I’ve read three stories about this today and still can’t find a clear explanation for why they did it. This isn’t just a case of kicking Christie off the transition team that he led until Friday; this is, in Politico’s words, a matter of “bulldozing much of the former transition leaders’ existing work and making Cabinet decisions on their own, in consultation with Trump.” They seem to be starting more or less from scratch on cabinet staffing on down — with slightly more than two months to go until Inauguration Day, which is virtually no time at all.
Top Donald Trump campaign advisers who have taken charge of the president-elect’s transition team are casting aside much of the work on Cabinet picks that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his aides put in place over several months — and leaving behind a far more chaotic operation dominated by Trump loyalists.
Trump aides have nixed at least one Christie-backed person being considered for a Cabinet position in the aftermath of last Friday’s shakeup, a person closely tracking the transition told POLITICO…
By comparison, the Obama administration was deep into the vetting process by early November — not just meeting with prospective nominees but compiling fat dossiers on them, according to emails made public through WikiLeaks…
[Christie allies Rich] Bagger and [Bill] Palatucci worked behind the scenes for months to create a methodical operation that was less drama-filled than the New York-based campaign shop. They played a central role in hiring transition staff, developing an infrastructure, setting up policy- and agency-focused teams and culling shortlists for top administration jobs.
Mike Rogers, a hawkish former GOP congressman with loads of natsec experience, quit the transition team this morning reportedly “at the urging of team members.” The NYT describes the transition process as momentarily “frozen” now that Christie and his deputies are out and their work cast aside, with Obama’s team unable to hand over briefing materials on how government operates to their counterparts on Trump’s team because they’re … not sure who those people are right now. Quote: “The turmoil at the highest levels of his 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.” So, once again: Why?
When I put that question to Twitter this morning, two theories came back. One: Per this New York Post report, Trump is disgusted at Christie for letting his aides take the fall for him in Bridgegate. That may be true, but come on — Trump’s not going to upend his presidential transition over it. Even if that really did anger him to the point where he wanted to fire Christie, the sane thing to do would have been to let Christie complete his transition work so that the new administration is staffed up and ready to go in January, then purge him. There’s no obvious reason to get rid of Christie and to “bulldoze” the work his team spent the last few months doing unless the work itself was substandard, and there’s no hint of that in any of the coverage this morning. Frankly, the Post story sounds like a pretext cooked up after the fact by Trump’s team for why Christie was fired. “He wasn’t as loyal to his staff as Trump would have liked” is a perfectly self-serving way for Trump to spin the decision to his advantage.
Which brings us to theory two, the more popular one: Christie and his team were canned because Jared Kushner, Ivanka’s husband and one of Trump’s closest advisors, has a vendetta against him. Christie sent Kushner’s father to prison for tax evasion and illegal campaign contributions back when Christie was a federal prosecutor; Kushner’s always disliked him as a result and now he’s taking his revenge in the biggest possible way. There’s something to that, but again — why not let Christie finish his work first? Put aside the grudge for Trump’s sake, to ensure that his transition is as smooth as possible, and then boot Christie later. And don’t throw out what the transition team has already accomplished purely out of spite. More to the point: If Kushner is so influential that he could get Trump to agree to flip over the table on his own transition simply to punish Christie, how is it that he failed to block Christie from becoming head of the transition team in the first place? It’s a weird vendetta where your enemy gets a big job over your objections, he begins to do that job in a way that will benefit the entire team, and then you ruin him halfway through despite the team’s investment in his success. If Christie and his staffing recommendations weren’t to be trusted, how could he ever have been trusted with the transition position to begin with?
Vindictiveness trumping prudence in a Trump White House has always been a core fear of Trump skeptics and these two theories will do nothing to convince them they were wrong. In fact, here’s an interesting tweet from Eliot Cohen, a professor of international studies at Johns Hopkins who’s been critical of Trump this year but who encouraged natsec bureaucrats last week to serve President Trump in the interest of helping the country. He’s since amended that view:
After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They're angry, arrogant, screaming "you LOST!" Will be ugly.
— Eliot A Cohen (@EliotACohen) November 15, 2016
Exit question: How do you think Chris Christie feels right now, a sitting governor who staked his political future on Trump’s success, finding out that his career may be over because Jared Kushner is suddenly making major personnel decisions for the U.S. government? Is Christie at least going to get a cabinet position as a consolation prize after losing out on VP and being humiliated on the transition team?
Update: Here’s a more substantive reason to object to Mike Rogers:
While others are reporting that Rogers was pushed out because of his alliance with ousted transition chief Chris Christie, sources tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the Trump transition team grew skittish about Rogers over concerns about the former congressman’s Intelligence committee report on the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The transition team’s executive committee discussed the 2014 Rogers report, which most of his fellow Republicans on the Intelligence committee did not endorse, on its first conference call on Saturday…
What prompted questions about Rogers and his fitness for the new administration? Many of the CIA officers who survived the Benghazi attack have loudly opposed the Rogers report since it was released, particularly objecting to the report’s claim that no CIA officer on the ground in Benghazi was told to “stand down” from a rescue attempt. Just last week one of those officers, Kris Paronto, tweeted some harsh criticism of Rogers…
If all of that was disqualifying, why was Rogers on the team in the first place?