On Tuesday evening President-elect Donald Trump broke presidential protocol, giving the press the slip to dine with his family at the upscale Manhattan steakhouse the 21 Club. It was an escape of sorts not only from the press contingent tasked with following him but also from the reports of infighting that have besieged his transition.
Trump sought to strike down the rumors through a series of tweets to his millions of followers, shooting one out Tuesday night after dinner.
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 16, 2016
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 — a Mike Pence faction, a Trump family faction and a 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 came after questions about the 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 Kushner, in prison for tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering, under a plea agreement.
Speaking with reporters gathered at Trump Tower in New York City on Wednesday, Trump communications adviser Jason Miller denied reports of a Jared Kushner grudge. 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, described by one source 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 built is now being effectively dismantled, leading to delays in the selection process. For example, Christie had signed a memorandum of understanding, which is necessary to begin the official transition process with the current White House staff.
When Pence took over the role, a new memorandum of understanding 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 Barack Obama’s in most respects (Obama had his first news conference by Nov. 7, 2008, three days after the election, and 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 — an issue that arose when he ran for the presidency.
The Trump team has not commented on Giuliani. The focus of this transition then turns to Pence, whom many viewed during the campaign as a steadying force. His time in Congress ingratiated him with many of his peers. Today he heads back to Capitol Hill to meet 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.”
ABC News’ John Santucci, Justin Fishel, Katherine Faulders, Serena Marshall and Ryan Struyk contributed reporting.