ABC News(NEW YORK) — On Tuesday evening, President-elect Donald Trump broke presidential protocol, giving the press the slip to dine with his family at upscale Manhattan steakhouse, the 21 Club. It was an escape of sorts, not only from the press contingent tasked with following him, but from the lingering reports of infighting that have besieged his transition.
Trump himself sought to strike down rumors through a series of tweets.
But sources tell ABC News that the transition has been plagued by internal fighting and is in extreme disarray. One person close to Trump characterized the team as a “House of Thrones” with factions warring to have the president-elect’s ear — the Mike Pence faction, the Trump family faction and the faction belonging to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had led the transition team, but was ousted in favor of Pence, who is setting out to remove lobbyists from the group, aides tell ABC News.
The move comes after questions about lobbyists were posed to Trump on 60 Minutes after he railed against them and “Washington insiders” during his campaign.
As a result, several of Christie’s allies have also been removed from the team, such as Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers and lobbyist Matthew Freeman. Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband, has reportedly long held a grudge against Christie, who as a federal prosecutor, helped put Kushner’s father, Charles, in jail for tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions, and witness tampering under a plea agreement.
Trump communications adviser Jason Miller denied the reports of a Kushner grudge to reporters gathered at Trump Tower on Wednesday. Miller laughed, saying, “Couldn’t be further from the truth. Jared did a fantastic job with the campaign. Obviously the president-elect seeks and respects his counsel very much.”
Kushner, who one source describes as “ubiquitous,” was among Trump’s most trusted and powerful advisers, overseeing several aspects of the campaign.
Intelligence and sources familiar with the subject confirm that security clearance has been requested for Kushner. Trump transition Senior Adviser and former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told reporters that she didn’t believe such clearance being sought for Trump’s son-in-law indicates impropriety.
“It’s appropriate for whoever’s going to get the presidential daily briefing to have a security clearance,” she said. “It’s not just appropriate, necessary.”
As Kushner’s influence grows, the team that Christie had built is now being effectively dismantled, leading to delays in the selection process. For example, Christie had already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) necessary to begin the official transition process with the existing White House staff.
Once Pence took over the role, however, a new MOU had to be signed, delaying when the White House could deliver to the team necessary briefing materials and deploy transition landing teams to governmental agencies. Trump’s transition timeline isn’t yet behind President Obama’s in most respects (Obama had his first news conference by Nov.7, 2008; Trump has yet to have one); announcements of key positions are being delayed by a myriad of potential conflicts of interest.
For example, Rudy Giuliani, a contender for Secretary of State, has received money consulting for foreign governments, problems that first arose when he himself ran for the presidency.
The Trump team has not commented on Giuliani. The focus of this transition then turns to Pence, who many viewed during the campaign as a steadying force. His time in Congress engendered him to many of his peers on Capitol Hill. Thursday he heads to Capitol Hill, meeting with House Republicans, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
On Wednesday, he met with Congress, later stopping by the transition office. He then went for lunch with Vice-President Joe Biden at the Naval Observatory, the residence he will soon occupy. Pence, accompanied by Biden, spoke briefly with reporters, putting aside a trying transitional process for a moment in favor of more pressing issues.
“We are just very grateful for the hospitality today for the vice president and the second lady,” Pence said. “Most importantly I think they made real progress in talking Mrs. Pence into a new dog.”
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