Presidential Transition Update

January 3, 2017

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With the momentum of Cabinet and agency appointments slowing over the past two holiday weeks, other transition news took a front seat including: the dissolution of President-elect Trump’s nonprofit foundation due to concerns over conflicts of interest; Trump’s vocal criticism of the Obama Administration’s abstention vote to dissolve Israeli settlements in Palestine; an exploration by the transition team into additional ways to enable veterans to obtain private medical treatment; and newly released details regarding upcoming inaugural events by the president-elect’s Inaugural Committee.


Presidential Inaugural Committee Releases Schedule of Events

On Dec. 21, the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) released the official schedule of events for the 58th presidential inauguration. The committee also released an extensive schedule of inaugural events to be held over a five-day span starting Jan. 17, including: (1) several dinners honoring the president-elect, vice -president-elect and Cabinet secretaries; (2) the laying of a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery by President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence; (3) a celebration concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday, Jan. 19; (4) the swearing-in at the Capitol on Friday, Jan. 20; (5) the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue; (6) two official inaugural balls; and (7) a ball saluting the armed forces and first responders. Many of the ticketed events will be available to the general public, and information can be found here.

A Dec. 28 press release from the PIC announced six faith leaders who will participate in the swearing-in ceremony. The inaugural parade participant lineup can be found here.

To Avoid Conflicts of Interest, Trump Dissolves His Foundation

President-elect Donald J. Trump announced  on Dec. 24 that, as part of his ongoing transition efforts, he intends to dissolve the Donald J. Trump Foundation. In making this announcement, President-elect Trump said, “The Foundation has done enormous good works over the years in contributing millions of dollars to countless worthy groups, including supporting veterans, law enforcement officers and children. However, to avoid even the appearance of any conflict with my role as President I have decided to continue to pursue my strong interest in philanthropy in other ways.”

The press release indicated that the president-elect has directed his counsel to take the necessary steps to effectuate the dissolution, while also touting that his foundation has operated at essentially no cost for decades, with 100 percent of the money going to charity. No timeline for the shutdown was offered, and it was not immediately clear when the foundation would be able to dissolve, given an ongoing investigation by New York’s state attorney general. The Donald J. Trump Foundation has come under intense scrutiny in the past few months after a series of reports in The Washington Post outlined some of its controversial practices, including cases in which Trump allegedly used the charity’s money to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit businesses and violations of the self-dealing clause dating back to 2007.

His son Eric Trump is also suspending fundraising operations for the charitable foundation that bears his name over concerns donors could be seen as buying special access to the Trump family. Eric Trump faced criticism from the press for an online auction by his foundation to bid for a chance to have coffee with his sister Ivanka. The Eric Trump Foundation raises money for pediatric cancers and gives most of the money it raises to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. In a series of tweets on Dec. 23, President-elect Trump said the decision to close the foundation was the “wrong answer.”

Trump Announces His Senior White House Communications Team

President-elect Donald Trump announced his choice for senior members of his White House communications staff on Dec. 21. The president-elect named Sean Spicer as Assistant to the President and Press Secretary, Hope Hicks as Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Communications, Jason Miller as Assistant to the President and Director of Communications, and Dan Scavino as Assistant to the President and Director of Social Media.

“Sean, Hope, Jason and Dan have been key members of my team during the campaign and transition. I am excited they will be leading the team that will communicate my agenda that will Make America Great Again,” said President-elect Trump in a press release. Worth noting, Jason Miller announced Dec. 24 that he would not be joining the Trump Administration due to familial obligations.

Prior to his role on the transition team, Spicer worked six years as communications director and senior strategist for the Republican National Committee. He has well-established connections with the Washington press corps and is a familiar commentator on cable news networks. One of Spicer’s first agenda items will be to quell rumors that President-elect Trump intends to limit the media’s access and do away with the custom of daily White House press briefings. The Trump transition has long insisted that President-elect Trump will maintain the ritual despite future White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ hints at the possibility of changes.


With only two Cabinet vacancies left to fill — the secretaries of the Department of Agriculture and Department of Veterans Affairs — during the past two weeks the Trump transition team has focused its appointment announcements on open senior positions within the Office of the White House. Deputy secretary positions and other presidential political appointments should be forthcoming in the next few weeks, particularly as nominees begin to hold more meetings with the transition team’s policy and agency landing teams.

An evolving list of rumored Trump appointees can be found here.

Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

The Trump transition team announced Dec. 27 that Thomas Bossert will serve as assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. He will be the top adviser to Trump on national security, terrorism and cyber issues, with a position on par in rank to the incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn will focus on “international” security threats, the transition team said in a press release, while Bossert will keep watch over “domestic” security concerns.

Performed by a deputy national security advisor in the previous administration, this role gives Bossert an “independent” status in the new White House, rather than making him subordinate to the national security adviser. This appointment also suggests that the incoming Trump Administration is taking seriously the threat of cyberterrorism. Bossert previously served in the White House as the deputy homeland security advisor to George W. Bush and served as a senior cybersecurity fellow at the U.S. Atlantic Council.

Counselor to the President

On Dec. 22, President-elect Trump named his former campaign manager and senior member of the transition team, Kellyanne Conway, to serve as counselor to the president. In her position, Conway will continue her role as a close advisor to the president and will work with senior leadership to message and execute the Administration’s legislative priorities and executive actions.

“Kellyanne Conway has been a trusted advisor and strategist who played a crucial role in my victory. She is a tireless and tenacious advocate of my agenda and has amazing insights on how to effectively communicate our message. I am pleased that she will be part of my senior team in the West Wing,” President-elect Trump said in a press release.

Conway is the founder and owner of the Polling Company, Inc./WomanTrend, a polling and research firm, and is the first female campaign manager of either major party to win a presidential general election.

Special Advisor to the President for Regulatory Reform

On Dec. 21, President-elect Trump announced the appointment of Carl Ichann as his special advisor to the president on regulatory reform. Icahn will advise Trump on regulatory issues as an individual citizen, not as an official federal employee, and won’t have any specific duties, according to an official press release. Both Ichann and President-elect Trump have been supporters of shedding regulations that discourage American entrepreneurialism and stifle economic growth. A billionaire Wall Street investor and well-known philanthropist, Ichann is likely to play a central role in selecting the next chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission after incumbent Mary Jo White steps down as chairwoman in January 2017.

“I am proud to serve President-elect Trump as a special advisor on regulatory reform. Under President Obama, America’s business owners have been crippled by over $1 trillion in new regulations and over 750 billion hours dealing with paperwork,” Icahn said in a statement. “It’s time to break free of excessive regulation and let our entrepreneurs do what they do best: create jobs and support communities.”

Icahn has also unofficially given President-elect Trump advice throughout the campaign and the transition, most specifically aiding the president-elect in making his decision to select Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as his head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Icahn’s investment firm, Icahn Enterprises, bought Trump Entertainment Resorts in February 2016 after the casino operating company emerged from bankruptcy for the fourth time. Critics are surprised by the appointment and are already vocalizing concern that his new role could generate multiple potential conflicts given his corporate holdings across a variety of industries overseen by numerous federal agencies.

The Wall Street Journal has more in-depth coverage of his appointment here.

Special Representative for International Negotiations

In a Dec. 27 press release, President-elect Trump named Jason Greenblatt as his special representative for international negotiations. At this time, it is still to be determined whether Greenblatt’s position will be at the White House or within a Cabinet agency and what exactly his mandate will be.

According to Politico, “it [is] also unclear whether it will dovetail or clash with the office of the U.S. Trade Representative or the work done by other U.S. negotiators on a range of issues.”

Greenblatt is the chief legal officer and an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, and he has spent the past 20 years representing President-elect Trump and his family in diverse legal and business affairs, concentrating on all aspects of domestic and worldwide real estate development and other businesses. Throughout the campaign, Greenblatt was one of President-elect Trump’s principal advisors on U.S.-Israel relations, pushing Trump in a more conservative direction on issues regarding the Jewish-majority state. A graduate of New York University School of Law, Greenblatt previously worked for Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP before joining the Trump Organization.

Trump Plans to Nominate Robert Lighthizer for U.S. Trade Representative

According to reports in the national press corps on Jan. 2, President-elect Trump is expected to nominate Robert Lighthizer, a trade lawyer and American protectionist trade proponent, as his choice for the U.S. trade representative position.

“He has extensive experience striking agreements that protect some of the most important sectors of our economy, and has repeatedly fought in the private sector to prevent bad deals from hurting Americans,” Trump said in an e-mailed statement. “He will do an amazing job helping turn around the failed trade policies which have robbed so many Americans of prosperity.”

Lighthizer has been counseling the Trump transition team on trade issues while serving on the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative agency landing team. He previously accused China of unfair trade practices, putting him in line with the views held by the president-elect and Peter Navarro, Trump’s newly announced leader of the White House National Trade Council. In a 2011 op-ed published in The Washington Times, Lighthizer said using tariffs to promote American industry was a Republican tenet harking back to pro-business politicians who established the party.

Lighthizer served as deputy U.S. trade representative in the Reagan Administration and was chief of staff on the Senate Finance Committee. Following his time in public service, Lighthizer moved to the Washington, D.C.-based firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.

Bloomberg has more on the story here.

Senate Minority Leader Calls on Cabinet Nominees to Turn Over Tax Returns

On Dec. 28, incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for more of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks to turn over their recent tax returns. Steven Mnuchin and Tom Price — Trump’s nominees for the Treasury and Health and Human Services departments, respectively — have already handed over their three most recent years of tax returns to the Senate Finance Committee. Schumer tweeted Wednesday that other Cabinet picks “must” follow the example. During a press conference in December, many Democratic senators argued that Senate rules should be altered to require newly appointed Cabinet members and other senior nominees to produce three years of tax returns.

The Hill has more on the story here.


Trump Holds Meeting to Discuss Private Options for Veterans’ Health Care

On Dec. 28, President-elect Trump held a meeting with a group of private-sector health care executives — including Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, a top candidate for Trump’s secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, and Mayo Clinic President and CEO John Noseworthy — to examine new ways to facilitate veterans’ ability to acquire private medical treatment.

In comments to reporters the same day, a transition official said Trump is considering a “public-private option” that would allow some veterans to get all of their medical care from private-sector physicians, with the government paying the bill. “It’s one of the options on the table,” the official said. The official added that participants discussed “how would you implement a program that could get vets the ability to go to any hospital that they wanted to go to.”

It is uncertain at this time whether President-elect Trump’s privatization proposal would cover all veterans, or all veterans currently receiving care through the VA, or even a reduced segment of that population. During his campaign, Trump promised to “ensure every veteran in America has the choice to seek care at the VA, or to seek private medical care paid for by our government.”

Many veterans groups have argued against past privatization efforts, saying it could undermine VA care by shifting resources away from department physicians best suited to diagnose and treat ailments veterans face. Congress in 2014 approved a new Choice Card program, which allows veterans facing lengthy wait times or significant travel to visit private-sector clinics instead of VA facilities. But the pilot initiative has received mixed reviews, with VA officials saying it has limited use and critics saying department officials have undermined the program with unnecessary red tape. Worth noting, a few veterans organizations have urged President-elect Trump to re-nominate President Obama’s current secretary, Robert McDonald, arguing his reform efforts are just starting to see results.

The Military Times has more on the story here.

Military Officers Meet With Trump to Discuss Reducing Pentagon Project Costs

Politico reported on Dec. 21 that President-elect Trump assembled several top military officers to hold a chat to “try to bring costs down” on the controversial F-35 fighter jet and other high-priced Pentagon projects. The military discussions were held in two sections and included Trump’s nominee for national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

The attendees included Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, deputy Air Force chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration; Vice Adm. James Syring, head of the Missile Defense Agency; Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran; Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson; Air Force Gen. Carlton Everhart, commander of the Air Mobility Command; and Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, head of the Naval Sea Systems Command. Several of the generals and admirals who sat with President-elect Trump also direct nuclear weapons and strategy, a major point of controversy during the 2016 presidential campaign, after Trump’s opponents cast doubt on whether he had the proper judgment and temperament to make decisions about launching nuclear weapons.

Trump also met separately with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson. Lockheed Martin produces the pricey F-35 fighter plane, while Boeing is the developer of the new fleet of Air Force One, a project President-elect Trump has threatened to cancel due to its high cost. Muilenburg commented to the press that the meeting with President-elect Trump was “very productive” and pledged Boeing would finish the two new presidential planes for less than the president-elect’s $4 billion estimate. “We’re going to get it done for less than that, and we’re committed to working together to make sure that happens,” he said.

New Infrastructure Task Force Planned

The Washington Post reported on Dec. 20 that President-elect Trump is planning to create an infrastructure “task force” to aid him in implementing his ambitious federal infrastructure spending program. While the task force will not be overseen by a Cabinet-level official, some influential members of President-elect Trump’s transition team — including chief strategist Steve Bannon, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and son-in-law Jared Kushner — are expected to participate in the project.

The task force will also be charged with helping the Administration narrow the meaning of the word “infrastructure” to focus on specific programs targeted by the president-elect. In the past, the president-elect has made a pledge to invest “bigly” in infrastructure, promising to rebuild everything from highways, electric transmission lines and bridges, to schools and hospitals.

According to a transition team official interviewed for Politico’s story, the chief of the task force is expected to resemble the issue “czars” appointed by President Obama during his Administration. The role will coordinate among private investors and officials at all levels of government in order to aid the nascent Trump Administration with its planned infrastructure initiatives.

While Trump’s infrastructure investment promise offers a rare chance to work in a bipartisan manner with Democrats, critics say the plan relies too heavily on $137 billion in controversial tax credits for private businesses. The plan could also face opposition from congressional Republicans who are generally disapproving of new federal spending.

New Trump White House National Trade Council Announced

On Dec. 21, President-elect Trump announced the formation of a White House National Trade Council, with Dr. Peter Navarro as his choice to head the initiative. Navarro will officially serve as Assistant to the President and Director of Trade and Industrial Policy. During the presidential campaign, Navarro worked alongside commerce secretary nominee Wilbur Ross to develop and communicate Trump’s trade and economic agenda.

According to a press release, the mission of the National Trade Council will be to advise the president on innovative strategies in trade negotiations, coordinate with other agencies to assess U.S. manufacturing capabilities and the defense industrial base, and help match unemployed American workers with new opportunities in the skilled manufacturing sector. The National Trade Council will also lead the Buy America, Hire America program to ensure the president-elect’s campaign pledges are fulfilled via government procurement in projects ranging from infrastructure to national defense. The National Trade Council will work collaboratively and synergistically with the National Security Council, the National Economic Council and the Domestic Policy Council to help integrate the industrial base with trade and manufacturing in national security.

A Democrat, Navarro is a Harvard-educated economics professor at the University of California-Irvine. He is an outspoken critic of China, having authored the book Death by China.