Trump el­e­vates Pence to lead ef­fort to pre­pare for White House

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Noah Bier­man and Michael A. Me­moli

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump named In­di­ana Gov. Mike Pence, the vice pres­i­dent-elect, to head their tran­si­tion team, abruptly re­plac­ing New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie on Fri­day amid in­creas­ing signs that the ef­fort to pre­pare the next White House is off to a rocky start.

Trump also took the un­usual step of nam­ing his three old­est chil­dren and his son-in-law to top posts, moves cer­tain to cre­ate po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est given that his at­tor­ney said Trump will put his chil­dren in charge of his as­sets while he is pres­i­dent.

The tran­si­tion team is al­ways cru­cial, but es­pe­cially so for the first pres­i­dent elected with­out ex­pe­ri­ence in ei­ther gov­ern­ment or the mil­i­tary.

In ad­di­tion to re­cruit­ing thou­sands of peo­ple to staff the White House, Cabi­net Pence

agen­cies, em­bassies and other key gov­ern­ment posts, the tran­si­tion team needs to make sure Trump is briefed and pre­pared to take over con­trol for as­sum­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the gov­ern­ment and im­ple­ment­ing his pol­icy ini­tia­tives as soon as he is in­au­gu­rated in just 76 days.

“You need to have your team on the field when the clock starts,” said Max Stier, who heads the Part­ner­ship for Pub­lic Ser­vice, a Wash­ing­ton non­profit that fo­cuses on good-gov­ern­ment prac­tices. “This is not sim­ply about achiev­ing the pol­icy promises, it’s also about keep­ing us safe. Tran­si­tions are the point of max­i­mum vul­ner­a­bil­ity for our na­tion.”

The ef­fort is al­most al­ways well un­der­way be­fore a new pres­i­dent is elected, given the com­plex­ity and crit­i­cal na­ture of the job, even as can­di­dates know the work will be in vain if they are not cho­sen by the vot­ers.

Leg­is­la­tion passed in 2010, and up­dated in 2015, for­mal­ized much of the process for the tran­si­tion from Ge­orge W. Bush to Barack Obama af­ter the 2008 elec­tion, con­sid­ered one of the smoothest in history. Both Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton formed tran­si­tion teams months ago that be­gan work­ing with the White House on first steps to­ward a po­ten­tial hand­off.

“One of the big­gest dan­gers is that peo­ple will un­der­es­ti­mate the scope,” said for­mer Utah Gov. Mike Leav­itt, who ran Mitt Rom­ney’s tran­si­tion team in 2012.

That may have hap­pened in Trump’s case.

Fol­low­ing his meet­ing Thurs­day at the White House with the pres­i­dent, sev­eral Obama of­fi­cials pri­vately noted the ex­tent to which Trump and his staff seemed un­pre­pared to dis­cuss ba­sic as­pects of staffing a new ad­min­is­tra­tion and daunted by the ex­tent of the chal­lenges ahead. A fol­low-up meet­ing be­tween Trump aides Don­ald Trump’s neigh­bors have to nav­i­gate swarms of po­lice, bar­ri­cades, street clo­sures and check­points in Man­hat­tan. and White House tran­si­tion of­fi­cials sched­uled for Fri­day was can­celed, a se­nior Obama aide said.

To be sure, some of the ob­ser­va­tions made by White House of­fi­cials could be col­ored by par­ti­san dif­fer­ences or con­cern that Trump ap­pears set to dis­man­tle Obama’s legacy achieve­ments. Many had counted on a smoother tran­si­tion to a Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion in which top per­son­nel would likely in­clude for­mer co­work­ers.

Trump’s de­ci­sion to el­e­vate Pence to run his tran­si­tion team was one of sev­eral an­nounced Fri­day.

Pence has proven a loyal sec­ond to Trump, back­ing him when other es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans were crit­i­cal and find­ing ways to ex­plain some of his more con­tro­ver­sial state­ments in pub­lic. A for­mer mem­ber of the House, Pence also has close ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan and other top Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill.

Christie’s de­par­ture came af­ter the re­cent con­vic­tions of two for­mer top aides for cre­at­ing a traf­fic jam lead­ing to the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge to pun­ish a mayor who would not en­dorse him.

“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,” Trump said. “To­gether, we will be­gin the ur­gent task of re­build­ing this na­tion.”

Christie was re­tained as a vice chair of the team, along with sev­eral of Trump’s most vis­i­ble cam­paign ad­vis­ers: for­mer GOP pri­mary ri­val Dr. Ben Car­son, for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, re­tired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, for­mer New York Mayor Rudy Gi­u­liani and Sen. Jeff Ses­sions.

Ses­sions, who may be the most hard-line mem­ber of the Se­nate on im­mi­gra­tion, has long been among Trump’s most in­flu­en­tial ad­vis­ers. Stephen Miller, a for­mer top aide to Ses­sions, has been Trump’s top pol­icy ad­viser and will take a sim­i­lar role in the tran­si­tion team. Rick Dear­born, Ses­sions’ chief of staff, was named as the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor for the tran­si­tion team.

The team also in­cludes Stephen Ban­non, Trump’s cam­paign chief, who is on leave from head­ing the arch-con­ser­va­tive Bre­it­bart News.

Sev­eral prom­i­nent business peo­ple, in­clud­ing Peter Thiel, one of the only ma­jor fig­ures in Sil­i­con Val­ley to en­dorse Trump, were named, as was Pam Bondi, the Florida at­tor­ney gen­eral who so­licited and ac­cepted a $25,000 cam­paign do­na­tion from Trump’s fam­ily foun­da­tion in 2013, four days af­ter Bondi said her of­fice was con­sid­er­ing join­ing a New York state probe of Trump Uni­ver­sity.

Rep. Devin Nunes, the Tu­lare Repub­li­can who leads the House Se­lect In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, was also given a top spot. He could be a key bridge for Trump and the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, which has been re­luc­tant to rally be­hind Trump.

Trump’s chil­dren and son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, who guided him through­out the cam­paign, ap­pear to have re­tained their in­flu­ence in an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity. Kush­ner’s pres­ence at the White House on Thurs­day drew no­tice from Obama’s staff when he asked, as they toured the West Wing, how many of the in­di­vid­u­als there would re­main into the next ad­min­is­tra­tion. Nearly all will de­part along with the pres­i­dent.

Brief­ing re­porters Fri­day about the pres­i­dent’s trip next week to Greece, Ger­many and Peru, Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, re­peat­edly re­ferred to the im­per­a­tive of fully ed­u­cat­ing the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“The main fo­cus of the con­ver­sa­tion [be­tween Trump and Obama] ... was de­ter­min­ing how to make the best use of this tran­si­tion pe­riod to fully brief up the pres­i­dent-elect and his team,” he said. “There’s a great deal of com­plex­ity.”

Trump’s spokes­peo­ple did not re­spond to calls and emails ask­ing about his prepa­ra­tion.

Pas­sages on Trump’s tran­si­tion web­site, GreatA­, were copied from the site of the Cen­ter for Pres­i­den­tial Tran­si­tion, a non­profit that had con­sulted with both cam­paigns about the tran­si­tion, Politico re­ported.

“It’s in ev­ery­body’s in­ter­est to have a good tran­si­tion,” said Martha Ku­mar, the direc­tor of the White House Tran­si­tion Pro­ject. “We’re liv­ing in a world of great vul­ner­a­bil­ity. You can’t af­ford to not pre­pare well.”


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