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Amid strains, Trump tweets only he knows who his cabinet 'finalists' are

As U.S. president-elect Donald Trump denies reports his transition team is in disarray, Democrats are calling on him to rescind the appointment of Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon as a top White House aide.

President-elect denies reports of transition disarray as Democrats blast appointment of Stephen Bannon

In the past week, president-elect Donald Trump has twice given the slip to the presidential press pool, raising concerns about journalists' future access to the White House. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

As U.S. president-elect Donald Trump denies reports his transition team is in disarray, Democrats are calling on him to rescind the appointment of Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon as a top White House aide. 

Trump hadn't been seen in public for days when he walked into New York City's 21 Club to applause from fellow diners Tuesday.

The unannounced evening out with family was a contrast to the behind-the-scenes machinations that suggested a struggling transition as names surfaced and sank for top administration positions.

Not to worry, Trump suggested in a Tuesday night tweet: "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!"

Trump spokesman Jason Miller echoed those remarks later in the day, saying the president-elect is "not going to rush" his cabinet picks. 

Miller told reporters at Trump Tower in New York City that outgoing President Barack Obama did not have "his entire cabinet formed within the first week" after his election in 2008.

Rampant speculation

Strains were showing within the process. Trump's allies engaged in an unusual round of public speculation about his potential appointments.

Former Michigan representative Mike Rogers, a respected Republican voice on national security issues, quit the transition effort. And an apparent clerical oversight effectively halted the Trump team's ability to co-ordinate with Obama's White House.

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani seemed to be angling for secretary of state. But Trump's transition team was reviewing Giuliani's paid consulting work for foreign governments, which could delay a nomination or bump him to a different position, according to a person briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, seems to be angling for secretary of state, but could face hurdles for his past paid consulting work for foreign governments. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

Giuliani founded Giuliani Partners in 2001 and helped businesses on behalf of foreign governments, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. He also advised TransCanada, which sought to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and helped the maker of the painkiller drug OxyContin settle a dispute with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

A Trump official said John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, remained in contention for secretary of state. Bolton has years of foreign policy experience but has raised eyebrows with some of his hawkish stances, including a 2015 New York Times op-ed in which he advocated bombing Iran to halt the country's nuclear program.

Businessman Carl Icahn disclosed on Twitter, based on conversations with the president-elect, that Trump was considering Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker, and Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, to lead the Treasury and Commerce departments.

'You are already breaking your campaign promises to 'drain the swamp.'"- Senator Elizabeth Warren

These and other rumoured appointments prompted an open letter from Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — a vocal Trump opponent during the campaign — who accused the president-elect of going back on his promises to protect the working class. 

"Within days of your election, you have elevated a slew of Wall Street bankers, industry insiders and special interest lobbyists to your transition team," Warren wrote in the eight-page letter, which includes footnotes citing Trump's speeches. 

"You are already breaking your campaign promises to 'drain the swamp.'"

'Fighting for power'

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had spent months running transition operations before his demotion last week. The switch to Pence, however, slowed Trump's ability to co-ordinate with the White House. Not until Tuesday evening had Pence signed a memorandum of understanding facilitating interactions between his team and Obama administration officials. Christie had signed the document, but Pence's promotion made it invalid.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spent months running transition operations before his demotion last week. (Brian C. Frank/Reuters)

White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said the administration was waiting on more documents required by law before agencies could begin sharing information with the transition team.

A person familiar with the transition efforts said different factions in Trump's team "are fighting for power."

Democrats push back on Bannon 

Indeed, Trump effectively created two power centres in his White House even before taking office. He named Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus as his chief of staff and flame-throwing media mogul Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, but called them "equal partners."

House Democrats have sent a letter to Trump asking him to rescind Bannon's appointment.

Democrats are pushing back against the appointment of Stephen Bannon as a top White House aide. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The letter, which has signatures from 169 out of the 188 Democrats in the House, says the appointment of Bannon undermines Trump's ability to unite the country. It points out stories from the Breitbart News website that are derogatory toward Jews and Muslims, among other groups.

"Millions of Americans have expressed fear and concern about how they will be treated by the Trump Administration, and your appointment of Mr. Bannon only exacerbates and validates their concerns," the letter reads.

Democratic Representative David N. Cicilline of Rhode Island organized the effort. "Bigotry, anti-Semitism and xenophobia should have no place in our society," he said.

Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is also deeply involved in the transition, creating another layer of uncertainty about who is making decisions.

"That organization right now is not designed to work," according to the person close to the efforts, who like others involved in the transition, insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal process.

With files from CBC News

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