Nearly 100 internal vetting documents of top Trump administration officials have been leaked to Axios on HBO, Axios reports.
The documents, used by the Trump team to assess potential officials during his transition, identify many “red flags” about officials who later were appointed to some of the most influential jobs in government.
The result is a trove of potential issues for senior aides, including Betsy DeVos, Gary Cohn, Don McGahn, Elaine Chao, John Kelly, James Mattis, John Bolton, and many others who have since faced criticism from lawmakers.
Presidents traditionally receive a deep dive from a political team on potential administration officials. After Donald Trump fired former New Jersey governor Chris Christie as the head of his transition team, the new team outsourced the vetting to the Republican National Committee.
The team of vetters was reportedly composed of only about two dozen researchers—almost all of whom were in their twenties—tackling an enormous list of administration candidates with vastly different qualifications. One RNC vetter said the team would sort through dozens of contenders each day.
“To be honest, the process was such a disaster and such a shit-show and there were so many unqualified people coming through that the issues with (future HUD Secretary Ben) Carson don't really stick out to me,” one RNC vetter told Axios. “You know, I'm like, ‘Oh gentle Ben is unqualified and thinks that pyramids store grain or whatever. Great. At least he's not beating his wife and his wife's not appearing on Oprah.’”
Most of the documents include a section titled “red flags,” where the vetting team filed concerns about potential top officials.
RNC researchers identified that Rex Tillerson, who would go on to be Trump’s secretary of state, had deep ties to Russia, while “white supremacy” was a vulnerability for Kris Kobach, who was once in the running for homeland security secretary.
Another red flag pertained to Fox New host Laura Ingraham, who was being considered for White House press secretary—a position once again in limbo after President Trump announced the resignation of Sarah Huckabee Sanders last week. Ingraham was flagged by vetters because she said on her radio show in 2016 that “people should wear diapers instead of sharing bathrooms with transgender people.”
The documents reveal unique concerns from RNC vetters about Gary Cohn, who would go on to serve as Trump’s chief economic adviser until he reportedly opposed the president’s planned tariff hikes on aluminum and steel.
“Some Say Cohn Has An Abrasive, Curt, And Intimidating Style,” vetters wrote, citing a Bloomberg article. “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.”
The documents also show that Trump appointed officials despite knowing they had made unsavory comments about him in the past.
Included in Mick Mulvaney’s red flag file is a note that the future budget director and acting chief of staff once called him “not a very good person,” among an assortment of other red flags.
Nikki Haley, who would go on to be U.N. ambassador before resigning, was flagged as saying Trump is everything “we teach our kids not to do in kindergarten,” while future Energy Secretary Rick Perry called “Trumpism” a “toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness, and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition.”
In response to the leaked documents, principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told Axios the breach does not detract from Trump’s many accomplishments as president.
“President Trump has assembled an incredible team throughout the federal government who... has accomplished undeniable successes like tax cuts, record employment levels, a booming economy... rebuilding the military and crushing ISIS,” Gidley said in a statement. “President Trump has done more to improve the lives of the American people in two years—than past presidents have done in eight—and no disgruntled, establishment, D.C. swamp creature’s cowardly leaks can change that.”