Thursday 14 December 2017

Blair denies Trump role after he's seen at New York lunch

New York Police officers stand guard at the entrance of Trump Tower, in New York. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
New York Police officers stand guard at the entrance of Trump Tower, in New York. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Robert Mendick and Harriet Alexander in New York

Former British prime minister Tony Blair last night dismissed as "beyond speculation" claims that he is being lined up as an adviser to Donald Trump after he was spotted having lunch with the president elect's influential son-in-law in New York.

Mr Blair was spotted deep in conversation with Jared Kushner, who is married to Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka, at Cipriani's hotel restaurant.

Mr Blair and Mr Kushner, who is now viewed as the 'kingmaker' of the incoming White House team, have known each other for "several years".

The meeting has led to suggestions - vigorously denied by Mr Blair - that the former prime minister could be offered some form of advisory role in a Trump administration.

He remains keen to broker a peace deal in the Middle East and retains a staffed office in Tel Aviv.

Mr Blair's spokesman said yesterday: "Tony Blair has known Jared Kushner for several years. Mr Blair was walking past their lunch table. He knew a number of people at the table and he was invited to join them.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair

"He has not discussed any role. This is completely overblown."

It is not clear how Mr Blair first got to know Mr Kushner, but it is possible that they were introduced through Rupert Murdoch and his then-wife Wendi Deng. Ms Deng is a close friend of Ivanka Trump and helped rekindle her relationship with Mr Kushner by inviting both for a yachting holiday.

Yesterday Mr Trump remained ensconced inside Trump Tower, working on his cabinet team.

Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, was a firm critic of Mr Trump but is believed to be being considered for secretary of state, despite having little foreign policy experience.

She was invited to Trump Tower alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was last night due to become the first world leader to meet the president elect.

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A day before the meeting, basic logistics such as the time and the place, and who would be in the room were still up in the air, causing significant anxiety for Japanese officials who are already nervous about the future strength of an alliance that is core to Tokyo's diplomacy and security.

Trump campaign spokesman Kellyanne Conway said yesterday morning that Mr Abe would meet Mr Trump and vice president-elect Mike Pence.

Yesterday director of national intelligence James Clapper officially announced his resignation - a long-anticipated move, regardless of the election outcome.

Mr Clapper (75) was asked by Adam Schiff, a Democrat politician, about rumours that the spy chief - who took on the role in 2010 - might stay on into the Trump administration.

But Mr Clapper said he "felt pretty good" about handing in his resignation and that he only had 64 more days in office - a thought that pleased his wife.

He was said to have been counting the days until his retirement, and "fist-bumping" President Barack Obama as the tally of days left went down.

No cabinet positions for the incoming administration have been announced so far.

However, Mr Kushner is believed to be orchestrating the 'knife fight' for power inside Trump Tower, ousting those loyal to Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor who prosecuted Mr Kushner's father for tax evasion, and ushering in people he believes to be more suitable.

Also present at the New York lunch with Mr Blair and Mr Kushner was Sam Zell, a billionaire investment manager whose wife Helen runs a philanthropic organisation.

Since the election, Mr Blair, who is a close friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton and backed her candidacy, has spoken of the dramatic changes on the global stage.

"I won't pretend to you I wasn't surprised by what has happened over this past period, because I am, and what it means is not entirely clear to me yet," he said. "But there is a new reality you've got to make sure you come to terms with."

In Washington, Mr Pence huddled with House Republicans on Capitol Hill and also planned to meet with Democratic leaders.

Lawmakers said part of the vice president's elect's mission was to tell fellow Republicans that the transition effort was proceeding smoothly, despite reports of chaos and infighting.

"He just wanted to reassure that the team is working hard and they're working toward an agenda to do what's right for the American people," said Republican Jim Renacci.

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