A Donald Trump presidency is looking more chaotic and unpredictable than anticipated even before it takes off. The transition team has been hit by ousters, intrigue and controversy, with the US president-elect’s family right in the middle.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie, an early backer of Trump, was ousted as head of the transition team recently and his allies, such as former House intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers, a widely respected figure, were forced out on Tuesday.
There have been reports of Trump seeking top security clearance for his three adult children and son-in-law, who are already on his transition team and are expected to play an important role in his administration, triggering alarm bells about nepotism.
Trump sought to address these reports and fears in a string of tweets on Wednesday. “I am not trying to get ‘top level security clearance’ for my children. This was a typically false news story,” he tweeted.
He also denied reports of chaos inside the transition team, tweeting on Tuesday, “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 went through names and lists with Mike Pence, the vice president-elect who has taken over the transition team from Christie, as leading contenders for top positions went about publicly auditioning for their desired slots.
But the man Americans are watching closely, with mounting concerns about nepotism in some quarters, is the boyish-looking 35-year-old Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband and the president-elect’s son-in-law and most trusted adviser.
A New York real estate baron like his father-in-law, Kushner played a central role in the campaign, emerging as the reliable and reasonable go-to man at Trump Tower, especially when the nominee looked determined to destroy himself.
Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager, tried to take him on and found himself being escorted out of the building. Trump continued to consult Lewandowski but was never able to let him return to the high table.
And when Trump went to meet President Barack Obama after winning the election, it was Kushner who made as much news, taking a stroll around the sprawling White House lawns with Obama’s chief of staff Dennis McDonough.
Just the day after, Trump announced a revamped transition team with Pence as the new chair replacing Christie, who had helmed it for months and had emerged as a member of the Trump’s inner circle, with an assured cabinet berth.
That changed quickly after November 8, in part because of Christie’s own troubles on account of New Jersey government aides found guilty of closing a major bridge connecting the state to New York to punish an unfriendly mayor.
Though Christie has denied any role in it and has not been accused of involvement, his history with the Kushner family is understood to have led to his unceremonious ouster from the transition team head and that of his allies, such as Rogers.
As US attorney in New Jersey, Christie prosecuted Jared Kushner’s father Charles Kushner in 2005 for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering, which got him two years in jail; he was out after one.
The younger Kushner seems to have got his revenge 11 years later.