WASHINGTON >> President-elect Donald Trump’s transition operation plunged into disarray Tuesday with the abrupt departure of Mike Rogers, who had handled national security matters, the second shake-up in less than a week on a team that has not yet begun to execute the daunting task of taking over the government.
In a statement Tuesday, Rogers, a former congressman from Michigan who led the House Intelligence Committee, said he was “proud of the team that we assembled at Trump for America to produce meaningful policy, personnel and agency action guidance on the complex national security challenges facing our great country.” And he said he was “pleased to hand off our work” to a new transition team led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
In another sign of disarray, a transition official said Tuesday that Trump had removed a second senior defense and foreign policy official from his transition team, Matthew Freedman, who runs a Washington consulting firm that advises foreign governments and companies seeking to do business with the U.S. government.
Freedman, who had been in charge of coordinating Trump’s calls to world leaders after his election, is a former business associate of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, who once worked on the re-election bid of Ferdinand E. Marcos, the Filipino dictator ousted in the 1980s.
Pence took the helm of the transition Friday after Trump unceremoniously removed Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who had been preparing with Obama administration officials for months to put the complex transition process into motion. That effort is now frozen, senior White House officials say, because Pence has yet to sign legally required paperwork to allow his team to begin collaborating with President Barack Obama’s aides on the handover.
An aide to Trump’s transition team who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal matters said that the delay was taking place because the wording of the document was being altered and updated, and that it was likely to be signed later Tuesday.
Still, the slow and uncertain start to what is normally a rapid and meticulously planned transfer of power could have profound implications for Trump’s nascent administration. It challenges the president-elect’s efforts to gain control of the federal bureaucracy and to begin building a staff fully briefed on what he will face in the Oval Office on Day 1.
Even as the president-elect worked to fill pivotal roles in his administration, the disarray caught the attention of some senior Republicans who criticized Trump during his campaign but said after he won that they would not necessarily rule out joining his administration or advising him.
Eliot A. Cohen, a former State Department official, said on Twitter that after having spoken to Trump’s team, he had “changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.”
Obama has repeatedly said that his priority is to ensure a smooth and professional transition, a process for which his team and aides to Trump, as well Hillary Clinton’s staff members, had been quietly preparing for several months. Christie, who until Friday served as Trump’s transition chief, signed a memorandum of understanding on Election Day to put the process into motion as soon as the outcome was determined.
But in response to a series of questions about whether the Obama administration had begun to brief Trump’s team, White House officials said late Monday that the president-elect’s decision to abruptly replace Christie on Friday with Pence had, for the time being, halted the process.
By law, the document must be signed by the chairman of the transition operation or his designee, and neither Pence nor anyone on his staff has done so.
Among other things, the paperwork serves as a mutual nondisclosure agreement for both sides, ensuring that members of the president-elect’s team do not divulge information about the inner workings of the government that they learn during the transition period, and that the president’s aides do not reveal anything they may discover about the incoming administration’s plans.
Brandi Hoffine, a White House spokeswoman, said Obama’s team was working with Pence to sign the document, a standard agreement whose wording is largely governed by statute.
“We look forward to completing that work so that we can provide the necessary access to personnel and resources to get the president-elect’s team up to speed and deliver on President Obama’s directive for a smooth transition,” Hoffine said.
The turmoil at the highest levels of Trump’s staff upended months of planning and preparation for a process that many describe as drinking from a fire hose even in the most orderly of circumstances — a period of about 70 days between the election and the inauguration on Jan. 20. During that time, the president-elect must assemble a team to take the reins of the vast federal bureaucracy and recruit, vet and hire 4,000 political appointees to help him run it.
Teams throughout the federal government and at the White House that have prepared briefing materials and status reports for the incoming president’s team are on standby, waiting to begin passing the information to their counterparts on Trump’s staff.