Updated Nov. 16, 2016 12:19 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON—Another round of staff changes buffeted President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team Tuesday amid resistance from within the Republican Party over a top choice for secretary of state.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence formally signed documents that put him in charge of the transition team, and officials insisted the 10-week effort to build an administration is on schedule. In one of his first moves, Mr. Pence ordered the removal of all lobbyists from the transition team, said one transition team member with knowledge of the decisions.
Earlier Tuesday, former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, once considered a candidate to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, was ousted from the Trump transition team’s national security unit. Matthew Freedman, who was leading the group’s planning for the White House National Security Council, also departed. Mr. Freedman didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Mr. Rogers was told he was being replaced because everyone who was brought in by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the transition team’s original chairman, was being ousted, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Frank Gaffney, a Reagan administration veteran, was brought in to assist on national security issues, as has GOP U.S. Reps. Pete Hoekstra and Devin Nunes.
THE TRUMP TRANSITION
“We’re moving step-by-step,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R., N.Y.), who is the transition team’s congressional liaison. “Things are in pretty good shape right now.”
On Tuesday night, Mr. Trump tweeted: “Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions. I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!”
By signing the formal transition papers, Mr. Pence has begun a process that has multiple additional steps. The Trump transition team must now provide the Obama administration with the “names of individuals they have authorized to represent the transition effort across the government,” Brandi Hoffine, a White House spokesperson said.
They also must submit documents such as code of conduct forms that prohibit conflicts of interest. Once that paperwork is in place, the White House will give the Trump transition team briefing materials and they can begin working on location at various federal agencies.
Mr. Pence will remain closely involved in selecting members of the next administration, and cultivating relations between his former colleagues in Congress and Mr. Trump, the first American elected president without having held a government or military job.
That role faced an early test as Rudy Giuliani, a leading candidate to lead the State Department, was targeted by Kentucky Sen.Rand Paul. The Republican senator, who has tried to block previous presidential appointments, criticized the former New York mayor for calling for the bombing of Iran in 2015. He also said he opposed former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who was also under consideration for the job.
The pair represents “the most bellicose interventionist wing of any party,” Mr. Paul told Reason magazine. “I can’t support anybody to be our secretary of state who didn’t learn the lesson of the Iraq war.”
Mr. Bolton and Paul Manafort, a previous top adviser to Mr. Trump, didn’t return messages seeking comment.
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Mr. Giuliani said at the WSJ CEO Council on Monday the removal of troops in Iraq was “the worst decision made in American history.” Reached by telephone Tuesday, he said he didn’t have time to discuss the issues swirling around his potential nomination.
Beyond the Iraq war, Mr. Giuliani is also drawing scrutiny for his regular appearances at events supporting an Iranian opposition group, called the Mujahedin-e Khalq, which the State Department designated as a terrorist organization from 1997 through 2012.
Last year, Mr. Giuliani addressed MEK leaders in Paris and called for the overthrow of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his clerical regime. “The Ayatollah must go! Gone! Out! No more!” Mr. Giuliani told a crowd of thousands. “He and Rouhani and Ahmadinejad and all of the rest of them should be put on trial for crimes against humanity.”
The MEK paid Mr. Giuliani and other former U.S. officials to speak at its events, according to group leaders and U.S. officials who investigated the matter. Speaking fees ranged from $25,000 to $40,000 per appearance.
A broad mix of senior Republicans and Democrats has appeared at MEK events, including James Jones, President Barack Obama’s former national security advisor; Howard Dean, a one-time head of the Democratic National Committee who is now seeking that post again; and Mr. Bolton.
The Treasury Department launched a probe into the legality of former officials being paid by the MEK or its affiliates while it was still on the State Department’s terror list, U.S. officials have said. Treasury officials declined to comment on the status of that probe, including whether it has been closed.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said Tuesday he could work with Mr. Giuliani if he were tapped as secretary of state. “Rudy is an internationally known figure, he’s a personal friend, he has dealt with the unimaginable which was 9/11. He was a loyal supporter of President Trump; he should be rewarded in my view,” said Mr. Graham, who had opposed Mr. Trump in the campaign.
A spokesman for Mr. Trump’s transition team declined to comment on Mr. Giuliani’s possible appointment.
Mr. Rogers issued a statement saying “it was a privilege to prepare and advise the policy, personnel and agency action teams on all aspects of the national security portfolio during the initial pre-election planning phase.”
Mr. Trump also on Tuesday appointed more than a dozen of his top donors and fundraisers to a committee charged with planning his inauguration ceremony in January.
The committee will be led by Thomas Barrack Jr., a real-estate investor who held Mr. Trump’s first fundraiser in May and spoke at the GOP convention in Cleveland in July. The committee’s finance vice-chairmen include billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who gave millions of dollars to a pro-Trump super PAC in the final weeks of the campaign; Florida Republican fundraiser Brian Ballard; Diane Hendricks, a roofing magnate who gave more than $1 million to a group that aired pro-Trump ads; and Anthony Scaramucci, who was one of the first fundraisers to rally behind Mr. Trump when he began actively soliciting money.
Also on Tuesday, Ben Carson, one of Mr. Trump’s top allies, said he declined an offer to become the next secretary of Health and Human Services. Dr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, was among the first of Mr. Trump’s Republican primary rivals to endorse him and he served as one of the president-elect’s primary surrogates during the campaign.
“I don’t particularly want to work inside the government,” Dr. Carson said on a conference call with conservatives.
Dr. Carson, an adviser who talks to Mr. Trump, said he didn’t expect the next president to build a wall on the Mexican border, a signature promise of the campaign. “What he really wants to do is secure the border,” he said. “And there are a variety of ways of doing that. And we’re going to make sure that that gets done. So you can rest assured that those principles will be followed, but it may not necessarily be the exact letter”
—Carol E. Lee, Peter Nicholas, Rebecca Ballhaus, Mara Gay and Felicia Schwartz contributed to this article.
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