NEW YORK — The drama, disputes and falsehoods that permeated Donald Trump's presidential campaign are now roiling his transition to the White House, forcing aides to defend his baseless assertions of illegal voting and sending internal fights spilling into public.
On Monday, a recount effort, led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein and joined by Hillary Clinton's campaign also marched on in three states, based partly on the Stein campaign's unsubstantiated assertion that cyberhacking could have interfered with electronic voting machines. Wisconsin officials approved plans to begin a recount as early as Thursday. Stein also asked for a recount in Pennsylvania and was expected to do the same in Michigan, where officials certified Trump's victory Monday.
But amid the rancor, Trump chose Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., an orthopedic surgeon who has been one of Capitol Hill's fiercest critics of President Obama's health care law, to be secretary of health and human services late Monday, a person briefed on the decision confirmed. The public announcement of Trump's selection of Price, a six-term congressman who chairs the House Budget Committee and is regarded as a policy wonk, is expected to be made as early as today.
As HHS secretary, Price would become the Trump administration's point person on dismantling and replacing the Affordable Care Act, one of Trump's major campaign promises.
As for the election results, Trump has angrily denounced the recounts and now claims without evidence that he, not Clinton, would have won the popular vote if it hadn't been for "millions of people who voted illegally." On Twitter, he singled out Virginia, California and New Hampshire.
There has been no indication of widespread election tampering or voter fraud in those states or any others, and Trump aides struggled Monday to back up their boss' claim.
Spokesman Jason Miller said illegal voting was "an issue of concern." But the only evidence he raised was a 2014 report and a study on voting irregularities conducted before the 2016 election.
Trump also met Monday with other candidates for top Cabinet posts, including retired Gen. David Petraeus, a new contender for secretary of state. Trump is to meet today with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who is also being considered more seriously for the diplomatic post, and Mitt Romney, who has become a symbol of the internal divisions agitating the transition team.
Petraeus said he spent about an hour with Trump, and he praised the president-elect for showing a "great grasp of a variety of the challenges that are out there."
A former CIA chief, Petraeus pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information relating to documents he had provided to his biographer, with whom he was having an affair. Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, whose complaint to the FBI about harassing emails, first brought the story to light.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is heading the transition effort, is said to be among those backing Romney for secretary of state. Romney was fiercely critical of Trump throughout the campaign but is interested in the Cabinet position, and they discussed it during a lengthy meeting earlier this month.
Other top Trump allies, notably campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, have launched a highly unusual public campaign to warn the president-elect that nominating Romney would be seen as a betrayal by his supporters. Conway's comments stirred speculation that she is seeking to either force Trump's hand or give him cover for ultimately passing over Romney.
The wrangling over the State Department post appears to have slowed the announcements of other top jobs. Retired Gen. James Mattis, who impressed Trump during a pre-Thanksgiving meeting, was at the top of the list for defense secretary, but a final decision hadn't been made.
Trump was also considering former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for Homeland Security secretary, according to those close to the transition process.Those close to the transition who spoke with the Associated Press insisted on anonymity in commenting because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the private process.