April 8, 2018
Inside the White House Bible Study Group
For the first time in at least 100 years, the US Cabinet has a bible study group. What do they learn? What does Donald Trump make of it? And why aren’t women allowed to teach?
Every Wednesday, some of the world’s most powerful people meet in a conference room in Washington DC to learn about God.
The location can’t be revealed – the Secret Service won’t allow it – but the members can.
Vice-President Mike Pence. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The list goes on.
In total, 10 cabinet members are “sponsors” of the group. Not everyone attends every meeting – they are busy people – but they go if they can.
Meetings last between 60 and 90 minutes, and members are free to contact the teacher after-hours. So who is the man leading the United States’ most-influential bible study?
Step forward Ralph Drollinger, a seven-foot tall basketball pro turned pastor. Or, as the 63-year-old describes himself: “Just a jock with some bad knees.”
Drollinger grew up in La Mesa, a suburb of San Diego, California. As a child, he rarely went to church – “Probably half a dozen times,” he says – and didn’t get far with the Bible.
“I always promised myself I’d read it,” he says. “But every time I tried, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
In his last year of high school, after a basketball game, some cheerleaders invited him to bible study. He went, and his world changed.
“It was the first time I really heard the gospel,” he says. “So I went home, read through the whole gospel of Matthew that night, and asked Jesus into my heart.”
In 1972, Drollinger went to the University of California in Los Angeles on a basketball scholarship. He attended a bible-teaching church and, over the next four years, “fell in love with the scriptures”.
After college, he could have played pro basketball – he was picked in the NBA draft three times – but, each time, turned it down.
“I sensed such a passion for ministry that everything paled in comparison,” he says.
Instead, he signed for a Christian team called Athletes in Action. They played basketball around the world – 35 countries, he reckons – and preached the gospel at half-time.
“That was kind of perfect for me,” he says. “Because I really didn’t like basketball – but I liked to preach.”
Drollinger did eventually turn pro, signing for the Dallas Mavericks in 1980, but only because he wanted to attend the seminary there. He played six games in the NBA and left after one season.
After retiring from basketball he worked in sports ministries, before turning to politics in 1996. The road to the White House started with failing Christians in California.
In 1996, Drollinger’s wife, Danielle, was executive director of a political action committee in California trying to unseat liberals from the state legislature and get Christians elected.
“But she was frustrated,” he says. “They would send guys to California’s capitol – and she was great at getting them elected – but they would soon lose their Christian moorings.”
So they took over the existing ministry in Sacramento, changed the name, and offered weekly bible studies, support, prayer, and one-on-one ministry.
It proved “wildly successful”, so they expanded. Capitol Ministries is now in 43 US state capitols, and more than 20 legislatures abroad.
Each class is led by a local pastor, but none is led by a woman. Why not?
“There’s no [Biblical] prohibition of female leadership in commerce, there’s no prohibition of female leadership in the state, and there’s no prohibition of female leadership over children,” says Drollinger.
“But there is a prohibition of female leadership in marriage, and female leadership in the church. And those are clear in scripture… it doesn’t mean, in an egalitarian sense, that a woman is of lesser importance. It’s just that they have different roles.”
In 2010, Capitol Ministries arrived in Washington. There was already a ministry called The Fellowship, which runs the National Prayer Breakfast, but Drollinger felt it had “lost its marbles, Biblically”.
It was, he says, candy floss Christianity – big, sweet, unsubstantial. By contrast, he wants to offer a “high-protein diet”, teaching the bible book-by-book, one verse at a time. In Drollinger’s studies, it can take a year to finish one book.
“If you don’t have a spiritual coach that’s really driving you in the word of God – and driving you toward holiness rather than your own sinful, latent nature, and your own depravity – then you’re not going to grow into Christ’s likeness,” he says.
The Fellowship, he says, believes legislators can do bible study among themselves.
“I say no, technical foul. ‘How will they hear without a preacher?’ Romans 10:15.”
Capitol Ministries began a bible study for representatives in 2010, which now has almost 50 members.
When four of the group were elected to the Senate, they asked for a senators’ class, which began in 2015. Last March – two months after Donald Trump took office – the same process led to a group for cabinet members.
“Trump started appointing to his cabinet all the guys that were in our House and Senate bible study,” says Drollinger, a trend he attributes to Vice-President Mike Pence, who “knew who those strong believers were”.
“Unlike our secular media,” Drollinger says, he and others saw the appointees had something in common – they “were strong in Christ”.
“So Jeff Sessions, [former health secretary] Tom Price, others, said let’s start a ministry, a Cabinet bible study.”
Capitol Ministries believes it is the first Cabinet-level bible study for “at least 100 years”. There was a group during George W Bush’s presidency, but it was for lower-ranking staff members.
President Trump is not a member of Drollinger’s group – but he is a Christian, and does get Drollinger’s eight-page print-outs most weeks.
“He writes me back notes on my bible studies,” says Drollinger.
“He’s got this leaky Sharpie felt-tip pen that he writes all capital letters with. ‘Way to go Ralph, really like this study, keep it up.’ Stuff like that.”
Drollinger’s weekly bible studies are not private, or secret. Anyone can read them online.
On same-sex marriage, he writes: “Homosexuality and same-sex ceremonies are illegitimate in God’s eyes. His word is repetitive, perspicuous [clearly expressed], and staid on the subject.”
On capitalism, he writes: “The right to personal property, also known as free enterprise or capitalism, is the governmental economic system supported by scripture. Scripture does not support communism.”
And on debt, he writes: “It is bad stewardship and downright foolishness for an individual, family, or country to borrow in order to cover expenses that far, far exceed income!”
So if politicians should learn from the Bible, should – for example – gay people be put to death? No, says Drollinger – some civil laws from the Old Testament should not apply.
“I think that was for [ancient] Israel, but it’s not for the church,” he says, adding he doesn’t import “the whole kit and caboodle of Old Testament law” like “the clumsy theonomist would”.
Drollinger likens himself to a waiter in a restaurant. These lessons aren’t his – he is merely serving the word of God, as revealed in the Bible, to self-professed Christians.
“If God is the chef, then I’m just the servant, and I hope the guys like the meal,” he says. “But on the way out of the kitchen, I’m not going to alter what’s on the plate. So my job is just to be a servant.”
And if people don’t like the message – or, to put it his way, the meal?
“You have to go talk to the chef [God]. Unless I’ve altered what’s on the plate – which, hopefully in my discipline, I don’t.”
Drollinger believes the Bible teaches the separation of church and state.
“We have to differentiate,” he says. “And unfortunately, a lot of our evangelical religious right advocates have not made this differentiation.”
In January, when a New York Times opinion piece described Drollinger and others as “Christian nationalists”, he wrote a 1400-word letter to complain. What was his objection?
“It has the idea of tyranny when you take it to its extreme,” he says.
“It means that I’m meeting with the Cabinet members clandestinely in order to overthrow the government – in the form that we presently have – for a theocracy. I mean, at the end of the day, that’s the accusation, and I have to be strong on that.”
But is a bible study for Cabinet members, with political themes, not a merging of church and state?
“I believe in institutional separation, but not influential separation,” he says
“No matter what the institution is – the family, commerce, education – it needs the bulwark precepts of the word of God in order to function correctly…
“But the minute I start to amalgamate the church and the state institutionally, then I’m into theocracy.”
Drollinger never tells his members how to vote, or which policies to pursue. But he hopes it becomes obvious by teaching them the Bible.
“I will put the blueprint on the engineer’s seat on the train,” he says. “And it will show you the right tracks to the station.
“But I’m not going to tell you what tracks to take. But you’ve got to be pretty stupid not to follow the blueprint, because it’s there.”
Do his students ever disappoint him?
“Oh yeah, I get disappointed a lot when I see immaturity,” he says. “I was just talking to one member… his wife hates him. He’s been overspending his capital in his marriage by working 14 hours a day on politics.
“That’s disappointed me, because if he is divorced, then what kind of credibility does he really have long-term in the House [of Representatives] to make moral judgments?”
And what about their policies?
“When a person obviously knows the Biblical thing to do and votes against what he or she knows what’s Biblical.”
One Democrat, struggling with her party’s support for same-sex marriage, contacted Drollinger for advice. He explained the Bible’s teaching, as he saw it.
“The next bible study, she said ‘that was really good’. Now she can’t necessarily stand publicly on what I just taught her, but it’s going on in her heart.”
He says he won’t tell her how to vote on the issue – voicing opposition to marriage might cost her an election.
“But at the same time, she’s going to have to think, what’s different between that and a prostitute? A prostitute sells her soul to maintain a salary. Are you as a Christian legislator, growing in Christ, selling your convictions in order to stay making a salary, or have influence?
“I’ll never say it that graphically to a member. But you get my idea.” Source
March 30, 2018
Behind the chaos: Office that vets Trump appointees plagued by inexperience
An obscure White House office responsible for recruiting and vetting thousands of political appointees has suffered from inexperience and a shortage of staff, hobbling the Trump administration’s efforts to place qualified people in key posts across government, documents and interviews show.
At the same time, two office leaders have spotty records themselves: a college dropout with arrests for drunken driving and bad checks and a Marine Corps reservist with arrests for assault, disorderly conduct, fleeing an officer and underage drinking.
The Presidential Personnel Office (PPO) is little known outside political circles. But it has far-reaching influence as a gateway for the appointed officials who carry out the president’s policies and run federal agencies.
Under President Trump, the office was launched with far fewer people than in prior administrations. It has served as a refuge for young campaign workers, a stopover for senior officials on their way to other posts and a source of jobs for friends and family, a Washington Post investigation found. One senior staffer has had four relatives receive appointments through the office.
On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to surround himself “only with the best and most serious people,” but his administration has been buffeted by failed appointments and vacancies in key posts.
From the start, the office struggled to keep pace with its enormous responsibilities, with only about 30 employees on hand, less than a third of the staffing in prior administrations, The Post found. Six senior officials over age 35 went elsewhere in government just months after their arrival, documents and interviews show. Since the inauguration, most of the staffers in the PPO have been in their 20s, some with little professional experience apart from their work on Trump’s campaign, The Post found.
Even as the demands to fill government mounted, the PPO offices on the first floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building became something of a social hub, where young staffers from throughout the administration stopped by to hang out on couches and smoke electronic cigarettes, known as vaping, current and former White House officials said.
PPO leaders hosted happy hours last year in their offices that included beer, wine and snacks for dozens of PPO employees and White House liaisons who work in federal agencies, White House officials confirmed. In January, they played a drinking game in the office called “Icing” to celebrate the deputy director’s 30th birthday. Icing involves hiding a bottle of Smirnoff Ice, a flavored malt liquor, and demanding that the person who discovers it, in this case the deputy director, guzzle it.
The White House confirmed that PPO officials played the Icing game but said it and the happy hours are not unique to the PPO and are a way to network and let off steam.
Little is publicly known or disclosed about the office’s inner workings under Trump. The White House declined requests from The Post for details about composition of the staff.
The Post compiled the names of 40 current or former PPO officials under Trump and then examined their qualifications, drawing on résumés, the White House salary disclosures for 2017, ethics filings, police reports and other public records. Reporters interviewed presidential scholars and current and former officials in the Trump, Bush and Obama administrations.
The PPO is ultimately responsible for recruiting and vetting candidates for more than 4,000 jobs, more than 1,200 requiring Senate approval.
Every White House faces personnel challenges and includes young and politically connected employees who get jobs through friends or family and senior officials who move on to other assignments. But the shortcomings of this office, and Trump’s appointment process in general, are among the most pronounced in memory, according to presidential scholars.
“No administration has done it as poorly as the current one,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that teamed up with The Post to track appointments.
White House officials said the PPO is performing well, even though they acknowledged the office “is a much smaller PPO than at any time in recent history.”
The officials asserted the office is working hard and starting to make progress on nominees for positions that require Senate confirmation. They provided statistics showing that the PPO and the president had sent forward 309 candidates for 343 Senate-approved positions in Cabinet agencies as of March 1.
They blamed delays on slower background and ethics checks by the FBI and ethics officials, which they said now take an average of 111 days, much longer than in prior administrations. They also said Democrats have used procedural maneuvers to stall nominations. According to White House calculations, Senate Democrats have called for record numbers of cloture votes that delayed nominations by extending debates — 79 in all compared with 10 under Obama and zero under George W. Bush.
They also said they had filled 1,651 lower-level political appointments, a number that they said lagged only moderately behind President Barack Obama’s 1,920 at a similar point.
“Despite historic obstruction from Democrats in Congress, the Presidential Personnel Office is filling the administration with the best and brightest appointees who share the president’s vision for the country,” said Raj Shah, White House principal deputy press secretary. “Staff work tirelessly and have experience consistent with the practice of previous administrations.”
The Trump administration’s number of appointments gaining Senate approval is way behind that of previous administrations since detailed record-keeping began in 1989, according to data maintained by the Partnership for Public Service. At the same point in their presidencies — March 29 of their second year — Obama had 548 approvals and George W. Bush had 615, compared with 387 for Trump.
The Trump administration has received Senate approval for just 292 of 652 posts identified as key to the functioning of government by the Partnership for Public Service. The administration has offered no nominations for another 217 key Senate-confirmed posts, including director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the ambassador to South Korea.
A number of Trump appointees have been embroiled in controversy and resigned their posts over questions about their qualifications, backgrounds and comments.
They include 24-year-old Taylor Weyeneth, who lost his job as deputy chief of staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) after a Post account detailed his lack of experience and inaccurate claims on résumés submitted to the government. An internal memo shows that the PPO deputy director ordered that a senior civil servant in ONDCP be moved into another job to make way for Weyeneth’s appointment. Weyeneth declined to comment for this article.
Another appointee, Carl Higbie, stepped down in January from the federal agency that runs AmeriCorps after the media drew attention to remarks he made on Internet radio that disparaged blacks, Muslims, gays and women. He later said he regretted the remarks.
James Pfiffner, a scholar of the presidency at George Mason University who has tracked appointments and presidential transitions since the mid-1970s, said prior PPOs were led and staffed by senior officials who understood the importance of personnel and had extensive experience, political connections and knowledge of the executive branch.
“They were well-connected and wanted the government to work well,” Pfiffner told The Post. “They understood how to make the government work well.”
Months of wasted work
The challenges in the Presidential Personnel Office began with decisions Trump made months before he moved into the Oval Office.
In 2016, Trump named New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the leader of transition planning. Christie assembled a team of more than 100 researchers and lawyers, who generated names of candidates for critical posts for a potential administration. Just after the election, they delivered hundreds of pages that outlined a framework for the new administration.
The reports underscored the importance of the Presidential Personnel Office, saying it was essential to “provide the President with outstanding candidates,” according to documents reviewed by The Post. The Christie team estimated the job would require more than 100 people before and after the inauguration, documents show.
“Building a strong team to lead U.S. government agencies is not only critical to the effectiveness of the President, but also for the welfare of the nation,” the documents said.
On Nov. 11, 2016, Trump fired Christie and his team and relaunched the transition. All the planning — including at least 100 candidates proposed for top jobs and 200 other prospective appointees — was in limbo. “The idea that you can take six months of work . . . and throw all that out, turned out to be a big mistake,” Christie said later at a news conference.
One official who stayed with the transition and continued working on personnel matters was Sean Doocey, a 28-year-old aide who had joined the campaign in July as a director of research. Doocey had been a low-level staffer in the PPO under Bush and had worked for more than three years as a human resources and security executive at a small government contractor, according to a financial disclosure filed with the Office of Government Ethics, or OGE. A White House spokesman said Doocey declined to comment for this article.
Doocey and the few others working on personnel issues struggled to find volunteers to screen potential nominees, transition and White House officials said.
The Obama administration drew on legions of lawyers willing to donate their time to review candidates for the most important Senate-approved nominees, according to former Obama officials and one official involved in the Trump transition. Trump did not have that luxury, partly because he was so critical of the Washington establishment, including traditional Republicans, the officials said.
There was also a much smaller pool of candidates to draw on compared with prior administrations. In 2009, the Obama personnel office had access to a database containing more than 300,000 applicants, while Trump’s office had just 87,000, according to Pfiffner, the GMU scholar.
On Jan. 4, 2017, just two weeks before inauguration, Trump named John DeStefano, a GOP political operative, to be director of presidential personnel. He had previously worked as political director for Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), then speaker of the House. He also served for three years as chief executive of Data Trust, a voter aggregation and analysis firm that catered to Republicans. A White House spokesman said DeStefano declined to comment.
DeStefano’s appointment was a departure from prior administrations, which placed a premium on management and personnel experience, according to presidential scholars. In 2001 and 2002, for instance, Clay Johnson III served as director of the office under Bush. Johnson, a graduate of Yale and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, was then in his middle-50s. He had been Bush’s roommate at Yale. He had also served for a decade as president and chief executive at a mail order company, as chief operating officer of the Dallas Museum of Art and five years as the director of appointments for Bush, when he was governor of Texas.
At the start of Obama’s first term, the office was led by Donald Gips, a graduate of Yale’s School of Management who had previously worked as a chief domestic policy adviser to Vice President Al Gore and spent a decade as a senior executive at a global telecommunications company as well as chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s International Bureau.
‘It’s a disaster’
Taylor Weyeneth (at right with red tie and pointing) celebrates with other Trump supporters as election returns come in Trump’s election night rally in Manhattan. Weyeneth, 24, was deputy chief of staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the White House office responsible for coordinating the federal government’s anti-drug initiatives. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
DeStefano had to stand up his shop almost from scratch. The Bush and Obama administrations relied on scores of staffers to hasten the screening of nominees and appointees in the first few months. But Trump’s presidential personnel team peaked after the inauguration at about 30, White House officials told The Post.
Some PPO staff got their jobs in part as thanks for working on the Trump campaign, White House officials acknowledged. And DeStefano brought at least two former Data Trust employees into the office. One is a 2016 college graduate who worked as an intern at Data Trust for four months and made $62,000 last year as a deputy associate director at the PPO, her LinkedIn page and the White House salary disclosures show. The other is a 24-year-old who worked at Data Trust for a year and earned $94,000 last year as a special assistant at the PPO, documents show.
From the start, Trump’s appointments lagged far behind those of prior administrations. By June 20, 2017, the Senate had confirmed only 44 appointees, compared with 170 for Obama and 130 for Bush in the same time period, according to Pfiffner.
“It is a disaster,” Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, told The Post.
DeStefano and Doocey, who became his deputy, turned to some experienced people from federal agencies for help. When they moved into other jobs, less-experienced employees took senior posts in the office, records show.
One of the newcomers was a former Trump campaign worker named Caroline Wiles. Wiles, then 30, is the daughter of Susan Wiles, a prominent lobbyist and political operative in Florida. Caroline Wiles joined the Trump administration as a deputy assistant to the president and director of scheduling in the White House. News accounts said she was one of six White House staffers dismissed for failing FBI backgrounds checks, but the White House official would not confirm that. She was eventually moved to the PPO, where she was made a special assistant to the president, a post that typically pays $115,000.
The younger Wiles has an unusual background for a senior White House official. On a résumé she submitted to the state of Florida, she said she had completed course work at Flagler College in Florida. On her LinkedIn page, she simply lists Flagler under education. A Flagler spokesman said she never finished her degree.
“She did not continue her enrollment or graduate from here,” said spokesman Brian Thompson.
Wiles has had a string of political jobs, including work at her mother’s lobbying firm and as a campaign aide for candidates her mother advised, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Donald Trump. She also worked for an education organization that helped provide health care to needy students.
Over the years, she has had multiple encounters with police. In 2005, she had her driver’s license suspended for driving while intoxicated, police records show. In 2007, she was arrested for driving while intoxicated and arrested for passing a “worthless check.” She was found guilty of a misdemeanor for driving under the influence. The charge related to the bad check was dropped in a plea agreement.
Wiles did not respond to requests for interviews.
Another special assistant to the president is Max Miller, 29, a Marine reservist and former Trump campaign worker. He works on the selection and placement of appointees to the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.
Miller was introduced to Trump campaign officials by his cousin, Eli Miller, then a senior finance official in the campaign and now chief of staff at the Treasury Department, a Treasury spokeswoman said.
On his LinkedIn page, Miller said he attended Cleveland State University from 2007 to 2011. A Cleveland State spokesman confirmed that Miller, who previously attended other schools, graduated in 2013.
Miller described himself on his LinkedIn page as a Marine recruiter and said he worked for the presidential campaigns of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Trump. But after The Post raised questions about his biography, Miller removed the dates of his education and the claim that he was a Marine recruiter.
In an interview, he called them mistakes and blamed them on a relative who he said made the LinkedIn page for him.
Miller has been charged by police in his home state of Ohio with multiple offenses. In 2007, he was charged with assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after punching another male in the back of the head and running away from police, police records show. He pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges, and the case was later dismissed as part of a program for first offenders, court records show.
In 2009, he was charged with underage drinking, a case that also was later dismissed under a first offenders’ program. The following year, he pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge related to another altercation in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. That episode was related to a fight involving Miller shortly after leaving a hookah bar at about 2 a.m. one morning. During the fight, Miller punched through a glass door, cut his wrist and left a trail of blood as he wandered off, a police report said.
In an interview with The Post, Miller acknowledged that his cousin helped him find work with the Trump campaign but said it was his “work ethic” that won him the White House job. He said the arrests several years ago were mistakes that he would not repeat.
“Growing up, everyone makes mistakes,” he said. “Who I was in the past is not who I am now.”
The most senior and experienced leader in the office is Katja Bullock, the 75-year-old special assistant to the president who worked in the office under Reagan and both Bush administrations. She joined the Trump transition in December, according to a financial disclosure, and now serves as an administrator, according to people familiar with the office operations.
The president recently appointed her to the Federal Salary Council, an advisory board that suggests changes to the government’s pay scales.
Since Bullock joined the Trump transition, four of her family members received political appointments to federal agencies. Her son became deputy assistant administrator at the United States Agency for International Development. His wife is a White House liaison at the Office of Personnel Management.
One of their sons serves as a “confidential assistant” at the Social Security Administration, agency records show. And another son received an appointment in February as a “staff assistant” at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. foreign aid agency that works to end global poverty, agency records show. According to voter registration records, all four live in the same Kensington home.
In a brief telephone interview, Bullock said she had no involvement in the appointments of her family members. “None,” she said, adding: “I am really not authorized to talk to the press.” Her relatives did not respond to requests for interviews.
She is not the only PPO official with family ties in the administration. Jimmy Carroll III, recently named an entry-level staff assistant in the office, is the son of James Carroll II, a former deputy chief of staff in the Trump White House who was recently appointed acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Carroll III graduated in August 2017 from Marymount University in Arlington, Va., where he was the sports editor of the school newspaper and created a group for Christian men called Men of Virtue, according to his LinkedIn profile.
The Carrolls did not respond to requests for interviews.
In an interview, speaking on the condition of anonymity, a White House official praised Caroline Wiles, the special assistant to the president, saying she had demonstrated her competence as a scheduler and organizer during the Trump campaign.
“We do feel confident in her ability,” the official said. The same official said Miller’s experience in the Marine Corps Reserve “speaks volumes to his willingness to serve his country” and praised his work for the PPO.
The official said that nothing in the police records described by The Post would preclude them from working at the PPO. “For the positions they’re in, I’m not aware of any restrictions that the FBI or anyone else would have placed on their appointments,” the official said.
The official also said that PPO officials made sure Bullock was not involved in the decisions relating to her family members. He said each of them was qualified by prior experience, participation in the Trump campaign and their ideological alignment with the president. “We want people who are committed and passionate about supporting the president’s agenda,” the official said.
On Feb. 9, President Trump promoted DeStefano to assistant and counselor to the president, with responsibility for overseeing the offices of Presidential Personnel, Political Affairs and Public Liaison, an unusual portfolio for one person. At the same time, Doocey was made day-to-day leader of the PPO and named deputy assistant to the president for presidential personnel.
This article has been updated with additional statistics provided by the White House.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.
Feb 28, 2018
White House departures: Who’s been fired and who resigned
Here are the notable firings and resignations of the Trump administration, starting with the most recent departure:
Feb. 28: Hope Hicks
The White House communications director announced her resignation and that she would be leaving in the coming weeks or months. She took on her role in August and has been one of Trump’s longest-serving aides.
Feb. 27: Josh Raffel
The White House deputy communications director, plans to leave the Trump administration in the coming months. Raffel joined the White House last year to work with the Office of American Innovation.
Feb. 7: Rob Porter
Porter’s resignation as the White House staff secretary came after domestic abuse allegations against him were made public.
Dec. 13: Omarosa Manigault Newman
Newman, who rose to notoriety when she was on The Apprentice with Trump, was left her job in the White House’s Office of Public Liaison. She later denied that she had been fired or escorted from White House grounds, though the Secret Service did say it terminated her access.
Dec. 8: Dina Powell
Trump’s deputy national security adviser, who was a driving force behind the president’s Middle East policy, announced her plans to depart the administration in 2018, the White House announced in December.
Sept. 29: Tom Price
The Health and Human Services secretary resigned after revelations that he had racked up around $400,000 in private flights while traveling on official business.
Aug. 25: Sebastian Gorka
When the controversial counterterrorism adviser stepped down, he said Trump’s populist campaign agenda had been hijacked by establishment figures.
Aug. 18: Steve Bannon
The chief strategist, who had a turbulent time at the White House, left his post after pressure to remove him from his post following violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va. For his part, Bannon said he resigned two weeks prior.
July 31: Anthony Scaramucci
The controversial communications director stepped down after 11 days on the job, the same day John Kelly took over as chief of staff.
July 28: Reince Priebus
In his six-month tenure, marked by staff infighting and political reversals, the chief of staff was often a target of Trump loyalists who said he had failed to help the president win congressional legislation.
July 25: Michael Short
The senior assistant press secretary, brought on by Priebus, resigned after Scaramucci said he was going to fire him for allegedly leaking to the press.
July 21: Sean Spicer
The press secretary’s tumultuous tenure, marked by standoffs with the press, culminated in his resignation when Trump went against his advice to hire Scaramucci as his new communications director.
July 6: Walter Shaub
The director of the Office of Government Ethics clashed repeatedly with the president before announcing his resignation.
May 18: Mike Dubke
Trump’s first communications director did not work on the Trump campaign and did not know Trump before his hire. He handed in his resignation after three months on the job.
May 9: James Comey
The White House initially said the FBI director’s firing was based on the Justice Department’s recommendation, over his handling of the Clinton email probe. Since then, Trump has said he had considered firing Comey even without that recommendation and has said the Russia investigation was on his mind when he made the decision.
May 5: Angella Reid
The chief usher was fired for unclear reasons; it is unusual for a chief usher to be dismissed and they typically hold their positions for several years and over a number of administrations.
Feb. 13: Michael Flynn
The national security adviser was mired in controversy after news reports surfaced that he had misled officials, including Vice President Pence, about his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He resigned shortly afterward.
Jan. 30: Sally Yates
The acting attorney general, a holdover from the Obama administration, was dismissed after she refused to defend the first iteration of Trump’s travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Feb 15, 2018
Scores of top White House officials lack permanent security clearances
WASHINGTON — More than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November 2017, including the president’s daughter, son-in-law and his top legal counsel, according to internal White House documents obtained by NBC News.
Of those appointees working with interim clearances, 47 of them are in positions that report directly to President Donald Trump. About a quarter of all political appointees in the executive office are working with some form of interim security clearance.
White House officials said Wednesday they would not comment, as is their policy, on the nature of security clearances. CNN also reported on the clearances earlier Wednesday evening. It is unclear whether some employees have had their clearance levels changed since mid-November.
The documents also show that 10 months into Trump’s administration, at least 85 political appointees in the White House, vice president’s office and National Security Council were working without permanent security clearances. About 50 appointees were operating with interim security clearances while serving in offices closely linked to the West Wing, such as the National Economic Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Trade Representative and the White House executive residence.
White House officials who are listed as not having permanent security clearances as recently as this past November include Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser; Dan Scavino, the president’s director of social media; and Christopher Liddell, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives, according to the documents.
All four are listed as operating with interim clearances only for information classified as “top secret” and “TS/SCI,” which is shorthand for “top secret, sensitive compartmented information.”
A total of 34 people who started their government service on Jan. 20, 2017, the first day of the Trump presidency, were still on interim clearances in November.
Among them are White House counsel Don McGahn, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah, who had only interim clearances to access the most sensitive government information, according to the documents. Each of them had obtained permanent clearances to access top-secret materials, a lower clearance that would prevent access to information, for example, in the president’s daily intelligence brief.
On the National Security Council, 10 of 24 officials listed in the documents — about 42 percent — had only interim security clearances as of November. Those officials listed as working without permanent security clearances include Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser for strategy who left her post in January. Her replacement, Nadia Schadlow, joined the Trump White House in March 2017 and was still on an interim clearance in mid-November.
Other prominent NSC members operating on interim clearances include Fiona Hill, the NSC’s senior director for European and Russian affairs; Kevin Harrington, the NSC’s senior director for strategic planning; John Rader, special assistant to the president for national security affairs; and Joshua Steinman, the NSC’s senior director for international cybersecurity.
Legal experts said the lack of a permanent security clearance does not mean there is something problematic in an individual’s background.
Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, said during congressional testimony earlier this week that he would recommend minimal access to classified documents to anyone without a permanent security clearance.
“But if you do that, it has to be a specific interim with controlled access and limited access, and that has to be clear right from the beginning,” Coats said. “You can’t just say an interim allows me to do anything.”
The levels of clearance listed in the documents for the political appointees varied from secret to top secret to SCI.
One of the president’s central arguments against his Democratic opponent in the 2016 presidential election was that Hillary Clinton’s alleged mishandling of classified information not only disqualified her but was grounds for imprisonment.
The most senior White House officials are vetted for top-secret and SCI clearance. Top secret includes information that if revealed is expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security, according to a report written in 2013 by the Government Accountability Office. SCI is described as “classified information concerning, or derived from, intelligence sources, methods, or analytical processes that must be handled within formal access control systems established by the Director, Central Intelligence Agency.”
Ty Cobb, the president’s lawyer in the White House focusing on the Russia investigation, was serving under an interim security clearance when he began in August. Cobb was granted permanent security clearance last month, a White House official told NBC News.
Scavino has been in Trump’s orbit for decades, and was one of the first employees on his 2016 campaign. He is among the White House officials most often at the president’s side, capturing candid moments and critical meetings on camera that he disseminates to the president’s vast social media following.
One White House official, George Banks, a special assistant to the president for economic policy, resigned Wednesday after he was reportedly informed he would not receive a permanent security clearance.
Congressional Democrats have been raising concerns about security clearance issues involving Trump officials since the transition period in 2016. Last October, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, requested detailed information on all White House staff who had interim clearances.
But the White House’s struggle to provide a consistent account for the circumstances involving former staff secretary Rob Porter’s clearance review led a top Republican to formally launch an investigation for the first time this week.
In separate letters to White House chief of staff John Kelly and FBI director Christopher Wray, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., requested information from the White House and FBI about how interim clearances are investigated and adjudicated, and whether Porter’s specific case conformed to those procedures.
Separately, a group of Senate Democrats asked Wray to provide a list of individuals in the White House who hold interim security clearances.
“We are deeply concerned that high level officials operating under an interim security clearance, like Jared Kushner, read the President’s daily intelligence briefing,” the senators wrote.
Several former government officials who served in President Barack Obama’s White House said they could not recall how many staffers were operating with an interim security clearances a year into the administration. One of them, however, said there was frustration in the West Wing at the time because “it was taking a long time for people’s clearances to get through.”
Still, this former official said, it is a “big flag” that White House officials as senior as Kushner, McGahn and Ivanka Trump do not have permanent security clearances at this point.
The issue of security clearances has been simmering for months and boiled over nine days ago when a Daily Mail report about alleged domestic violence committed by Porter also revealed that he had been working without a permanent security clearance. Porter resigned last week. His replacement, Derek Lyons, also appeared to be working with an interim security clearance as recently as November, according to the documents.
Omarosa Manigault-Newman, who first met Trump on “The Apprentice,” and worked on his campaign, spent 2017 working in the White House but is listed as having no clearance at all. Hope Hicks, White House communications director, and Kellyanne Conway, who is a senior counsel to the president, came into the White House on Trump’s first day in office and have the highest security clearance. Source
Sept 26, 2017
White House private emails: House committee ramps up pressure
A committee of Congress has called on the White House to provide details of any aides who have used private emails for official business.
The investigation comes after Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner admitted doing so, and the New York Times reported that five other aides also used private email accounts.
Mr Kushner, a senior adviser, has been asked to preserve all his emails.
His wife, Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka, is also said to have a private account.
The New York Times has named the four other staffers implicated as Steve Bannon, the former chief White House strategist; Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff; and advisers Gary D Cohn and Stephen Miller.
Meanwhile, Newsweek magazine says it has details of an email Ivanka Trump sent about collaboration with a business organisation, copying in two federal officials.
- What was Clinton FBI probe about?
- The long list of who Hillary Clinton blames
- Trump son-in-law denies Russia collusion
Who is behind the investigation?
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has a responsibility for monitoring the effectiveness and accountability of federal government, has sent a letter to the White House demanding more information.
The letter was signed jointly by Republican Trey Gowdy, who chairs the committee, and Democrat Elija Cummings, the second most senior member.
Addressed to White House Counsel Donald McGahn, it says: “Have you or any non-career official at the White House ever used a personal email account to conduct official business?
“If so, please identify the individual and the account used, and provide evidence of measures to ensure compliance with federal law.”
The letter sets a deadline of 9 October for the disclosure of more information.
Are private emails illegal?
It is not illegal for White House officials to use personal email accounts for government business.
However, under the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act, government officials must forward any official correspondence to a work account within 20 days for preservation.
If this is not done reliably, the use of private accounts can put official records beyond the reach of journalists, lawmakers and others who seek publicly available information.
In a statement Mr Kushner’s lawyer said: “Fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account.”
He said most were news articles or political commentary and “all have been preserved in any event”.
There are also rules against sharing classified or privileged information on personal email accounts.
However, there is no suggestion that Mr Kushner or any of the others named did this.
Why else is this controversial?
The situation leaves the Trump family open to claims of hypocrisy, as President Trump has repeatedly criticised Hillary Clinton for using a personal email account while she was secretary of state.
On the campaign trail, he vowed to imprison his Democrat rival over her handling of classified information. Read more
The American Prospect
Steve Bannon, Unrepentant
Trump’s embattled strategist phones me, unbidden, to opine on China, Korea, and his enemies in the administration.
You might think from recent press accounts that Steve Bannon is on the ropes and therefore behaving prudently. In the aftermath of events in Charlottesville, he is widely blamed for his boss’s continuing indulgence of white supremacists. Allies of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster hold Bannon responsible for a campaign by Breitbart News, which Bannon once led, to vilify the security chief. Trump’s defense of Bannon, at his Tuesday press conference, was tepid.
But Bannon was in high spirits when he phoned me Tuesday afternoon to discuss the politics of taking a harder line with China, and minced no words describing his efforts to neutralize his rivals at the Departments of Defense, State, and Treasury. “They’re wetting themselves,” he said, proceeding to detail how he would oust some of his opponents at State and Defense.
Needless to say, I was a little stunned to get an email from Bannon’s assistant midday Tuesday, just as all hell was breaking loose once again about Charlottesville, saying that Bannon wished to meet with me. I’d just published a column on how China was profiting from the U.S.-North Korea nuclear brinkmanship, and it included some choice words about Bannon’s boss.
I told the assistant that I was on vacation, but I would be happy to speak by phone. Bannon promptly called.
Far from dressing me down for comparing Trump to Kim, he began, “It’s a great honor to finally track you down. I’ve followed your writing for years and I think you and I are in the same boat when it comes to China. You absolutely nailed it.” Read more
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