Lifting the Veil on Another Batch of Shadowy Trump Appointees
By Derek Kravitz, Isaac Arnsdorf and Marina Affo / ProPublica
President Donald Trump has left hundreds of government jobs unfilled that require a vote by the Senate. Yet his administration has installed more than 1,000 people through political appointments at every major federal agency, handing over control of the government’s day-to-day operations to industry insiders and loyalists to an unprecedented degree.
Among the latest Trump administration appointees is a lobbyist who until March worked for a leading hepatitis C drugmaker that priced its treatment at $1,000 a pill and is now leading a White House working group setting drug pricing policies. The list includes the new head of the government’s offshore oil drilling safety and enforcement agency, who previously sat on the board of Sunoco Logistics and who told an industry conference earlier this month that deepwater drilling should ramp up. Then there’s the Hollywood actor who has called global warming and climate change a “leftist political tool” and “not sound science” on Twitter and who is now the communications director at the Department of Health and Human Services. Finally, this group also includes the 80-year-old retired chief legal officer of Morgan Stanley, who once told government lawyers he was “going to kick your ass” and is now a deputy attorney general in the Justice Department’s antitrust division, overseeing litigation while his boss awaits Senate confirmation. (At the time, Kempf denied using the expletive in exactly those terms.)
These political appointees, some of them members of what have been dubbed “beachhead teams” during the presidential transition, and others who are now permanent employees, don’t need Senate confirmation. Many of them have operated in the shadows and the White House has declined to publicly reveal their identities. Some political appointees, such as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s chief of staff, Wendy Teramoto, were initially hired as special government employees, or SGEs. They are brought on as temporary advisers and don’t face the same rules that other federal employees do. But Teramoto and others have stuck around, and been promoted to permanent jobs. The administration reveals virtually nothing about this category of staffers.
“As long as you know who to call, they are more than willing to work with ‘industry,’” said Scott Mason, a Trump campaign veteran who’s now a lobbyist with Holland & Knight. “The swamp continues as the ecosystem it has always been, advocating on behalf of Americans who are all represented in one way or another by an interest group.”
We now have a full list from the Office of Personnel Management, the federal government’s human resources department, and it counts more than 1,000 political appointments since Trump took office on Jan. 20. The 1,000 include some 400 that ProPublica first revealed in March, and another 140 that were added in subsequent updates. We found that of the roughly 500 new appointees on our list, at least 61 have been registered lobbyists at the federal level. (This is likely an undercount since it does not include those who have not registered or who worked solely on the state level.)
We found at least 44 people who have been rehired for second stints in the same government jobs after their initial terms expired. Another 194 people have been given new jobs after their initial beachhead terms.
“The pool of ‘Trump Republicans’ was small so that they had to go to regular Republicans, a lot of whom worked for the Bush administration,” said Ivan Adler, a lobbying headhunter with the McCormick Group. “And there happen to be a lot of lobbyists among that group.”
We’re still sorting through the new names and we want your help. If you have tips or want to flag someone for us, email [email protected].
“What’s unusual is the size and scope of these teams,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, which advises both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations on transitions. “The normal process in filling your political team is going from the campaign to the transition team to a political appointment. The cabinet picks manage all of this. But without them, the beachhead teams have been in charge. It’s added a whole other level of confusion to an already difficult process.”
It has also added a layer of shadows, said Jeff Hauser, who runs the Revolving Door Project at the D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research. “These are political appointees who are subjected to much less scrutiny than if they went through the Senate-confirmed process,” he said. “And these special employees, many of whom are on short stints and go back to regulated industries, are not answerable to anyone except the White House. It’s an outsourcing of government.”
Dozens of original beachhead team members have left government altogether, with several returning to lobbying or other industry-advocacy work. Donald Schnare, a lawyer and longtime critic of the EPA named to that agency’s beachhead team in December, resigned in March after infighting between political appointees and the hand-picked staff of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt boiled over. Schnare told ProPublica that nearly every member of the Trump administration beachhead team at the EPA were refused permanent jobs by Pruitt.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is lagging in nominating key leaders to government jobs that require a vote of the Senate. As of the August congressional recess, the Trump administration has nominated 277 people for Senate confirmation and just 44 percent have been confirmed, according to the Partnership for Public Service. By comparison, the previous four presidential administrations — those of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush — had nominated at least 315 people by the August recess and had their picks confirmed at rates above 60 percent at that point in the process.
To fill the gaps, the White House placed at least 18 “senior White House advisers” at federal agencies, to act as the administration’s eyes and ears. Many were Trump campaign staffers and loyalists with little to no government experience and they publicly clashed with several of Trump’s top Cabinet picks, including Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin and Transportation secretary Elaine Chao.
Staffing records show that at least 11 of these advisers have left their original jobs or departed the government. (Several advisers, such as Paula Stannard at Health and Human Services, Mary Anne Bradfield at the Small Business Administration and Maren Kasper at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, were promoted to permanent positions.)
But seven still remain, including Sam Clovis, a former radio host whose nomination as the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist is pending. (Clovis has attracted press scrutiny for, among other statements, his assertions that he is “extremely skeptical” about climate change.)
Here are a few Trump political appointees we’ve found:
- Joe Grogan, an associate director for health programs at the Office of Management and Budget, most recently worked as a lobbyist for Gilead Sciences, the pharmaceutical company that has been accused of price-gouging in its sales of a novel hepatitis C treatment. Since his appointment, Grogan has taken a leading role in a White House working group on drug pricing policies. As reported by Kaiser Health News, internal documents from the working group show that, despite vows by President Trump to lower the price of medications, Grogan’s team is pushing pharma-friendly policies, such as extending a drug’s patent time in foreign markets. Grogan and the Office of Management and Budget did not respond to requests for comment.
- Donald G. Kempf Jr., a hard-nosed attorney and former Marine who spent 35 years at Kirkland & Ellis and another six years as chief counsel at Morgan Stanley. He was personally recruited by incoming Deputy Attorney General Makan Delrahim, whose nomination has languished without a vote since March. As to why he came out of a 12-year retirement, Kempf told ProPublica that “my country has been very good to me” and that he “welcomed the responsibility.” Kempf had a storied career, often representing corporations in antitrust and mergers and acquisitions litigation at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. But during his tenure at Morgan Stanley, the bank suffered a series of legal defeats and regulatory fines before his retirement from the organization in 2005.
- Brad Bailey is the new Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, focusing on tax and the budget, at the Department of the Treasury. Before his new role he was a registered lobbyist for O’Rourke and Nappi where one of his clients was H&R Block. As ProPublica has reported, H&R Block has been fighting to stop a free government tax filing system for years that would make the company obsolete. As recent as April, Bailey was one of the people lobbying on behalf of H&R Block. In response to questions, the Treasury Department said in a statement: “Treasury’s ethics officials work with agency personnel to address and mitigate potential conflicts if and when they arise.”
- Scott Angelle is the director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the agency that oversees safety for offshore oil and gas drilling. He served as Louisiana’s secretary of natural resources from 2004 to 2012, and was appointed interim lieutenant governor from May to November 2010. During that time, Angelle helped lead a successful effort to bring an early end to the federal moratorium on deepwater drilling that was imposed after the April 2010 BP oil spill. Before joining the Trump administration, Angelle spent several years on Louisiana’s Public Service Commission, where his position on the board of Sunoco Logistics Partners, an oil pipeline company — for which he received $989,238— raised conflict of interest concerns. (Angelle denied any conflicts at the time.) Sunoco Logistics merged with Energy Transfer Partners, the developer of the Dakota Access pipeline, in April. Angelle spoke at an industry conference this month where he encouraged oil and gas companies to drill deepwater wells. Angelle did not respond to requests for comment.
- Charles Faulkner, who was appointed deputy assistant secretary of state on June 11, left BGR Government Affairs, a D.C. lobbyist firm, where he had been a lobbyist for several foreign governments. His client list included the Kazakh embassy, for which he provided political consulting and arranged meetings between U.S. and Kazakh government officials. He also advised the Kurdistan Regional Government, a semiautonomous part of Iraq that often has tense relations with Baghdad, as well as neighboring Syria, Turkey and Iran. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
- Until March, Wendy Teramoto was a managing director at Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s former investment firm, WL Ross & Co., and held board positions on several Ross-connected corporations, including the Greenbrier Companies, an Oregon supplier of railroad equipment. Teramoto took a job as a part-time special government employee at the Commerce Department, as an adviser to Ross, in mid-March. Commerce Department officials said that between March and August, Teramoto “resigned from all outside non-federal positions” and signed an ethics pledge but she did not become a full-fledged government employee, subject to ethics requirements, until Aug. 1, when she was appointed Ross’s chief of staff. In a statement, the Commerce Department said Teramoto is “subject to the same disqualification requirements under conflict of interest statutes as the Secretary and other federal employees.”
- As assistant secretary for border, immigration and trade policy at the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Dougherty could be in a position to benefit his former employer. Dougherty was previously CEO of the Identification Technology Association, a trade group for companies that sell biometric and cybersecurity technologies for borders, law enforcement and emergency management. Before that, he worked for the Raytheon unit that sells products and services to U.S. law enforcement agencies. Dougherty is careful to comply with ethics rules and keep his government work separate from his past employment, according to his successor at the trade group, Jason Conley. “Where members have tried to reach out, he’s been appropriately nonresponsive,” Conley said. In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said it provides ethics training to all political appointees and reviews any potential conflicts of interest.
- Mark Vafiades, a Hollywood actor (best known for roles in “An American Carol” and “Vengeance Trail,” according to his IMDB listing) is now communications director at Health and Human Services. Vafiades has been particularly vocal on social media, calling global warming and climate change a “leftist political tool” and “not sound science!” and advancing claims of voter fraud in his home state of California. The Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to a request for comment.
- Emily McBride, a former aide to Jeff Sessions when he was a senator, and then an assistant in the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs, in June became a special assistant to the head of the General Services Administration. The GSA leases the building housing Trump’s Washington hotel, which ethics experts say is a conflict of interest because the president is effectively both tenant and landlord. The GSA has already concluded that Trump’s ascension to president didn’t violate his lease (despite the opinion of some legal experts), but the agency is still responsible for ongoing review of the hotel’s finances. A GSA spokesman said McBride won’t participate in the oversight of Trump’s hotel.
- Adam Kissel, who joined the Department of Education as deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs, has spent the past five years at the Charles Koch Foundation, working on higher education projects. The foundation has faced scrutiny for donating millions to colleges and universities around the country, including to academic institutes focused on “market-oriented ideas” and “the practice and potentials of freedom.” Before his role at the Charles Koch Foundation, Kissel worked at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where he was a prominent critic of the Obama Administration’s approach to investigating sexual violence on campus. Kissel and the Education Department did not respond to requests for comment.
- Jonathan Galaviz was hired as an adviser at the State Department’s Office of Security, Democracy and Human Rights, on June 11. He has consulted for foreign governments, including Russian state-run investment firms, helping with a host of gaming industry issues. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
- Alexander Fitzsimmons was appointed chief of staff and senior adviser at the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. He came to government from the advocacy group American Energy Alliance and Fueling U.S. Forward, a public relations group supporting fossil fuels. Both organizations are backed by Koch Industries and they called for the elimination of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in 2015.
Independent journalism is under threat and overshadowed by heavily funded mainstream media.
You can help level the playing field. Become a member.
Your tax-deductible contribution keeps us digging beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that unearths what's really happening- without compromise.
Give today to support our courageous, independent journalists.