President-elect Donald Trump has picked Vincent Viola, a New York businessman, West Point graduate and owner of the Florida Panthers hockey team, as his secretary of the army.
In a statement on Monday, Trump praised Viola, the son of Italian immigrants, as “living proof of the American dream” who has “long been engaged with national security issues.”
Viola grew up in Brooklyn, the first member of his family to attend college, and went on to serve in the 101st Airborne Division, attend law school and start multiple businesses. He bought the NHL hockey team in 2013 for about $250 million.
The announcement of Viola comes as electors in all 50 states were meeting to formally elect Trump president, paving his way to take office on Jan. 20.
Trump is at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate, Mar-a-Lago, for the holidays, and is expected to hold more meetings Monday as he rounds out his administration’s team.
On Sunday, some of Trump’s closest advisers pushed back against Democrats’ complaints that Moscow hacked their private emails this election season in a bid to sow discord among their supporters and sway the election toward Republicans.
“Let’s assume it’s true,” Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, said of Russian interference in the election. “There’s no evidence that shows that the outcome of the election was changed because of a couple dozen John Podesta emails that were out there.”
The number of leaked emails by Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, was actually closer to tens of thousands. And it’d be difficult to prove exactly what influenced voters.
But Democrats said it was a personal attack and a threat to democracy.
“The emails were weaponised,” said Donna Brazile, interim chair of the Democratic National Committee. “The release of stolen, hacked emails caused a lot of confusion and of course it disrupted our daily campaign life.”
Foreign policy experts say part of Russia’s calculation was likely a desire for payback for years of US criticism of its own elections and to paint America as a flawed champion of democracy — potentially weakening it on the world stage.
“Where’s the evidence?” asked Kellyanne Conway, another close Trump adviser.
On President Barack Obama’s vow to retaliate against the Russians for hacking, Conway said: “It seems like the president is under pressure from Team Hillary, who can’t accept the election results.”
Trump himself weighed in Sunday evening, tweeting, “If my many supporters acted and threatened people like those who lost the election are doing, they would be scorned & called terrible names!”
Trump has previously called the intelligence agency’s finding of Russian involvement “ridiculous.”