This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Head of the Harbor, N.Y. • President-elect Donald Trump, still mulling key Cabinet positions, attended a lavish costume party Saturday night hosted by some of his biggest donors at their palatial Long Island mansion.
Trump, who did not sport a costume, reveled with guests at the Mercer family estate for the annual Christmas party; the theme was "Villains and Heroes." An invitation to the annual December party is a coveted ticket in Republican circles, never more so than this year. Several strategists who helped engineer Trump's upset win were attending, including incoming White House senior counselor Stephen Bannon and senior aide Kellyanne Conway.
Both Conway and Bannon have close ties to Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge fund manager Robert Mercer. The younger Mercer became Trump's leading and most influential donor and urged him to bring Bannon and Conway into the campaign in August.
Rebekah Mercer, who ran a pro-Trump Super PAC, had compared the electoral race between Trump and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton to an "apocalyptic choice," so the night's "Villains and Heroes" theme was perhaps fitting.
Trump's sojourn to the party was his only expedition on Saturday outside the Manhattan skyscraper that bears his name. He is expected to lie low the remainder of the weekend, before returning to transition meetings in New York on Monday and the next stop of his "thank you" tour in North Carolina on Tuesday.
Trump is also still mulling his choice to lead the State Department, one of the most powerful and prominent Cabinet positions.
According to two people close to the transition, Trump is moving away from two of the front-runners for the job, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee. Giuliani's international business ties and public campaigning for the job are said to have rankled Trump. And while Trump has met twice with Romney, he's said to be aware of the risks of angering his supporters by tapping a Republican who was among his fiercest critics.
Former CIA director David Petraeus is still in the mix, though both people close to the transition said Trump's prolonged decision-making process has left the door open to other options.
One of the sources said Trump was open to expanding his short list of secretary of State prospects. Among the possibilities: Jon Huntsman, a former Republican Utah governor who also served as the ambassador to China and speaks Mandarin.
The people close to the transition insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private process publicly.
Trump also made no mention Saturday of his decision to speak on the phone with Taiwan's leader, a breach of long-standing tradition that risks enmity from China.
Trump's conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen drew an irritated, although understated, response from China, as Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Saturday that the contact was "just a small trick by Taiwan" that he believed would not change U.S. policy toward China, according to Hong Kong's Phoenix TV.
Chinese officials said they lodged a complaint with the U.S. and reiterated a commitment to seeking "reunification" with the island, which they consider a renegade province.
After the phone conversation Friday, Trump tweeted that Tsai "CALLED ME." He also groused about the reaction to the call: "Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call."
Pace reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report.
Editor's note: The owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune is Paul Huntsman, who is the brother of Jon Huntsman Jr.
Iowa governor may be next envoy to China
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a longtime friend of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is the front-runner for the crucial post of U.S. ambassador to China.
A decision may follow meetings between Branstad and members of President-elect Donald Trump's transition team in New York in the coming week, said three people with knowledge of the matter.
The longest-serving governor in U.S. history, Branstad will be in New York next week for previously scheduled work related to Iowa's economic development, his spokesman said. Meetings with Trump transition officials are likely to be added to his schedule, according to advisers to both Trump and Branstad.