A treasure trove of previously unseen documents reveals Donald Trump’s presidential transition team vetted potential administration officials with a not-so-stringent process that amounted to looking them up on the internet. The lackluster investigative method still raised concerns about possible White House candidates, including their ties to foreign governments, racist pasts and—in the case of some contenders—their belief that Trump was a racist, sexist imbecile.
Oh yeah, there was this one thing about people having to stare at thigh meat.
Political newsletter Axios and its television counterpart, Axios on HBO, somehow acquired hundreds of pages of internal documents that shed light on how the Trump transition team vetted potential officials for the Trump administration. The leaked records foreshadowed many of the administration’s scandals as well as exposed the inner workings of how then-President-elect Trump filled senior positions at the White House.
Describing the hodgepodge staff as “overworked” and “under-resourced,” Axios’ Jonathan Swan said the transition team faced major problems after Trump fired former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The records show that officials were worried about whether Christie could coexist with Jared Kushner, whose father Christie prosecuted during the ex-governor’s time as a U.S. attorney. On the HBO show, Christie explained that he believed Kushner had him fired as head of the transition team because of his pettiness.
“Traditionally, any would-be top official faces three types of vetting: an FBI background check, a scrub for financial conflicts of interest from the Office of Government Ethics, and a deep dive from the president-elect’s political team, which veteran Washington lawyers often handle,” Axios reports.
But Christie’s absence reportedly left the vetting process to “twenty-something-year-old” staffers of the Republican National Committee, who used Google and LexisNexis to research cabinet members. When the untrained background investigators found potential conflicts or troubling items, the team would list “red flags” in each candidates’ dossier.
For instance, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, known as “the most racist politician in America,” and the “king of voter suppression,” was considered for a cabinet position as secretary of Homeland Security. Internal transition documents (pdf) noted that Kobach was often accused of “allying himself with groups that had connections to white supremacist groups.” The Trump team wanted to ask Kobach specifically: “If you were to join the administration, would you willing [sic] to publicly denounce such groups if called upon to do so?”
Some of the other “red flags” and “potential vulnerabilities” of would-be senior administration officials included:
- Rick Perry: Aside from calling Trump a “cancer on conservatism;” a “toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spirited and nonsense;” a “sower-of division, wrongly demonizing Mexican Americans for political sport” and the “modern-day incarnation of the Know-Nothing movement espousing nativism, not conservatism;” Perry was flagged for a criminal indictment and multiple instances of financial malfeasance. He got the job.
- Laura Ingraham: Fox News’ resident lady racist raised concerns for saying people should wear diapers instead of sharing bathrooms with transgender people; saying black people voted for Obama because he’s half-black; and explaining that Bernie Sanders isn’t a minority because Jewish people are so successful. She was not hired as press secretary.
- David Clarke: The former Milwaukee County sheriff and former Fox News negro cowboy was red-flagged for saying Black Lives Matter would link up with ISIS soon; drinking on the job; and telling Fox News that black people dealt drugs because they were “lazy” and “morally bankrupt.” He did not ascend to the position as secretary of Homeland Security.
- Sonny Perdue: Insiders had questions about the former Georgia governor underfunding the state’s HBCUs, his support for the Confederate Flag and his reluctance to support an apology for slavery. Purdue was hired as secretary of Agriculture.
- Mick Mulvaney: The current White House chief of staff said Trump was “not a conservative,” who said “stupid things” and made “racially charged statements.” But because of Mulvaney’s unwavering support for Trump after Trump secured the Republican nomination, Mulvaney was hired as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
- Ben Carson: He was suspect because of his criticism of Trump, his lies about getting a scholarship to West Point and that story about him stabbing someone in the dick as a teenager. Maybe the thing that clinched Carson’s appointment as HUD secretary was his disapproval of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, calling it a “cheap trick being pulled on African Americans.”
The transition team had to create an entirely separate report on Rudy Giuliani’s ties to Russia and foreign governments. Rex Tillerson’s deep ties to Russia also raised red flags, as did Linda McMahon’s ties to the WWE. But perhaps the weirdest revelation came from the document on Gary Cohn, whose dossier had a particularly interesting subsection:
He Would Sometimes Hike Up One Leg And Plant His Foot On A Trader’s Desk, His Thigh Close To The Employee’s Face, And Ask How Markets Were Doing.
“At 6 foot 3 and 220 pounds, Cohn can be intimidating,” according to two former colleagues. Visiting Goldman Sachs’s trading floors, he would sometimes hike up one leg and plant his foot on a trader’s desk, his thigh close to the employee’s face, and ask how markets were doing, they say. Michael Ovitz, who once ran one of Hollywood’s biggest talent agencies, and Daniel Rappaport, former chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange, where Cohn served on the board, both say he can be ‘abrasive.’ Ovitz, who says he has been in daily e-mail contact with Cohn since having lunch with him in 2009, sees the toughness as ‘positive.’ An executive can’t be ‘all peaches-and-cream,’ he adds.”
Over half of the contents (50.6 percent) in the vetting documents were dedicated to potential Trump administration officials’ criticism of Trump, inflammatory rhetoric, previous controversies, or their lobbying efforts, according to Axios’ calculations. At this point in his presidency, Trump has fewer confirmed senior officials than any president in nearly three decades, according to the Partnership for Public Service.
Maybe they should’ve used Bing.