Vice President-elect Mike Pence has ordered all lobbyists be removed from Donald Trump’s White House transition team, NBC News has learned. This would bring the transition more in line with Trump’s campaign-trail pledge to “drain the swamp” of veteran politicians and special interests in Washington.
That was the explanation given for the firing of at least one top foreign policy official, Matthew Freedman. A campaign official said Freedman was let go because he works as a lobbyist. But if Pence’s directive is fully implemented, it could result in the exit of at least nine current aides, and likely more, according to an organizational chart for the operation obtained by Politico.
Pence’s decision comes as he visits Washington on Wednesday to meet with stakeholders on and off Capitol Hill. He received his first Presidential Daily Briefing, met with the Chamber of Commerce and had lunch with the Bidens. Pence also plans to meet with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Thursday afternoon after visiting House Republicans.
Meanwhile, Trump himself remains at Trump Tower, spokeswoman Hope Hicks says, huddling with his transition team as they move forward with vetting names to build out his cabinet.
Freedman's firing is the latest of a string of shakeups that have plagued Trump’s transition process over its first week, beginning with the announcement that Pence would be replacing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as head of the transition team. Christie was removed, sources told NBC News, because he was seen as insufficiently loyal to Trump during the campaign, and because Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner continues to hold an old grudge over Christie’s prosecution of his father when Christie was New Jersey District Attorney.
With Christie’s demotion came former Rep. Mike Rogers’ departure from the team, in what one source described as a “Stalinesque purge” of Christie loyalists. Trump spokesman Jason Miller denied Kushner's involvement in staff turnover, while spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway denied any reports of transition turmoil.
But speaking on CNN following his departure, Rogers identified the challenge for the transition team as “some confusion going on, uh, about a chain of command coming out of” Trump’s New York headquarters.
Rogers pointed specifically to Trump having named both Steve Bannon, head of Breitbart.com, which Bannon has called a "platform for the alt-right," and RNC chair Reince Priebus as co-equal partners in leading his administration, as a potential problem. The former has been named chief strategist and the latter chief of staff.
“It doesn’t work in a company. Could you imagine having two or three CEOs trying to make a decision? Just the chaos that it creates in an administration just won’t work,” he said. “You’ve gotta keep this machine going, and it takes somebody very decisive who can make that decision. The more complicated you make that, I think the worse it gets.
Competing and conflicting factions plagued Trump’s campaign, causing near-constant turmoil that often overshadowed his message on the trail. That seems to have carried over to the transition process, as campaign loyalists jockey behind the scenes for plum spots in his administration. Perhaps the most prominent clash is the battle for secretary of state, which former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has made clear he’d prefer. But because of his work consulting for foreign governments, Giuliani faces questions over clear conflicts of interest. Already some Republicans have indicated he’d have trouble getting confirmed — including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who said he’d oppose the former mayor as well as the other reported contender, former UN ambassador John Bolton.
Other controversies continue to dog the incoming Trump Administration, including backlash over Bannon’s cabinet appointment due to reports of his derogatory comments about women and minorities as well as the views espoused by his website that critics have called anti-Semitic and white nationalist.
Another adviser to the transition process, Frank Gaffney, has given some cause for concern due to his outspoken anti-Muslim beliefs and active propagation of racially-charged conspiracy theories about President Obama and his administration, including his belief that Muslim Brotherhood agents had infiltrated the federal government.
Though Trump spokesman Jason Miller denied that Gaffney is advising the team, a source close to Gaffney said while he’s not formally involved, he “has advised them on nominees and policy through [former UN Ambassador John] Bolton and [Ret. Gen. Mike] Flynn,“ both advisers to Trump's transition.
Still more names continued to emerge as potential cabinet picks in a Trump administration. After he made an unannounced stop at Trump Tower on Tuesday to offer support to Trump during the transition period, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — previously one of Trump’s fiercest antagonists — has now been floated as a potential attorney general or Supreme Court nominee.