Donald Trump’s transition team is planning to announce a number of key senior White House staff appointments imminently, but — perhaps befitting a president-elect who grew his fame on reality television — there is suspense around a few big names and positions.
One of Trump’s earliest and most loyal staffers — former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — is not expected to be included in the first wave of prime White House jobs, and the fate of another top campaign aide, David Bossie, also is unclear. Meanwhile, a dark-horse candidate with limited government experience — Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle — is making a late push in the race for press secretary.
Among the key appointments that are expected to be announced in the coming days are political director (a post for which sources say former Chris Christie aide Bill Stepien is considered the favorite) and communications director (sources say senior communications adviser Jason Miller is the leading option). Other appointments expected soon include advance director (campaign advance chief George Gigicos is seen as a lock) and body man (sources say campaign trip director John McEntee is likely to get the post).
Republican National Committee chief strategist Sean Spicer is the heavy favorite for the press secretary post. And Guilfoyle is not expected to displace him. But she could be added to the team in an ancillary role, transition sources say, as a way to counter criticism that Trump has stacked his Cabinet with mostly white men. There’s also some consideration of splitting the press briefing duties between Spicer and a second press secretary, presumably a woman, according to a senior transition aide.
A source close to Guilfoyle said it’s unlikely that she would give up her lucrative position at Fox News to be a part-time press secretary.
The mere fact that she’s being considered is being interpreted by some around the transition team as more evidence of a power struggle around Trump between a GOP establishment faction led by incoming White House chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the outgoing RNC chairman and a close Spicer ally, and an anti-establishment faction led by chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Sources say Bannon made the case for Guilfoyle to Trump on Monday night at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach resort where he is spending the holidays. Following the meeting, Guilfoyle was told to remain on standby to come down to Florida for a meeting with Trump this week. Last week, Guilfoyle had a lunch meeting at Trump Tower where she met with senior transition staffers. The meeting was followed by a call at the end of the week with Bannon and senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.
“There’s been growing interest in finding a role for Guilfoyle to share traditional press secretary duties,” said a transition official.
Hope Hicks, a longtime Trump press staffer, is also expected to be on the communications team.
A transition spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lewandowski, on the other hand, is a known commodity in the Trump world, and that’s part of the problem — he ran afoul of several key players, including Priebus and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, before being fired from the campaign in June.
Still, Trump has remained close to Lewandowski and wants to find a place for him in the administration, according to several transition sources.
Kushner on Monday met with Lewandowski in New York to discuss possible posts, according to two sources familiar with the meeting. They said that Lewandowski will be presented with a range of options in the coming days — both in the White House and elsewhere in the administration. But they say that the job he coveted — senior adviser to the president — is not expected to be among them.
That’s at least partly because people around Trump have warned that Lewandowski’s penchant for bitter infighting and allegations of aggressive behavior — combined with his contentious relationships with Trump’s family and close confidants — could come back to haunt Trump’s White House as they did during his campaign.
“They want to find something for him, but it needs to be someplace where he can’t do too much damage,” said a GOP operative who advised the Trump campaign and transition effort and was briefed on White House staffing discussions. “The overall sense was that Corey is just not the governing type.”
The effort to find a place for Lewandowski highlights a tricky balancing act for Trump as he tries to reward members of an early campaign staff that was heavy with misfits and neophytes who were supplanted by more seasoned operatives as Trump became a more serious candidate and then president-elect.
Lewandowski is seen as the de facto leader of the “Trump originals,” as members of the group call themselves. They’ve complained among themselves about the lack of responsiveness from Trump’s team as he fills out his administration, and are closely watching Lewandowski’s fate for signs about how they’ll be treated.
The prospects of another relatively early Trump supporter — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — landing a top job are diminishing rapidly, who was ousted as the leader of the transition days after the election and has been passed over for several key posts. Christie, who also has had a rocky relationship with Kushner, is not expected to be among the first wave of personnel hires, though Trump aides say he remains open to the governor serving in the administration.
It would be seen as another swipe at Christie if his former aide Stepien is tapped as White House political director. Stepien once was one of Christie’s closest advisers, but Christie fired him after the Bridgegate scandal, saying he had lost “confidence” in his judgment. Stepien is seen as close to Kushner, whose father Christie, as U.S. attorney of New Jersey, put in prison a decade ago.
On Monday night, Trump dined at Mar-a-Lago with Priebus, Bannon, Bossie, incoming senior adviser for policy Stephen Miller, as well as two early campaign staffers who are expected to get administration jobs, but haven’t been announced as official members of the White House team yet — social media guru Dan Scavino and campaign press secretary Hicks.
Multiple Trump advisers said that Trump was waiting for the Electoral College to make his victory official before moving to fill out his senior staff, but that it is now at the top of the agenda during Trump’s week in Florida, where he plans to stay through Christmas.
Jason Miller told reporters on Tuesday that staff announcements would come “sooner than later” with a “very good likelihood” they would come this week.
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