Meeting with business partners raises concerns
The president-elect met with prospective administraton members Sunday, as aides struggled with how to separate his business interests from government.
WASHINGTON — As President- elect Donald Trump continued the work of forming his new administration Sunday, aides continued to struggle with some of the baggage he carries with him — especially how to separate his business interests from government and the inflammatory rhetoric about Muslims that marked his campaign.
Trump met with a series of men — and one woman — who may be under consideration for high-level appointments. Among them were campaign loyalists, including Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, and Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, but also some outsiders, like Jonathan Gray, a Wall Street executive and prominent Democratic donor, and Robert Johnson, the founder of the Black Entertainment Television cable network.
“We’ve made a couple of deals,” the president-elect said late in the day to reporters waiting at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., indicating that further Cabinet announcements could come soon.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a member of the House GOP leadership, was the only woman on Sunday’s list, which also included Ari Emanuel, the prominent Hollywood agent and brother of President Barack Obama’s former White House chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“Great guy. Great friend of mine,” Trump said.
While busy with his transition, the president-elect has found time recently for other meetings, including one with three investors from India who are partners with him in a luxury complex outside Mumbai.
A spokesperson for Trump insisted that the meeting, first reported by The New York Times, was just a courtesy call, but it renewed questions about how Trump could avoid conflicts of interest while retaining an ownership stake in his far-flung network of businesses.
Vice President- elect Mike Pence insisted during a television interview Sunday that Trump would “create the proper separation.”
In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Pence said lawyers and experts were working on how to successfully untangle Trump’s holdings from the presidency.
“I’m very confident working with the best legal minds in the country that the president-elect and his family will create the proper separation from his business going forward,” Pence told host Chris Wallace.
Trump has said he will allow his adult children to run his business ventures; government watchdogs have said he should divest his holdings or set up a blind trust.
Among the potential problems: Trump’s company has operations in other countries, often in connection with foreign governments that could steer money toward his family in an effort to influence his decisions.
At a news conference in Lima, Peru, where he was winding up a summit of leaders from Asia and the Pacific, Obama pointedly noted that his administration had managed to go eight years without a major ethics scandal because White House lawyers had insisted that he and his aides “not just meet the letter of the law.”
While Trump aides continued to deal with questions about potential conflicts, they also faced controversy over some of their remarks about Islam.
Reince Priebus, Trump’s designee to be the White House chief of staff, defended remarks made by retired Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, that criticized Islam.
“Clearly there are some aspects of that faith that are problematic,” Priebus said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Asked about Flynn’s statement that Islam was a political ideology masked behind a religion, Priebus said that “phrasing can always be done differently.”
But he praised Flynn as “an unbelievably gifted, smart person” who has Trump’s confidence.
The country’s largest Muslim advocacy group condemned Flynn’s remarks as examples of “Islamaphobia.”
“Our nation is not served by the denigration of Islam or by the introduction of ineffective and discriminatory policies targeting Muslims,” said Robert McCaw, government affairs director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
In his interview with Fox News, Pence also addressed the controversy surrounding his attendance at the hit Broadway show “Hamilton.” He was cheered and jeered as he entered the theater Friday, and after the performance, an actor directed a brief speech about American values to Pence.
Trump took to Twitter the next day — and again Sunday — to chastise the show’s cast and demand an apology. The dispute flew across social media over the weekend, sparking the hashtag #boycotthamilton.
His tweets about Hamilton diverted at least some attention from the criticism of Sen. Jeff Sessions, his choice for attorney general, his naming of Stephen Bannon to be a senior White House official and the $25 million he agreed to pay to settle claims that his Trump University real estate seminars defrauded students.
A self-described history buff, Pence said he enjoyed the musical.
“It is a great, great show,” he said, calling it “incredible production” by “incredibly talented people.”
Vice President-elect Mike Pence, left, said during an interview Sunday that legal experts will ensure Donald Trump’s presidency won’t be enmeshed with his business interests.
Political ally Chris Christie visits Donald Trump.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Donald Trump.