Donald Trump’s presidential transition has virtually stopped while the president-elect’s team haggles with the White House over the paperwork required to officially begin the transfer of power.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had already negotiated and signed this paperwork while leading Trump’s transition, but after his abrupt replacement Friday, the Trump team has refused to sign the paperwork again. As reported by the New York Times, the President-elect’s advisors are attempting to alter and update the agreement that Christie signed.
The paperwork, known as a memorandum of understanding (MOU), guarantees that the incoming and outgoing administrations will not divulge information about each other. The original agreement with Christie, according to an administration official, was “very similar” to the agreement the Obama administration signed with George W. Bush. The sudden desire to renegotiate it surprised many in the federal government.
Normally, policy teams visit every department for updates on pertinent legislation and projects in order to make the handover more sure-handed. One such meeting on Monday at the Department of Homeland Security had to be cancelled as a result of the MOU impasse. Based on interviews with and statements from a dozen government departments, the federal bureaucracy has had little to no interaction with the incoming administration, and their reams of prepared briefing books remain untouched.
“It’s the most complicated, important organization on the planet, and there’s a lot to be done,” says transition expert Max Stier, the president of the Partnership for Public Service. “The debt limit, writing a budget, and the continuing resolution are issues right around the corner. Especially from a national security standpoint, it’s a point of vulnerability for our country, so getting this right is extremely important.”
Every day counts during a presidential transition, and it has now been five days since Vice President–elect Mike Pence took over from Christie. As of 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Pence still had not signed the agreement despite reports earlier in the day that he intended to. [Update to story below.] The Trump team and the White House declined to comment on what caused the hold-up, but an examination of the 2008 agreement signed by Obama’s transition team provides at least one clue.
Trump has the largest business empire of any man ever elected president, and much of it currently is in the hands of his children Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric. Trump also depended on his kids during the campaign, and that trio, along with son-in-law Jared Kushner, have all been named to the 16-person transition executive committee.
The potential problem? According to the terms of the 2008 MOU, transition team members are required to sign a statement that “he or she has no financial interest or imputed financial interest that would be directly and predictably affected by a particular matter to which the information is pertinent.” And the federal government has a lot of information that could be “pertinent” to Trump’s business empire.
While Trump and his lawyers try to figure it out, the clock is ticking toward January 20.
UPDATE: “We received the MOU signed by Vice President-elect Pence this evening,” White House spokesperson Brandi Hoffine said in a statement released Tuesday night. “The next step is for the President-elect’s transition team to provide us with the names of the individuals they have authorized to represent their transition effort across the government. Once we have received those names and related materials, those individuals will be able to receive the briefing materials we have prepared and begin to communicate with their Obama Administration agency counterparts as we continue our work to facilitate the transition to the next Administration.”