PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump on Monday tapped another billionaire businessman for an administration job, naming Army veteran and fellow New Yorker Vincent Viola to be his secretary of the Army.
Trump planned an afternoon of meetings with other businessmen and former U.S. government officials as he works to complete his team.
A West Point graduate, Viola adds to the list of former military men Trump has chosen for his Cabinet. His picks for defense secretary, homeland security secretary, national security adviser and deputy national security adviser are all retired military.
In a written statement, Trump praised Viola, the son of Italian immigrants, as “living proof of the American dream” and someone who has a lengthy history of engagement with national security issues. The Army secretary is the civilian head of the Army.
Viola grew up in Brooklyn, the first member of his family to attend college. He was trained as an Airborne Ranger infantry officer and served in the 101st Airborne Division. He is a lawyer who started multiple businesses and bought the Florida Panthers hockey team for about $250 million in 2013.
Trump made the announcement as electors in all 50 states were meeting to formally elect him president, paving his way to take office on Jan. 20.
Trump announced his choice for Army secretary from Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach, Florida, estate where he was spending the holidays with his family and continuing work on the transition.
He planned to meet Monday with Robert Lighthizer, a former deputy U.S. trade representative in the Reagan administration, and Thad Allen, the retired Coast Guard commandant who oversaw the federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Trump has yet to name his choice for U.S. Trade Representative.
Trump also scheduled a meeting with R. Donahue Peebles, board chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Peebles is also founder, chairman and
CEO of Peebles Corp., a real estate development and investment company.
J. Christopher Reyes, co-chairman of Reyes Holdings, a Chicago-based beer and food distributor, was also on Trump’s meeting schedule for Monday, said Trump spokesman Jason Miller.
Meanwhile, Vice President-elect Mike Pence was holding transitions meetings in New York, including a foreign policy discussion with Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of State under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
On Sunday, some of Trump’s closest advisers pushed back against Democrats’ complaints that Russia had hacked into their private emails this election season in a bid to sow discord among their supporters and sway the election toward Republicans.
“Let’s assume it’s true,” Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, said of Russian interference in the election. “There’s no evidence that shows that the outcome of the election was changed because of a couple dozen John Podesta emails that were out there.”
The number of leaked emails by Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, was actually closer to tens of thousands. And it’d be difficult to prove exactly what influenced voters.
Democrats said the hack was a personal attack and a threat to democracy.
“The emails were weaponized,” said Donna Brazile, interim chair of the Democratic National Committee. The committee’s emails were also hacked and then publicly exposed. “The release of stolen, hacked emails caused a lot of confusion and of course it disrupted our daily campaign life.”
Foreign policy experts say part of Russia’s calculation was likely a desire for payback for years of U.S. criticism of its own elections and to paint America as a flawed champion of democracy — potentially weakening it on the world stage.
Trump has previously deemed “ridiculous” the intelligence community’s finding of Russian involvement.
AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace and Associated Press writer Anne Flaherty in Washington contributed to this report.
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