the breadth of the federal government. Some of those advisers come from industries for which they are now in charge of finding top regulators.


“The mission of our team will be clear: put together the most highly qualified group of successful leaders who will be able to implement our change agenda in Washington,” the transition team announced Friday afternoon.

The surprise moves will sideline Christie, who had been in charge of the transition for several months. After Christie dropped out of the Republican primary race, he became a staunch supporter of Trump. But his standing has fallen recently as two former aides were convicted in the scandal involving the closing of access lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2013.

In a statement, Christie said that he is “proud to have run the preelection phase of the transition team” and that he looks forward to working with Pence. “I want to thank President-elect Trump for the opportunity to continue to help lead in this next phase,” Christie wrote.

Two people familiar with the reorganization discussion said Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, had wanted to marginalize Christie, who had come to recognize that he was not in the running to be a top adviser in Trump’s White House. It was unclear whether concerns about his ability to be confirmed might prevent him from being offered a Cabinet post.

The changes will also push aside Richard H. Bagger, a former top aide to Christie who had been working on the transition. The transition team said Bagger will “return to the private sector” but will remain an adviser.


Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired lieutenant general who has been a top campaign supporter, will also serve as vice chairmen of the transition, the transition team said Friday afternoon.

The 16-member advisory committee is made up of four women and 12 men. It will include several members of Congress; Rebekah Mercer, a top Republican donor; Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee; Peter Thiel, a founder of PayPal; Attorney General Pam Bondi of Florida; Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive; and Anthony Scaramucci, a hedge-fund manager and Trump supporter. Bannon will also serve on the committee.

“This team of experienced leaders will form the building blocks of our presidential transition team staff leadership roster and will work with elected officials and tireless volunteers to prepare our government for the transfer of power on Jan. 20,” Pence said.

There are some indications that the transition effort was slow to start, perhaps the result of Trump’s upset victory, which caught much of the political world by surprise. At least a few of the people helping organize the transition effort were tapped at the last minute..

At the Pentagon and the State Department, officials of the Obama administration said Thursday that they had not yet heard from Trump’s transition team about beginning the complex work of transferring responsibilities and authority. A State Department spokesman said he did not have “any firm word” on when briefings might begin for designated officials from the new government.


Several people briefed on the transition process described it as somewhat chaotic after Trump’s surprise victory Tuesday. His campaign was led by four leadership teams over 18 months, and most of those people were back in view Thursday, including Corey Lewandowski, the campaign’s first manager. Lewandowski is said to have told people he would prefer a White House senior adviser role, although he has also been mentioned as a possible Republican National Committee chairman. Lewandowski resigned Friday from his role as a CNN political commentator.