NEW YORK: Donald Trump insisted his White House transition to power is going smoothly despite reports of chaos and disarray, as concern mounted over a newly appointed advisor seen by many as a far-right extremist.
Faced with the daunting challenge of staffing a new administration including his close coterie of a cabinet, the president-elect remained ensconced in Trump Tower in Manhattan, taking calls from foreign leaders and meeting potential appointees, lawmakers and advisors.
Trump’s team sought to tamp down rumors of turmoil in Trumpworld, amid reports of a backstabbing purge of mainstream Republican aspirants.
“Putting together a federal government is a big task,” his former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told reporters. “It’s false to say it’s not going well. Everything up there is very smooth.”
In a burst of tweets, Trump defended himself.
“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 wrote late Tuesday.
Following up Wednesday, he rejected reports of disarray and infighting for plum posts as “so totally wrong,” and lashed out at The New York Times as “fools” for their transition coverage.
Trump’s transition team said the president-elect has now spoken by telephone with at least 29 heads of state or dignitaries, including leaders from Britain, China, France, India, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
But despite Trump’s denial, there were mounting signs of turmoil in selecting a cabinet and filling an estimated 4,000 political appointments.
And controversy over one of Trump’s two major appointments — the anti-establishment firebrand Stephen Bannon who he made his chief strategist — continued to rankle many Democrats.
Bannon — who played a central role in Trump’s victorious campaign — is on leave from his role as chairman of the Breitbart website, seen by critics as a haven for white supremacists.
At least 169 House Democrats signed a letter demanding that Trump remove Bannon, saying his appointment “directly undermines your ability to unite the country.”
Senator Bernie Sanders, who challenged Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, said the naming “of a racist individual like Mr. Bannon to a position of authority is totally unacceptable.”
In the most visible sign of trouble on Trump’s transition team, two members have quit, reportedly pushed out by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in what was described as a purge of associates of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. On Friday Christie was bumped as team chairman.
As a US attorney, Christie prosecuted Kushner’s real estate developer father in 2004, jailing him for two years.
Media said Trump has inquired about getting top-secret clearance for Kushner — a real estate developer who is married to Ivanka Trump — so that he can join the daily presidential briefings.
Trump denied the reports.
Another sign of potential transition trouble: a room in the State Department reserved as a “Trump/Pence Transition Liaison Office” showed no sign of activity Wednesday.
“There’s been no outreach to date,” department spokesman John Kirby said.
Clinton made her first post-election appearance on Wednesday, telling a benefit event in Washington that although many — including herself — were “deeply disappointed” by the election result, it was important to continue working for the greater good.
“I know that over the past week a lot of people have asked themselves whether America is the country we thought it was. The divisions laid bare by this election run deep but please listen to me when I say this. America is worth it,” she told the Children’s Defense Fund event.
“I urge you: please don’t give up on the values we share… even if it may not seem like it right now, there is common ground to build on.”
At Trump Tower, meanwhile, the comings and goings continued as contenders jockey for key posts, including secretary of state, the treasury, attorney general, defense and national security.
US news outlets have reported that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was seen entering Trump Tower Wednesday, is tipped for secretary of state. A top Trump aide said Giuliani remained a “serious” contender.
The crime-fighting former prosecutor was mayor on 9/11, and his leadership after the World Trade Center was toppled in the September 2001 attacks made him a hero.
But the 72-year-old businessman’s professional ties — including work as a lobbyist for a Venezuelan oil firm — could complicate his confirmation.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker is also under consideration for top US diplomat.
“I understand I’m in the mix,” Corker told CNN.
Hawkish former UN ambassador John Bolton and retired general Michael Flynn reportedly are on shortlists for top posts too.
Other visitors on Wednesday included Congressman Tom Price, Senator Jeff Sessions and charter schools executive Eva Moskowitz, according to Trump spokesman Jason Miller.
Their names have been floated in the media as contenders for cabinet positions including health and human services, defense and education.
An unexpected visit to the Manhattan high-rose was New York’s liberal Mayor Bill de Blasio, who met with Trump Wednesday and exited to say he had concerns about the president-elect’s proposed deportations of undocumented immigrants.
“I reiterated to him that this city and so many cities around the country will do all we can to protect our residents and to make sure that families are not torn apart,” he said.
Thousands of anti-Trump protesters have flooded streets in several US cities during the past week. AFP