NEW YORK (AP) — His inauguration less than three weeks away, President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday raised new doubts about the nation’s intelligence community, tweeting fresh criticism at the same officials who will help inform his most sensitive decisions once he takes office.
Trump charged on Twitter without evidence that the timing of an upcoming intelligence briefing on Russian interference in the 2016 election had been delayed. “Perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!” he wrote, using quote marks around the word “intelligence.”
Trump’s jab, in line with repeated criticism of his nation’s intelligence leaders, sparked confusion among intelligence officials, who said there was no delay in the briefing schedule.
The fresh clash came as Trump took further steps to fill his Cabinet and key White House positions, with his attention shifting toward the challenges of governing.
Earlier Tuesday, he tapped as U.S. trade representative a former Reagan official who has condemned Republicans’ commitment to free trade. Trump indicated that Robert Lighthizer, who is expected to take a hard line against China, would represent “the United States as we fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first.”
The new administration’s specific plans for crafting new trade deals, spokesman Sean Spicer said, “will come in time.”
There were also questions about Trump’s plans for repealing President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, a move that could strip health insurance from millions of Americans. The issue was expected to be the focus as Vice President-elect Mike Pence and secretary of state pick Rex Tillerson meet with top Republicans on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Pence issued a direct challenge to Washington Republicans Tuesday: “The president-elect has a very clear message to Capitol Hill. And that is, it’s time to get to work.”
Trump signaled he would not bless all of the GOP’s priorities on Capitol Hill, openly questioning the timing of the House Republican push to gut an independent ethics board just as the new Congress gathered.
“Do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority”? Trump tweeted. The House GOP later dropped the push.
The president-elect has spent much of the last two months huddled privately with advisers and communicating with the public through Twitter, as he did Tuesday. He promised late in the day, however, to hold his first formal news conference as the since winning the election next week in New York.
The Republican businessman has already waited longer than any other president-elect in the modern era to hold his first news conference. Most have held such events within days of their elections.
It was unclear if the news conference would be the venue for his delayed announcement on how he plans to avoid potential conflicts of interest involving his businesses after taking office. Transition officials said multiple topics could be covered, but would not specifically say whether they included Trump’s businesses. Trump was supposed to detail the arrangements at a December news conference, but postponed the announcement.
His Cabinet nearly full, Trump also picked a handful of new White House aides on Tuesday as he worked to fill several hundred high-level administration posts.
Omarosa Manigault, a contestant from the first season of “The Apprentice,” is expected to focus on public engagement in the White House.
Trump also took steps to fill out a more traditional congressional outreach team, hiring Rick Dearborn as a deputy chief of staff and Marc Short as the White House legislative director. Both previously served in chief of staff positions on Capitol Hill. The new hires were confirmed by two people familiar with the decision, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the hiring process publicly.
Trump spent time Tuesday interviewing prospects for the Department of Veterans Affairs as well, including Leo MacKay, a senior executive at a military contractor who previously served in the VA under President George W. Bush.
“The president-elect is up on the issues,” said MacKay, a senior vice president at Lockheed Martin Corp., as he left Trump Tower.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Julie Bykowicz and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.