President Donald Trump has hired a series of political staffers to be his “eyes and ears” at Cabinet agencies, a Washington Post report revealed Sunday.
After being the first president in history to appoint a political staffer to the National Security Council, Trump is now installing his own trusted political staffers to report back to him. If the Environmental Protection Agency is any indication, the spies aren’t a welcome addition. The appointee tasked with watching the EPA has been shut out of meetings by Secretary Scott Pruitt himself.
A Marine officer and former fighter pilot was assigned to keep an eye on Sec. Jim Mattis. The unwelcome addition earned the staffer the nickname “the commissar,” a reference to a Soviet-Russia Communist Party official responsible for keeping commanders loyal to the regime.
Some agencies don’t even have nominees for posts, but the White House made sure there are senior aides handpicked to monitor the loyalties of secretaries once they’ve been sworn in.
It isn’t unusual for a political appointee to serve as a special assistant or senior aide to a Cabinet secretary. In past administrations, aides acted as a go-between on policy issues between agencies and White House policy staff. But having someone with a duty like this isn’t typical.
According to ProPublica, hundreds of staff have been hired by Trump that worked as lobbyists or at far-right media outlets and at least 16 of those are serving as a Trump watchdog.
While they work for the agency or the secretary, The Washington Post learned that the staffers report to Rick Dearborn, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy. Each week, the aides gather on a conference call to report back their findings and are in constant contact with the White House.
This past week, a top aide claimed that the White House is being crushed under the weight of paranoia as they hurriedly search for leaks. However, one Republican close to the administration said. “It’s not paranoia if people really are out to get you, and everybody actually is out to get everyone else.”
Former Trump campaign advisor Barry Bennett said that because of the party changeover “somebody needs to be there as the White House’s man on the scene.” There hasn’t been a president do something like that in at least 35 years, possibly more, The Post reported.
After a few gaffes from Attorney General Eric Holder early on in President Barack Obama’s administration, the White House wanted to appoint someone similar. He refused, blocking it.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) dismissed the practice as a big deal.
“If you drain the swamp, you better have someone who watches over the alligators,” Gingrich told The Post. “These people are actively trying to undermine the new government. And they think it’s their moral obligation to do so.”
The Post revealed that many of the new senior advisers also lack the experience and expertise in the field of their agency. However, his Cabinet appointees do as well. These new hires come from conservative activism, the Republican National Committee or worked as lobbyists and in business.
The new senior adviser to Homeland Security thinks Muslims “by and large” want to “subjugate” non-Muslims. His blog Red Wire posted a video of him appearing as a fictional jihadist to illustrate his belief that terrorism is rooted in Islam.
Some advisers fit fine while others are causing problems. Pruitt’s staffer Don Benton ran Trump’s Washington state campaign. Senior administration officials described him as speaking out so frequently during policy meetings it was like an episode of HBO’s “Veep.”