Trump’s Team Nixed Ethics Course for White House Staff

President Donald Trump’s team rejected a course for senior White House staff, Cabinet nominees and other political appointees that would have provided training on leadership, ethics and management, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

The documents suggest the program could have better prepared officials for working within existing laws and executive orders, and provided guidance on how to navigate Senate confirmation for nominees and political appointees, how to deal with congressional and media scrutiny, and how to work with Congress and collaborate with agencies — some of the same issues that have become major stumbling blocks in the early days of the administration.

But the contract was never awarded because after the election the transition team shifted its priorities, according to a letter the General Services Administration sent to bidders such as the Partnership for Public Service. The program was expected to cost $1 million, the documents show. The contract-based training program was authorized in 2000, and the Obama and Bush transitions both received the training.

“It has been determined that the requirements as defined in the RFQ do not accurately reflect the current needs of the Presidential Transition Team,” the GSA contracting officer, Matthew Gormley, wrote in the Jan. 10 letter.

The agency’s cancellation notice elaborated on the reasons for dropping the program.

“As a result of a change in Presidential Transition Team leadership after the Nov. 8, 2016, election, there have been changes in the PTT’s goals for the political appointee orientation program,” it said. Shortly after the election, Vice President Mike Pence took over running the transition from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The changes included the transition team’s desire to control all the speakers and content, according to the notice.

Gormley referred questions to an agency spokesperson who didn’t answer a request for comment.

After the story was published, a White House spokeswoman said in a statement, “Several sessions on ethics issues were done in the Transition office as a prerequisite to employees being allowed to get on the White House campus for the first time, and get their badges. The Office of the White House Counsel continues to work to provide employees of the Executive Office of the President with direct instruction on the standards they are expected to follow during their employment at the White House.”

The Trump team has said it was determined not to spend all of its transition funds, and it returned millions to the government. To some Republicans, the program could be seen as wasteful.

Several political appointees at agencies said they received very little training and that the period between the election and Inauguration Day was hectic. There has also been little contact between the political appointees at agencies and the longtime civil servants because of a lack of trust, several of these people said.

The lack of training likely fueled a series of early missteps in the presidency, as aides fired off executive orders and new rules without briefing Congress or their peers at agencies.

“It looks like a good program, and I wish they had implemented it,” said Norm Eisen, a White House ethics lawyer in the Obama administration who now leads the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It might have spared them the numerous ethics and other messes they have encountered.”

(h/t Politico)

Trump Was Unfamiliar With the Scope of the President’s Job When Meeting Obama

President-elect Donald Trump celebrated his status as a Washington outsider during his campaign for the presidency, but his lack of familiarity with the US government appears to be coming into view as he transitions to the White House.

During Trump’s private meeting with President Barack Obama on Thursday, Trump “seemed surprised” by the scope of the president’s responsibilities, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s aides were also apparently unaware that the entire staff of the president working in the White House’s West Wing would need to be replaced, according to The Journal.

Obama reportedly will spend more time counseling Trump about the presidency than most presidents do with their successors.

Trump and Obama were highly critical of each other during the campaign season but appear to have struck a conciliatory tone since Trump’s election, at least publicly.

(h/t Business Insider)

Trump Team Seeks Top-Secret Security Clearances for Trump’s Children

President-elect Donald Trump is potentially seeking top secret security clearances for his children, sources tell CBS News.

The Trump team has asked the White House to explore the possibility of getting his children the top secret security clearances. Logistically, the children would need to be designated by the current White House as national security advisers to their father to receive top secret clearances. However, once Mr. Trump becomes president, he would be able to put in the request himself.

His children would need to fill out the security questionnaire (SF-86) and go through the requisite background checks.

While nepotism rules prevent the president-elect from hiring his kids to work in the White House, they do not need to be government officials to receive top secret security clearances.

The issue raises another layer of questions about the unique role his children are playing and conflicts of interest with their running his network of businesses.

Mr. Trump’s children Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr., as well as son-in-law Jared Kushner, were named to the president-elect’s transition team late last week. Though they were an integral part of his campaign team, Mr. Trump’s children have all stated that they will not hold formal roles in the government.

“No,” Ivanka told CBS News’ Lesley Stahl when asked during a “60 Minutes” interview if she would join the administration. “I’m going to be a daughter. But I’ve– I’ve said throughout the campaign that I am very passionate about certain issues. And that I want to fight for them.”

(h/t CBS News)


USA Today reports that, “it wasn’t something [Trump] was expecting right now.”


The fact that his children, who will now be running his business, may have security clearance, as well as a direct line of communication with the President of the United States, makes the concept of a blind trust completely useless. The Trump family will be able to alter government policy to better fit their business ventures or be aware of information months before the rest of the public is notified, allowing an unfair advantage to raise their profits among their competitors.

As Glenn Greenwald put it, “This is not a blind trust in any manner, no matter who calls it that. Stop using this term. It’s false.”

Trump Kids to Run Business While on Transition Team

The Trump Organization said on Friday it was vetting new business structures aimed at transferring management control to three of President-elect Donald Trump’s children and a team of executives.

The Trump Organization said in a statement it was planning to transfer control of the portfolio of businesses to Donald Trump Jr, Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump and other executives.

Earlier on Friday, the three Trump children – the oldest of Trump’s five children – were also named as members of Trump’s Presidential Transition Team Executive Committee.

“This is a top priority at the organization and the structure that is ultimately selected will comply with all applicable rules and regulations,” a spokesperson for the Trump Organization said in a statement.

Federal conflict-of-interest law does not apply to the president, but most White House occupants in the last few decades have voluntarily placed their assets in a blind trust to avoid any suggestion of impropriety.

Experts in government ethics said that giving over control to Trump’s children would do virtually nothing to prevent potential conflicts of interest, since there’s usually no daylight between one’s personal interest and the interest of one’s immediate family members.

“It doesn’t meet any of the standards of a blind trust if the kids are running the company,” said Kenneth Gross, a Washington lawyer who specializes in advising political clients on compliance and ethics.

Gross noted that the official transition team roles that Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump now have would appear to complicate matters further.

“If they’re going to be involved in government functions – and they’re starting down that road – and running the business, that’s going to make it very difficult to separate the government and business functions and deal with the conflicts of interest,” Gross said.

All three children already have roles in the Trump Organization, according to the company’s website. Ivanka Trump is executive vice president of development and acquisitions, charged with domestic and global expansion of the company’s real estate interests.

Donald Trump Jr is an executive vice president, and works to expand the company’s real estate, retail, commercial, hotel and golf interests nationally and internationally. Eric Trump is executive vice president of development and acquisitions, responsible for new project acquisition, development and construction globally.

Typically, a blind trust involves turning over assets to an independent financial manager with no prior relationship to the owner. In addition, a blind trust derives its name from the idea that the owner would no longer know what assets are sold or bought. For instance, someone with extensive stock holdings would have no way of knowing which companies’ shares he or she still owned in a blind trust.

Trump’s portfolio includes interests in hundreds of limited liability companies, many overseas, as well as numerous real estate properties both domestic and foreign.

Short of selling the entire Trump empire, experts said, he will find it difficult to create a trust sufficiently “blind” to avoid the possibility of any conflicts.

(h/t Huffington Post)


This is already showing signs of a conflict of interest with Trump family using their position to help enrich their organization with insider information. This is the type of corruption Trump ran against, but only took a few days after being elected to engage in.

Trump Campaigned Against Lobbyists, But They Fill His Transition Team

Donald Trump campaigned as an outsider who vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington, but the president-elect’s transition team is packed with veterans of the GOP establishment, as well as with lobbyists for the fossil fuel, chemical, pharmaceutical and tobacco industries.

As Trump and his aides vet nominees for his Cabinet and lay out a first 100-day agenda, they are leaning heavily on the sort of DC insiders that the billionaire railed against on the campaign trail — people who cut their teeth working for Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and former nominee Mitt Romney, as well as on the influence peddlers Trump accuses of ‘rigging’ the system against ordinary Americans.

One Republican lobbyist told POLITICO that the president-elect has no choice but to turn to GOP veterans with government experience to launch a new administration.

“Who else are you going to go to?” the lobbyist said. “Unless you get some used car salesman from Dubuque, Iowa, you go to policy people.”

To be sure, members of the transition team are not guaranteed jobs in the Trump administration — for now, they’ve been enlisted simply to assemble policy papers, vet potential nominees and develop road maps for governing. But their involvement makes it more difficult for the president-elect to portray himself as a political outsider — a development that at least some regard as positive.

“The fact that Donald Trump is reaching into the big pool of his party for some of the most highly qualified candidates is a good thing,” said one former Bush administration official. “It would be a huge mistake to not draw on that talent. I understand the campaign rhetoric. But if he’s not drawing from the Republican Party — and he’s obviously not drawing from the Democratic Party — where would he draw from?”

But some in the original band of insurgents are resentful. “The Bush crew is definitely trying to pretend that Trump’s win is not a direct repudiation of their failed administration,” said one early supporter. “I’m surprised by the hypocrisy of the whole thing.”

There’s also Ado Machida, a top domestic policy aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney; David Bernhardt, Interior Department solicitor, and James F. Manning, a senior Education official, both for the younger Bush; and Ken Blackwell, undersecretary at Housing and Urban Development, and David Malpass, deputy assistant secretary of state, both for the elder Bush.

Former Bush officials are expected to find a place in Trump’s Cabinet too. Pamela Patenaude, a potential pick to lead Housing and Urban Development, was an assistant HUD secretary under the younger Bush; and Van Hipp Jr., a former deputy assistant Army secretary for the elder Bush, is seen as a leading candidate to be Army secretary.

William Evers, a possible pick for Education Secretary, worked at the younger Bush’s Education Department; Victoria Lipnic, a candidate for Labor Secretary, worked at his Labor Department; and Robert Grady, who served the elder Bush, is seen as a candidate to lead Interior, Energy, EPA or the Office of Management and Budget.

Trump’s transition team is also flush with lobbyists, raising questions about the president-elect’s promises to limit the influence of lobbyists in government.

During an October speech in Wisconsin, Trump vowed to “make our government honest once again.” He pledged to ask Congress to ban executive branch officials from lobbying the government for five years after they return to the private sector and to issue a similar five-year ban on former lawmakers and their staffs. He also proposed a lifetime ban on senior executive branch officials lobbying for foreign governments. And he said he would “close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants and advisers when we all know they are lobbyists.”

But his transition team includes lobbyists who represent powerful corporate interests, according to an organization chart obtained by POLITICO and lobby disclosure filings:

Cindy Hayden of tobacco giant, Altria, is in charge of Trump’s Homeland Security team.

J. Steven Hart, chairman of Williams & Jensen, is in charge of the Labor team. His clients include Visa, the American Council of Life Insurers, Anthem, Cheniere Energy, Coca-Cola, General Electric, PhRMA and United Airlines.

Michael McKenna of MWR Strategies, who is working on the Energy Department team, lobbies for Engie (formerly GDF Suez), Southern Company and Dow Chemical.

David Bernhardt of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck who leads the Interior Department team, lobbies for the Westlands Water District in central California and used to represent Freeport LNG and Rosemont Copper.

Michael Torrey, who has the Agriculture Department portfolio, has his own firm representing the American Beverage Association and the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau.

Mike Catanzaro of CGCN Group, lobbies for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a refining group, as well as Hess, Encana, Noble Energy and Devon Energy. Catanzaro is working on energy independence, along with Mike Ference, a lobbyist at the firm S-3 Group, representing Halliburton, Koch Industries and Marathon Oil.

Rolf Lundberg, who’s tasked with trade reform, worked at the Chamber of Commerce until 2013 and spun off his own lobbying firm representing Choice Hotels and the International Franchise Association.

Jim Carter, who oversees tax reform, is an in-house lobbyist for manufacturing company Emerson.

Transportation and infrastructure is being led by Martin Whitmer, the founder partner of lobbying firm Whitmer & Worrall who represents the American Association of Railroads, the National Asphalt Pavement Association and the Utilities Technology Council.

It is not known whether Trump will allow former lobbyists to serve in his administration — instead of simply limiting what they do after leaving government. Unlike Trump, Hillary Clinton’s transition team banned lobbyists altogether and made staff sign a code of ethics requiring transition officials to recuse themselves from working on any issue on which they have lobbied in the past year.

A person close to Trump’s transition told POLITICO that he has not heard any discussion about limiting the role of lobbyists in Trump’s administration.

“When you lock lobbyists out, you’re really handcuffing yourself,” the person said. “It looks good on paper and it sounds good … But you’re cheating yourself and really limiting the talent pool.”

Indeed, even Obama had trouble keeping lobbyists out of government. The president issued several waivers permitting former lobbyists to work in his administration. Some Democrats privately acknowledge such limits are important symbolically, but are difficult to enforce.

“It is a big error to sweep with a broad brush when it comes to lobbyists,” said another former Bush administration official, “because some of the most seasoned and capable people able to responsibly pull the levers of government are among the lobbying ranks. To deprive yourself from that skill set is a mistake.”

Trump’s decision to rely on veterans of all stripes comes as a relief for many in the establishment.

“Look I don’t want his administration filled with Breitbart and Ann Coulter — those kind of folks,” said Peter Wehner, who served in the last three GOP administrations and who has been an outspoken Trump critic. “I hope for the sake of the country that he gets competent people in place who know how to run the government because he has no earthly idea what to do. I’m sure he’s in the process of figuring out that the presidency is not a reality television show.”

A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

(h/t Politico)


Trump supporters, say hello to your first of many broken campaign promises.