President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team got down to nuts and bolts Thursday, deploying “landing parties” to federal agencies responsible for national security and reportedly having offered the next administration’s first big appointment.
Visits to the National Security Council and departments of Defense, Justice and State to lay groundwork for the handover in January marked a rapid acceleration in activity by the transition team, which has been criticized for the slow pace of progress in the first week after the election.
The Associated Press, citing “a senior Trump official” speaking on the condition of anonymity, reported that Mr. Trump had offered the post of White House national security adviser to retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, a former Defense Intelligence Agency chief. It was not clear Thursday evening whether Gen. Flynn, who was an early supporter of Mr. Trump and spoke on his behalf at the Republican National Convention, had accepted the offer.
Mr. Trump held scores of interviews at Trump Tower in New York with prospective Cabinet members and advisers, and met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Vice President-elect Mike Pence met with leaders of both parties on Capitol Hill.
After what he called a “very candid” meeting, Mr. Abe told reporters in New York that he had “great confidence” in the president-elect.
“I will be able to establish a relationship of trust,” said Mr. Abe, the first foreign leader to meet Mr. Trump face to face since his stunning election victory over Hillary Clinton. “I conveyed my view on basic issues. I’d like to refrain from touching on details.”
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The landing-party members, meanwhile, huddled in conference rooms at the agencies. Obama administration officials gave them thick binders and detailed presentations that included organization charts, budget forecasts and parking space assignments, said veterans of previous transitions.
“At that point, we might start getting indication of whether this is a friendly or hostile takeover or handover. It goes in both directions,” said Douglas Brook, who worked on outgoing transition teams of President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush.
He said both sides typically are professionals who “speak the same language” in their fields of expertise, regardless of policy differences. But it takes a concerted effort to achieve as smooth a handover as accomplished by the Bush-Obama teams.
“Both sides need to be aware that the clock is running and there is a lot of work to be done so that when the inauguration takes place there is a minimum amount of hiccups,” said Mr. Brook, a visiting professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.
The timetable has been impressed upon the team by repeated news reports about slow progress and turmoil, which Trump transition officials dispute.
Mr. Trump also is not off the pace of most recent presidents in filling his Cabinet. When Barack Obama was putting together his first administration in 2008, he did not make his first Cabinet appointment until three weeks after the election.
“Lots of reasons to be concerned about @realDonaldTrump transition but the pace of the announcements isn’t one of them. That’s not a fair shot,” former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod tweeted.
“We hadn’t made any major appointments at this point in 2008. I don’t remember being criticized for it,” he wrote.
Mr. Trump’s landing parties will tackle federal agencies in three waves: national security, economic and domestic.
“The next wave is the economic landing team,” Trump spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters in a conference call.
Within days, the next team will arrive at the Treasury, Commerce Department, U.S. Trade Representative’s office, Small Business Administration and Social Security Administration.
The final team will fan out across domestic agencies, including the departments of Interior, Agriculture, Homeland Security, Energy, Labor, Transportation, Education, and Health and Human Services, as well as independent agencies such as the Office of Management and Budget, Federal Trade Commission and NASA.
Mr. Trump’s meeting schedule in New York on Thursday included diplomatic legend Henry Kissinger, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane and Family Research Council leader Ken Blackwell.
The most unexpected meeting, however, was the one reportedly set for this weekend with Mitt Romney. The 2012 presidential nominee was the party’s most outspoken critic of Mr. Trump during the race and called his fellow Republican a “phony” and a “fraud.”
Mr. Trump planned to move the transition meetings Friday to the private Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, about 35 miles west of Manhattan. The Trump-Romney meeting likely will take place there because the president-elect plans to stay in Bedminster until Sunday night, transition team officials said.
“I think it’s good that the president-elect is meeting with people like Romney,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a transition team member who is a potential pick for U.S. attorney general. “There are a lot of talented people that he needs good relationships with, and I think Mr. Romney would be quite capable of doing a number of things.”
Mr. Romney reportedly is under consideration for secretary of state, although that could not be confirmed. Other possible candidates to lead the State Department include Mrs. Haley, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton.