Transition teams had not yet deployed to federal agencies on Wednesday; Trump campaign will announce members Thursday
Questions about extent of transition team lobbyist ban persist
President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to have Mike Pence replace Chris Christie as the leader of his transition effort, and ongoing infighting in Trump Tower, is causing delays and confusion in Washington.
Election Day was eight days ago, but Donald Trump’s transition team has yet to contact the Pentagon, State Department or other federal agencies. And a move to purge some transition advisers and employees has further slowed the process of getting the incoming administration off the blocks.
So-called landing teams, which President Barack Obama installed at federal agencies within days of the election for his own transition, had been expected to arrive in DC Monday. But Vice President-elect Pence’s takeover of the team caused a cascade of delays.
Christie had signed the official document – a memorandum of understanding – with the Obama administration to run the Trump transition, meaning a new copy was needed with Pence’s signature. That paperwork didn’t arrive until Tuesday evening, White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said.
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Trump’s team will announce the first teams – for the Justice Department and national security agencies – Thursday, RNC spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday night. Economic and domestic policy teams will be announced next week. But it was not immediately when those officials will actually arrive at agencies in Washington.
The White House was still waiting Wednesday night on names from the transition of the individuals who will form the landing teams.
“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 as we continue our work to facilitate the transition to the next administration,” Hoffine said.
In addition to the names, the transition will need to certify the individuals are free of conflicts of interest and paperwork from the team members that they meet the criteria of the transition code of conduct.
And transition officials going into the most sensitive agencies, like the national security community, will need a pre-clearance to go in, which requires an entry-level investigation, said David Eagles, director of the Center for Presidential Transition, a nonprofit dedicated to the smooth transfer of power and good governance. For less sensitive agencies, all that is required is a quick background check, similar to what the White House might conduct on anyone seeking entrance.
The State Department and Pentagon have said on the record they have had no contact with any member of the transition staff. Many of the remaining civilian agencies have said on background that they have not or have referred CNN to the White House statement from Hoffine.
Pence’s move to clean house in the transition team, removing selected lobbyists, people who have breached protocol, not lived up to standards or leaked information to the outside world, is also slowing things up. Several individuals who were leading agency teams according to an internal organizational chart obtained prior to the shakeup have been registered lobbyists, meaning new individuals will have to be identified.
Trump’s team says things are going well. “We’re going to get the transition team where we need it to be,” spokesman Jason Miller told reporters in Trump Tower on Wednesday. “It’s going to be a team that will be able to put in place the exact type of team that President-elect Trump wants to have in.”
Trump tweeted Tuesday night that the process is “organized.”
Who’s in, who’s out?
Given the new ban on lobbyists Pence announced Tuesday – a term the Trump team has not defined – K Street – the hub of lobbying in Washington – is trying to determine who’s in and who’s out.
Some sources on K Street were under the impression that the lobbying ban only applied to the landing teams – staffers assigned to join transition offices in each federal agency to begin learning the ropes and preparing for a handoff – and not policy staffers.
Trump and Pence’s offices did not respond to questions about the transition team lobbyist ban.
What is clear is that some aides who were a key part of the effort are out.
Former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, who was leading national security, was asked to leave the transition, and it was not clear who would replace him.
Two people working with Rogers were also out: Matthew Freedman, a former DIA innovation adviser and former Bush transition official, was focused on the National Security Council, and Kevin O’Connor, a former Bush administration official at the Department of Justice, was working on DOJ.
Freedman was fired in part for using his company’s email address to make foreign contacts on behalf of the Trump transition, a source familiar said. O’Connor was said to be pushed out for his connections to the old transition leadership.
Energy lobbyist Mike McKenna, who had been tasked with the Energy Department was also out over leaks, according to a source.
According to a review of the chart, at least six other agency leads have been a lobbyist, and more have had ties to lobbying businesses.
On the policy side of the transition, a review of the chart shows that eight out of 17 names listed have been registered lobbyists at one time.
It’s unclear what definition or timeframe the transition will use. A document dated November 10 apparently from the transition obtained by Politico required transition staffers to pledge they would not work on any transition area “if I have engaged in regulated lobbying activities with respect to such matter, as defined by the Lobbying Disclosure Act, within the previous 12 months.”
That alone would disqualify several of the staff on the organizational chart, including some who were leading agency teams.
Trump has also pledged to introduce ethics reforms that would expand the definition of lobbying to cut down on the revolving door in Washington, but it’s unclear whether that would apply to his transition.
Foreign governments struggling to reach Trump
The confusion extends outside the US.
One close US ally had to reach out to multiple contacts in the Trump world before successfully arranging a phone call between the President-elect and their head of state, a diplomatic source told CNN. The call finally took place a full day after his victory and after Trump had spoken to other leaders.
This diplomatic source said the delay did not spark anger as much as confusion as to how to establish contact with the incoming president.
The State Department has not heard from the transition to coordinate at all, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.
Trump’s transition released a list of 29 foreign or international leaders that they said the President-elect and Vice President-elect have spoken with. However, that list did not specify if all the leaders spoke with both men, or some only spoke with Trump or Pence.
Frank Gaffney says he’s not on Trump’s team
One person says he’s definitively not on the team. Frank Gaffney, an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist, denied a media report that he had been named to Trump’s transition crew.
“An unattributed quote appeared in the press yesterday indicating that I had been appointed to the Trump transition team,” Gaffney, the founder of the Center for Security Policy, said in a statement. “In fact, I had not been contacted by anyone from the team and appreciate the campaign’s clarification today that the previous day’s reports were inaccurate. I look forward to helping the President-elect and the national security-minded team he is assembling in whatever way I can.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center called Gaffney “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes.” Gaffney in 2009 suggested that Barack Obama had become “America’s first Muslim president.”
CNN’s Tom LoBianco, Elise Labott, Daniella Diaz, Ashley Killough and Jim Sciutto contributed to this report.