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Trump pushes back on claims of transition chaos

Donald Trump has pushed back on claims that infighting is hampering the critical process of putting in place his cabinet and top officials, insisting that his presidential transition is on track despite a series of dismissals and resignations.

“It is going so smoothly,” Mr Trump tweeted on Wednesday, saying reports of chaos inside the team now headed by Mike Pence, his vice-president, were “totally wrong”. He also denied the transition problems were affecting foreign leaders’ ability to reach him, tweeting: “I have received and taken calls from many foreign leaders.”

Signs of tumult have emerged since Friday’s removal of Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor who had led the transition team for six months. His demotion came after two of the governor’s aides were convicted of using his office to punish political rivals. Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s influential son-in-law, also has longstanding differences with Mr Christie, who was the lead prosecutor in a case that sent his father to prison for tax evasion. 

Despite Mr Trump’s denials, Mike Rogers, the former House intelligence committee chairman who stepped down as head of the transition’s national security team on Tuesday, confirmed the president-elect’s camp was struggling to find its footing.

“I think there is some confusion about the chain of command coming out of New York,” Mr Rogers told CNN on Wednesday.

Concerns about management of the transition come as people outside Mr Trump’s inner circle try to work out who around him holds the most sway. Mr Trump on Sunday appointed Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, as his chief of staff, but created another power centre inside his administration by tapping Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, as his chief strategist. Mr Kushner’s expanding role has added further intrigue to the court politics. 

The Trump team has hit speed bumps, but John Burke, a University of Vermont expert on presidential transitions, said that while Barack Obama and George W Bush had smoother transitions, some of the challenges facing Mr Trump were not unusual.

“There have been a lot of stories about disarray and tensions and infighting. That is typical of most transitions,” said Mr Burke. “The Clinton transition in 1992 was in far more disarray at this point in time than Trump is.”

Mr Burke pointed out that it took Bill Clinton until mid-December to appoint a chief of staff because of tensions between his campaign and transition teams. He added that it was also not unusual for Mr Trump to have picked a new head of his transition team, saying that George W Bush brought in Dick Cheney to replace Clay Johnson after his election.

After spending two hours with Mr Pence and his wife on Wednesday, Joe Biden, the vice-president, said he was confident that the US government would be “in good hands” when Mr Trump and his vice-president entered the White House.

“No administration is ready on day one. We weren’t ready on day one,” Mr Biden said.

One of the differences between previous transitions and this year’s process, however, is that Mr Trump has a thinner bench of foreign policy experts to choose from because of Republican resistance to his campaign.

Eliot Cohen, an influential neoconservative who last week overcame his previous criticisms of Mr Trump to urge conservatives to join the administration, this week changed course again to warn Republican experts to steer clear of the Trump team. 

[The criticism is coming from] folks who aren’t up for jobs and might be a little bit bitter

On Wednesday, Mr Cohen wrote in the Washington Post: “The tenor of the Trump team … is such that, for a garden-variety Republican policy specialist, service in the early phase of the administration would carry a high risk of compromising one’s integrity and reputation.” 

Jason Miller, a spokesperson for Mr Trump, dismissed claims of upheaval inside the team, saying the criticism was coming from “folks who aren’t up for jobs and might be a little bit bitter”. Mr Miller also denied that Mr Trump had requested a security clearance for Mr Kushner so that he could attend intelligence briefings. 

Mr Trump himself took to Twitter — which he has continued to use since his victory — to deny reports that he had requested security clearances for his family members. 

Three of his adult children — Ivanka, Donald Jr and Eric — are serving as members of the transition team, raising questions about their future roles and about potential conflicts of interests between the president-elect and his family business. 

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi

Via FT