WASHINGTON — Power struggles inside Donald Trump’s transition team are hobbling efforts to form a new government — including what some say is an effort by the president-elect’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to purge the ranks of loyalists to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The turmoil burst to the surface Tuesday with the abrupt departure of former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who had been tapped by Christie to lead national security planning for the transition. Two people close to the transition described his departure as a firing, orchestrated by Kushner, the husband of Ivanka Trump who had been one of the most influential voices in the campaign.
The moves came about in part due to friction between Kushner and Christie, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters. As U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Christie in 2004 prosecuted Kushner’s father, Charles, for tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign contributions. A plea agreement led to a two-year prison sentence. Kushner is believed to have been one of the leading voices who kept Christie off Trump’s presidential ticket.
Kushner didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Trump aides said the changes are related to the president-elect wanting his stamp on the make-up of all aspects of his administration, and a desire to weed out lobbyists from the leadership teams. Pence is the best person to shape the transition effort, with the president-elect’s input, Trump spokesman Jason Miller said.
“Of course the president-elect is going to want his vice president-elect helping to build what the administration is going to look like and the only person on the planet other than president-elect who knows what that is the vice president-elect,” Miller said.
The shakeups come just as the transition team is about to launch its first wave of “landing teams” that will go into federal agencies to review projects and prepare to implement the priorities of the new administration. The emphasis will be on searching for potential reforms — a mandate Trump gave all of the transition leaders.
The move follows the abrupt demotion of Christie on Nov. 11 from leading the transition effort to being one of several vice-chairs, with Vice President-elect Mike Pence taking over the top spot. As part of that move, two other Christie loyalists also were demoted to lower ranks on the transition team.
In addition, fierce infighting has erupted over some of the most important jobs in president-elect Trump’s administration — particularly over Secretary of State. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has expressed strong interest in being the nation’s top diplomat. But other top figures in the transition had been backing John Bolton, a favorite of the neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party and a former United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush.
Bolton would likely face a tough confirmation fight in the Senate. Two other contenders have emerged in addition to Giuliani: former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who served under Colin Powell, and Henry Paulson, who was Treasury Secretary under Bush, according to one person familiar with the transition.
There also has been a delay in transition work caused by Christie’s ouster. The White House, in response to questions, said they are awaiting Pence’s signature on a memorandum of understanding that provides a framework, outlined by federal statute, for providing access to personnel, documents and other resources for the transition.
“Following the change in leadership of President-elect Trump’s transition team, we are now in the process of working with the new transition team Chair, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, to sign the Memorandum of Understanding, which governs the process by which transition officials work with current administration staff,” White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said in response to questions.