Donald Trump denied charges Wednesday that his White House transition was in disarray amid reports of a backstabbing purge of mainstream Republican aspirants, as his team said new administration appointments were expected soon.
The president-elect remained ensconced in his luxurious Trump Tower headquarters in Manhattan, taking phone calls from foreign leaders and meeting or talking with potential cabinet members, his aides said.
Asked whether Trump would reveal new cabinet picks Wednesday, his son Eric Trump told reporters it was “likely.”
But former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway downplayed those expectations, explaining that “putting together a federal government is a big task.”
She also insisted the transition was on track. “It’s false to say it’s not going well. Everything up there is very smooth,” Conway said.
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.”
“Also, I have spoken to many foreign leaders,” he said, adding in another tweet that he had taken calls from Russia, Britain, China, Saudi Arabia and Japan.
The New York Times said Trump was improvising in his conversations with heads of state, who in turn were scrambling to figure out how and when to contact the president-elect.
British Prime Minister Theresa May reached Trump 24 hours after Egypt and Israel, in what the Times called “a striking break from diplomatic practice.”
– Transition shake-up –
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.
Two transition team members 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 chairman of the transition team.
The two were Mike Rogers, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Matthew Freedman, a lobbyist.
As a US attorney, Christie prosecuted Kushner’s real estate developer father in 2004, sending him to jail for two years.
The shakeup came amid jockeying for key posts, including secretary of state, the treasury, attorney general, defense and national security.
Several US news outlets have reported that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is tipped for secretary of state.
Hawkish former UN ambassador John Bolton and retired general Michael Flynn reportedly are also among those shortlisted for top posts.
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.
“I am not trying to get ‘top level security clearance’ for my children. This was a typically false news story,” Trump wrote.
– Push-back on deportations –
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio met with Trump on Wednesday, exiting Trump Tower to say he had concerns about the president-elect’s proposed deportations of undocumented immigrants, which the mayor warned would be “counterproductive.”
“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.
“I let him know that so many New Yorkers were fearful, and that more had to be done to show that this country can heal.”
Thousands of anti-Trump protesters have flooded streets in several US cities during the past week.
Sheltered in his Trump Tower headquarters since his shock election victory, Trump finally left the building late Tuesday to have dinner with his family at Manhattan’s 21 Club.
But he left without his press pool, a move The White House Correspondent’s Association described as “unacceptable.”
A top Trump aide has told reporters that Giuliani — a member of Trump’s inner circle — is a “serious” contender to become the next secretary of state.
The crime-fighting former prosecutor was mayor of New York on 9/11, and his leadership after the World Trade Center’s twin towers were toppled in the September 2001 attacks made him a hero.
But CNN reported that the 72-year-old businessman’s professional ties — including work as a lobbyist for a Venezuelan oil firm — could complicate his confirmation in the role.
Trump also drew fierce criticism when he announced that anti-establishment firebrand Steve Bannon would be his chief strategist.
Bannon is the onetime head of the Breitbart website, seen by critics as a haven for white supremacists.