President-elect Donald Trump took a break from recruiting a national security team Thursday to seek advice from one of the more illustrious — if controversial — officials from the past: Henry Kissinger.
The 93-year-old served as secretary of state and national security adviser under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, was the architect of the US outreach to China and helped negotiate the Paris Peace Accords that ended the Vietnam War.
He is still a respected policy expert and consultant, but his reputation has been clouded by criticism of his role in a CIA-backed coup in Chile and America’s illegal Vietnam-era bombing of Cambodia.
Trump, who has no foreign policy experience — or indeed time in political office — of his own, had already met with Kissinger during his campaign and was delighted to welcome him to Trump Tower.
There, the Republican’s close-knit team are debating who to invite to join his administration and observers and foreign capitals are watching closely to see if his staff and cabinet picks offer any clue as to the direction of his policy.
“I have tremendous respect for Dr. Kissinger and appreciate him sharing his thoughts with me,” Trump said after the pair met in his luxury New York skyscraper, adding that they had discussed China, Russian, Iran, Europe and broader world affairs.
While Kissinger has been happy to share his wisdom with Trump, he is known to have been closer to his defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, and has admitted that he expected her to win the White House race.
In an interview published this month with Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor of The Atlantic magazine, Kissinger said that of the 2016 candidates only Clinton shared America’s “traditional, outward-looking, internationalist model.”
The uncertainty over the attitude of a candidate like Trump, he said, means that “for the first time since the end of the Second World War, the future relationship of America to the world is not fully settled.”
Trump was to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later in the day and then to pick his secretary of state, national security adviser and defense secretary in the days to come.
The cabinet line-up
Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said she expected initial announcements of Cabinet choices to come “either before or after Thanksgiving” and told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, “It’s Donald Trump and Donald Trump alone who makes the ultimate decisions.”
Trump planned to meet Thursday in New York with Abe, his first get-together with a world leader as president-elect. He also met with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is said to be among Trump’s potential picks to lead the State Department.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling also were on Trump’s schedule.
As he left Trump Tower, Hensarling said he and the president-elect had discussed tax and trade policies — and he left open the possibility of joining the administration.
“I stand ready to help the president in any capacity possible,” he said. “I’ve got a great position in public policy today. If he wants to talk to me obviously about serving somewhere else, we’ll look at serving somewhere else.”
Trump appeared to be weighing an eclectic mix of individuals for top Cabinet posts, including longtime loyalists, former rivals and even a Democrat. Transition officials said Trump met Wednesday with Eva Moskowitz, a former New York councilwoman and charter school founder who was said to be under considered for education secretary — until she took herself out of the running Thursday.
“At this time I will not be entertaining any prospective opportunities,” she said.
Other meetings included Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., a potential pick for Health and Human Services, Ray Washburne, a Dallas businessman and top GOP fundraiser in the mix for Commerce secretary, and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a regular presence at Trump Tower, has been angling for secretary of state, though his consulting work for foreign governments has emerged as a potential roadblock. Trump is also said to be seriously considering John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, for the top diplomatic job.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who tangled ferociously with Trump during the Republican primary but ultimately endorsed the businessman, could get a top job such as attorney general. An official said, however, he is not viewed as a top contender. The official, like others, wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the transition talks and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump aides said Thursday that Trump had spoken with the leaders of Azerbaijan, The Netherlands and Poland, part of 32 world leaders who have spoken with Trump or Pence in recent days.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney was set to meet Trump this weekend, according to a source involved with the incoming Republican president’s transition, who described it as a “healing meeting.” The source requested anonymity because the event has not been officially announced.
Romney was the 2012 presidential nominee and was an outspoken critic of Trump throughout the election. He slammed the New York businessman as a “phony” and a “fraud.”
Trump repeatedly referred to Romney as a “loser.”
But the two began mending fences after Trump’s victory.
“Mitt Romney called to congratulate me on the win,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Very nice!”