Trump denies transition disarray, Bannon criticism intensifies
NEW YORK CITY, USA – Donald Trump insisted Wednesday, November 16, his White House transition to power is going smoothly despite reports of chaos and disarray, as concern mounted over a newly appointed advisor seen by many as a far-right extremist.
Faced with the daunting challenge of staffing up a new administration including his close coterie of a cabinet, the president-elect remained ensconced in Trump Tower in Manhattan, taking calls from foreign leaders and meeting potential appointees, lawmakers and advisors.
Trump's son Eric had said it was "likely" that his father would reveal new cabinet picks Wednesday, but as of 5:30 pm (2230 GMT) there was little sign at Trump's headquarters that decisions would be made public.
Instead Trump's team sought to tamp down the rumors of turmoil in Trumpworld, amid reports of a backstabbing purge of mainstream Republican aspirants.
"Putting together a federal government is a big task," his former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told reporters. "It's false to say it's not going well. Everything up there is very smooth."
In a burst of tweets, Trump defended himself.
"Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions. I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!" he wrote late Tuesday.
Following up Wednesday, he rejected reports of disarray and infighting for plum posts as "so totally wrong," and lashed out at The New York Times as "fools" for their transition coverage.
Trump's transition team said the president-elect has now spoken by telephone with at least 29 heads of state or dignitaries, including leaders from Britain, China, France, India, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
But despite Trump's denial, there were mounting signs of turmoil in the process of selecting a cabinet and filling an estimated 4,000 political appointments.
And controversy over one of Trump two major appointments – the anti-establishment firebrand Stephen Bannon who he made his chief strategist – continued to rankle many Democrats.
Bannon – who played a central role in Trump's victorious campaign – is on leave from his role as chairman of the Breitbart website, seen by critics as a haven for white supremacists.
At least 169 House Democrats signed a letter demanding that Trump remove Bannon, saying his appointment "directly undermines your ability to unite the country."
Senator Bernie Sanders, who challenged Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, said the naming "of a racist individual like Mr. Bannon to a position of authority is totally unacceptable."
In the most visible sign of trouble on Trump's transition team, two members have quit, reportedly pushed out by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in what was described as a purge of associates of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. On Friday Christie was bumped as team chairman.
As a US attorney, Christie prosecuted Kushner's real estate developer father in 2004, jailing him for two years.
Media said Trump has inquired about getting top-secret clearance for Kushner – a real estate developer who is married to Ivanka Trump – so that he can join the daily presidential briefings.
Trump denied the reports.
Another sign of potential transition trouble: a room in the State Department reserved as a "Trump/Pence Transition Liaison Office" showed no sign of activity Wednesday.
"There's been no outreach to date," department spokesman John Kirby said.
New York mayor's concerns
At Trump Tower, meanwhile, the comings and goings continued as contenders jockey for key posts, including secretary of state, the treasury, attorney general, defense and national security.
US news outlets have reported that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was seen entering Trump Tower Wednesday, is tipped for secretary of state. A top Trump aide said Giuliani remained a "serious" contender.
The crime-fighting former prosecutor was mayor on 9/11, and his leadership after the World Trade Center was toppled in the September 2001 attacks made him a hero.
But the 72-year-old businessman's professional ties – including work as a lobbyist for a Venezuelan oil firm – could complicate his confirmation.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker is also under consideration for top US diplomat.
"I understand I'm in the mix," Corker told CNN.
Hawkish former UN ambassador John Bolton and retired general Michael Flynn reportedly are on shortlists for top posts too.
An unexpected visit to the Manhattan high-rose was New York's liberal Mayor Bill de Blasio, who met with Trump Wednesday and exited to say he had concerns about the president-elect's proposed deportations of undocumented immigrants.
"I reiterated to him that this city and so many cities around the country will do all we can to protect our residents and to make sure that families are not torn apart," he said.
Thousands of anti-Trump protesters have flooded streets in several US cities during the past week. – Rappler.com