Washington confused as Trump transition regroups
By Tal Kopan
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President-elect Donald Trump promised to shake up Washington. But for now, the drama consuming his transition effort is leaving the capital confused.
The effort to plan and staff the President-elect's administration has been held up by infighting and the transfer of power from former transition Chairman Chris Christie to Vice President-elect Mike Pence. In the process, staffers are being fired and information trickling out to the firms that closely track and influence policy in Washington has slowed to a near stop.
One side effect of Christie being marginalized was that it nullified the formal agreement between the transition team and federal govenrment he had signed, further slowing the process with agencies. Pence signed the document Tuesday, and he was in Washington Wednesday to meet with transition staff.
One of Pence's first moves was to declare he is banning lobbyists from the transition -- a statement that has only created more questions than answers, as the team did not define what a lobbyist is or how the ban will be applied.
"Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Rick Dearborn, the executive director of the transition team are removing any lobbyists," a source familiar told CNN. "This is to ensure President-elect Trump's commitment to ban lobbyist involvement is being upheld at all levels of the transition."
Wednesday morning, K Street -- the hub of lobbying in Washington -- was trying to determine who's in and who's out.
Some sources on K Street were under the impression that the lobbying ban only applied to so-called landing teams -- staffers assigned to join transition offices in each federal agency to begin learning the ropes and preparing for a handoff -- and not policy staffers.
Trump and Pence's offices did not respond to questions about the ban, but the official line from the Trump transition is that everything is going well.
"We're going to get the transition team where we need it to be," spokesman Jason Miller told reporters in Trump Tower on Wednesday. "It's going to be a team that will be able to put in place the exact type of team that President-elect Trump wants to have in."
And Trump tweeted that the process is "organized."
Agencies haven't heard from Trump team
The landing teams, which President Barack Obama installed at federal agencies within days of the election for his own transition, had been expected by agencies on Monday.
But a White House spokeswoman said the transition office was still waiting on names from the Trump transition as of Wednesday, a necessary first step before teams could deploy to agencies.
Agencies including the State Department and Pentagon told CNN they had yet to hear from any transition officials.
It was unclear who would be leading many of those landing teams. According to an organizational chart of the transition obtained by CNN in advance of the overhaul on Tuesday and sources familiar with the transition, at least four names have already been crossed off.
Former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, who was leading national security, was asked to leave the transition, and it was not clear who would replace him.
Two people working with Rogers were also out: Matthew Freedman, a former DIA innovation adviser and former Bush transition official, was focused on the National Security Council, and Kevin O'Connor, a former Bush administration official at the Department of Justice, was working on DOJ.
Freedman was fired in part for using his company's email address to make foreign contacts on behalf of the Trump transition, a source familiar said. O'Connor was said to be pushed out for his connections to the old transition leadership.
Energy lobbyist Mike McKenna, who had been tasked with the Energy Department was also out over leaks, according to a source.
What is a "lobbyist?"
According to a review of the chart, at least six other agency leads have been a lobbyist, and more have had ties to lobbying businesses.
On the policy side of the transition, a review of the chart shows that eight out of 17 names listed have been registered lobbyists at one time.
It's unclear what definition or timeframe the transition will use. A document dated November 10 apparently from the transition obtained by Politico required transition staffers to pledge they would not work on any transition area "if I have engaged in regulated lobbying activities with respect to such matter, as defined by the Lobbying Disclosure Act, within the previous 12 months."
That alone would disqualify several of the staff on the organizational chart, including some who were leading agency teams.
Trump has also pledged to introduce ethics reforms that would expand the definition of lobbying to cut down on the revolving door in Washington, but it's unclear whether that would apply to his transition.
Foreign governments struggling to reach Trump
The confusion extends outside the US.
One close US ally had to reach out to multiple contacts in the Trump world before successfully arranging a phone call between the President-elect and their head of state, a diplomatic source told CNN. The call finally took place a full day after his victory and after Trump had spoken to other leaders.
This diplomatic source said the delay did not spark anger as much as confusion as to how to establish contact with the incoming president.
The State Department has not heard from the transition to coordinate at all, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.
Trump's transition released a list of 29 foreign or international leaders that they said the President-elect and Vice President-elect have spoken with. However, that list did not specify if all the leaders spoke with both men, or some only spoke with Trump or Pence.
Frank Gaffney says he's not on Trump's team
One person says he's definitively not on the team. Frank Gaffney, an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist, denied a media report that he had been named to Trump's transition crew.
"An unattributed quote appeared in the press yesterday indicating that I had been appointed to the Trump transition team," Gaffney, the founder of the Center for Security Policy, said in a statement. "In fact, I had not been contacted by anyone from the team and appreciate the campaign's clarification today that the previous day's reports were inaccurate. I look forward to helping the President-elect and the national security-minded team he is assembling in whatever way I can."
The Southern Poverty Law Center called Gaffney "one of America's most notorious Islamophobes." Gaffney in 2009 suggested that Barack Obama had become "America's first Muslim president."
CNN's Tom LoBianco, Elise Labott and Jim Sciutto contributed to this report.
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