By Peter Nicholas, Carol E. Lee and Michael C. Bender

Donald Trump is expected to name Robert Lighthizer, a former trade official under President Ronald Reagan, to head the U.S. Trade Representative office, the first in a final push of appointments anticipated this week as Mr. Trump fills the remaining senior government vacancies in the run-up to his inauguration, transition advisers said.

The president-elect is also still considering ways to try to bring into his administration two family members, daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who were close advisers to his campaign.

With a nominee for trade czar position, Mr. Trump has four major positions to fill: the secretaries of Agriculture and Veterans Affairs, the Director of National Intelligence and the head of the Council of Economic Advisers.

A top candidate for agriculture secretary is Sonny Perdue, a former Republican governor of Georgia, two people close to the transition said. Toby Cosgrove, chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic, had been in the running for the VA job, but has withdrawn his name.

The appointments would mark the final steps in a transition process that took on a fast clip after a reorganization by Vice President-elect Mike Pence shortly after the November election.

Since then, Mr. Trump has assembled an eclectic group of prospective cabinet members and chief aides, some of whom disagree with each other on such issues as Russia and global warming, setting the stage for a potentially fragmented policy approach.

Mr. Lighthizer will be part of a revamped team whose mission includes confronting China and Mexico, which Mr. Trump contends have taken advantage of the U.S. under current trade agreements. Mr. Lighthizer had been the leading candidate for his post for some time.

He was among the people who helped run the transition for the trade representative office, which typically leads negotiations on international agreements that lower trade barriers, as well as bringing cases against other countries at the World Trade Organization.

Mr. Trump has signaled a major shift in policy, threatening China and Mexico with tariffs if they don't right alleged trade wrongs. That could carve out a new role for the trade office, compared with under previous presidents.

Mr. Lighthizer has three decades of experience arguing for punitive tariffs on overseas companies. Given Mr. Trump's deep skepticism of trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta, Mr. Lighthizer probably wouldn't prioritize major new trade agreements, at least in the early days of the administration, according to people following Mr. Trump's trade plans.

Still, Mr. Lighthizer has negotiating experience from his time in the Reagan administration, and if confirmed, he would take the lead in talks that could culminate in the bilateral deals that Mr. Trump's team prefers -- a departure, for instance, from President Barack Obama's focus on a 12-nation Pacific deal.

Mr. Trump's advisers have said his pick for Commerce secretary -- billionaire investor Wilbur Ross -- also could play a leading role on trade policy, as well as economist Peter Navarro, who will lead a new trade council at the Trump White House.

All three -- as well as former Nucor Corp. CEO and Trump adviser Dan DiMicco -- have experience defending American industry from overseas rivals. Messrs. DiMicco and Navarro have been especially critical of China, a position that closely overlaps with Mr. Trump's campaign rhetoric.

Some business groups and GOP lawmakers who back free trade could bristle at a lineup of officials who support tariffs that could sap the profits of multinational companies and raise prices for consumers, retailers and industries that use imported parts.

Still, many lawmakers noted the deep skepticism voters showed for traditional trade policy in last year's election, and many may give Mr. Trump room to shift U.S. policy. Most Democratic lawmakers already opposed Mr. Obama's Pacific deal and other agreements.

One Trump transition adviser said the "expectation" among aides is that Mr. Trump's daughter and son-in-law will join the White House team, though lawyers for Mr. Trump have been working through the legalities to ensure their hiring wouldn't violate nepotism laws.

Ethics experts say that hiring the two poses risks under federal nepotism laws. A 1967 statute forbids public officials from hiring family members in agencies over which they have control.Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyers in the Barack Obama and George W. Bush White Houses, respectively, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times recently that said one viable path for Mr. Trump is to amend the law so that he can appoint a certain number of relatives to White House posts.

A worse alternative is for Mr. Trump to sidestep the law by not formally appointing his daughter or Mr. Kushner to official positions and instead giving them informal, albeit powerful roles, Mr. Eisen said in an interview.

"I would like to see Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump in the White House because of the relatively moderate strain they represent. But that's not the right way for the chief law enforcement officer of the United States to apply the laws," he said.

As previous presidents have done, Mr. Trump has been turning to trusted associates and confidants from his past life to fill certain jobs.

He has namedTrump Organization chief legal officer Jason Greenblatt the special representative for international negotiations, a sweeping role that will encompass both foreign policy and international trade matters.

In his book, "Trump: How to Get Rich," he includes a friendly anecdote about Mr. Greenblatt, describing how he once asked for a raise even though Mr. Trump was clearly in a foul mood. He didn't get a pay hike on that day, according to the book.

His choice for U.S. ambassador to Israel is David Friedman, an attorney who has represented Mr. Trump in various business dealings. Keith Schiller, who has long been part of Mr. Trump's private security detail and who is seldom far from Mr. Trump's side in public, is likely to enter the White House as a personal aide, a transition adviser said.

One advantage in plucking longtime friends for senior roles is that they may have no other agenda except to help the president succeed. They mayalso feel freer to speak candidly.

"There's a comfort level, but the comfort is preceded by competence," said Kellyanne Conway, a Trump transition spokeswoman. "One knows that their only agenda is to help support, defend and execute the president's agenda."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt so valued adviser Harry Hopkins that he let him live in the White House. Explaining his reliance on Mr. Hopkins, Mr. Roosevelt once described "what a lonely job this is" and how he needed "somebody like Harry Hopkins who asks for nothing except to serve you."

Mr. Greenblatt, in an interview on Monday, said that "as an employee of his [Mr. Trump] for two decades, I do believe that I know how his mind works and how best to achieve his goals. Given my extensive experience working with him, I am thoroughly comfortable freely speaking my mind."

Jealousies can also arise when presidents turn to trusted associates from their past lives. So cancriticisms that the president is picking friends as opposed to candidates with better credentials.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential biographer, said: "That desire for access to the president -- and the rivalries and jealousies that inevitably develop -- has to be handled by the leader in order to get them working together in a positive way and not against one another."

Ms. Goodwin said that if Mr. Trump brings his daughter into the White House she could play a role comparable to that of Mr. Hopkins.

--Ben Kesling and William Mauldin contributed to this article.

Write to Peter Nicholas at, Carol E. Lee at and Michael C. Bender at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 02, 2017 19:47 ET (00:47 GMT)

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