BEDMINSTER, N.J. — President-elect Donald Trump spent Saturday interviewing prospective Cabinet appointees — including Mitt Romney, who called Trump a “con man” during the primary — at his 36-hole golf course in New Jersey.
Beneath the columned portico of the course’s 1930s Georgian Revival-style mansion, Trump, sometimes with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, emerged again and again to greet the interviewees before walking out together an hour or so later to say the person was “great” or the meeting “went great” or some variation.
When a prospect arrived early or before the president-elect was ready, the person would wait inside, only to walk out the back and re-enter to be formally greeted by Trump for the cameras.
In brief remarks after his interview, Romney, who is reportedly being considered for secretary of state, did not say whether he would accept a post from his fellow Republican — or whether one had been offered.
“We had a far-reaching conversation with regards to the various theaters in the world where there are interests of the United States of real significance,” he said, adding: “I look forward to the coming administration, and the things that it’s going to be doing.”
Romney, walking to a waiting vehicle, did not answer shouted questions about whether he stood by comments he made in March during primary season calling Trump a “con man” and a “fraud.”
In turn, Trump called the former Massachusetts governor — the Republican presidential nominee defeated by Democrat Barack Obama in 2012 — a “choke artist” and “stone-cold loser.”
Starting with Romney just before 1 p.m., and ending at dinner, Trump and Pence met with nine potential appointees, including Michelle Rhee, who once headed the District of Columbia’s public schools; businesswoman Betsy DeVos; Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts; right-leaning housing and poverty advocate Bob Woodson; fast-food executive Andy Puzder; Lew Eisenberg, a former Goldman Sachs executive and chairman of the Port Authority; and surgeon and businessman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.
Spokesman Sean Spicer would not say what position this weekend’s interviewees were being considered for.
Trump called retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, reportedly being considered for defense secretary, “the real deal” as the two shook hands outside the mansion.
Well-liked by military personnel, Mattis was criticized after being quoted in 2005 saying it’s “fun to shoot some people.” He later said he was talking about “guys who slap women around” in Afghanistan for not wearing a veil.
Mattis retired in 2013 amid differences with the Obama administration over Iran and troop withdrawals. It’s unclear how Mattis could take the job, given the law requiring seven years to pass between military service and appointment.
Also under consideration, according to news accounts: retired Gen. David Petraeus, who left government service in a scandal because he leaked classified information to his mistress-biographer.
Late last week, Trump made his first appointments, including retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. The picks drew ire from the left because of Flynn’s comments about Muslims, Sessions’ on blacks and Pompeo’s on Edward Snowden.
Trump is due to meet on Sunday with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, both supporters during the race.
Asked by Newsday whether Bridgegate — the 2013 closure of the George Washington Bridge as political retribution under Christie’s watch — disqualifies him from a cabinet post, Trump said: “I like Chris a lot.”