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Trump rewards loyalty, considers economic picks as he molds Cabinet

By Steve Holland and Emily Stephenson

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK President-elect Donald Trump closed in on naming two early Wall Street backers to key economic positions but jettisoned a national security expert from his transition team on Tuesday, a sign of the premium he places on loyalty as he confronts the task of building his administration.

Trump, a Republican outsider who won a surprise election victory last week, is considering campaign finance chair and Wall Street veteran Steve Mnuchin as his treasury secretary, and longtime backer and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary, according to Trump ally and activist investor Carl Icahn.

But a well-known Republican moderate was pushed out of transition planning. Mike Rogers, a former U.S. representative from Michigan who had been mentioned as a possible pick for CIA director, suddenly left the transition team.

Rogers had worked with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who on Friday was abruptly replaced as head of the team by Vice President-elect Mike Pence. On Tuesday, the transition group and White House grappled with paperwork issues for “landing teams” that who will work on detailed plans for taking the reins at government agencies.

Trump has fewer than 70 days until his Jan. 20 inauguration to settle on Cabinet members and other senior appointees. He will eventually need to fill roughly 4,000 open positions.

A parade of advisers was seen going in and out of Trump Tower through the day, including U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, touted as a possible secretary of defense or attorney general, retired Army Lieutenant General Joseph “Keith” Kellogg and tech billionaire Peter Theil.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who ran against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, also dropped by to meet with him.

Wall Street is closely watching who Trump picks for treasury chief because Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress, giving Trump a clearer shot at tax and financial regulatory reforms.

Mnuchin declined to comment on Cabinet picks to reporters as he arrived at Trump’s New York City apartment building, but said the team was “making sure we get the biggest tax bill passed, the biggest tax changes since Reagan.”


Rogers told CNN there was a little confusion in New York surrounding the transition team, which he attributed to “growing pains.”

Rogers was pushed out in part because Trump’s advisers believed he did not pursue Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton aggressively enough when he headed the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, a source familiar with the decision said.

Rogers led an investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks by militants on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. The probe dismissed many of the conspiracy theories that had been circulated by critics of Clinton, who was then secretary of state.

Trump’s team viewed the investigation as a whitewash, according to one source familiar with the operation.

Some current U.S. intelligence officials expressed worry that Rogers’ departure would mean Trump was leaning toward more confrontational hardliners to lead his foreign policy team.

Two national security officials said Trump’s operation had been slow to get up to speed and had not yet deeply engaged with security and intelligence agency personnel who were ready to start helping them out. Trump was due to receive his first formal national security briefing on Tuesday.

Loyalists such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton were being considered for secretary of state, according to sources close to Trump.

Giuliani, New York’s mayor at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by Islamist al Qaeda militants, is known as a hardliner on national security matters. Bolton is also a foreign policy hawk who said last year the United States should bomb Iran to halt its nuclear program.

Retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, a leading candidate for Trump’s national security adviser, has called for the United States to pull back from protecting longtime allies such as South Korea and Japan.

Some prominent Republican experts who might be tapped to fill out a Trump administration, told colleagues to steer clear.

“After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly,” former State Department official Eliot Cohen wrote on Twitter.


Trump has filled two positions so far. His choice of Republican Party insider Reince Priebus to be White House chief of staff was heralded by Republican leaders as an indication he wanted to work with the party in Congress. Republicans maintained their majority in both the Senate and House in the election, but a number of Republicans in Congress opposed Trump’s candidacy.

But Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as chief strategist was criticized by Democrats, civil rights organizations and some Republicans. They denounced the former Breitbart News chief, whose website is a forum for the “alt-right,” a loose grouping of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites.

Neither Priebus nor Bannon need Senate confirmation for their posts, but Cabinet posts do, and some of Trump’s possible picks could face a difficult time winning approval.

Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said on CNN he could not vote to confirm Bolton unless he repudiated his support for the Iraq war and bombing of Iran. Paul, who also ran for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, added he was concerned by Giuliani’s work on behalf of foreign governments.

One loyalist who will not be playing a role in Trump’s Cabinet is Ben Carson, who advised Trump after dropping his own presidential bid earlier this year.

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no government experience, had been mentioned as a possible head of the Education Department or Health and Human Services Department.

“His life has not prepared him to be a Cabinet secretary,” said Armstrong Williams, Carson’s business manager.

Trump said Tom Barrack, founder and chairman of Colony Capital Inc (CLNY.N) would head up his inauguration committee, joined by a host of Trump donors, a job that requires raising millions of dollars to pay for the Jan. 20 festivities.

(Additional reporting by John Walcott, Mark Hosenball, Ayesha Rascoe, Emily Stephenson, Patricia Zengerle and Warren Strobel; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)