‘If you drain the swamp, you better have someone who watches over the alligators’
President Trump has reportedly stationed at least 16 politically appointed aides in several government agencies to monitor Cabinet secretaries’ loyalty, according to eight officials in and outside the administration.
“This shadow government of political appointees with the title of senior White House adviser is embedded at every Cabinet agency, with offices in or just outside the secretary’s suite,” the Washington Post reported Monday.
The advisers are stationed at departments including Energy and Health and Human Services and smaller agencies like NASA, according to paper, which obtained records through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The White House aides report to the Office of Cabinet Affairs, which is overseen by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn. The Post reported that top Dearborn aide John Mashburn holds a weekly conference call with advisers “who are in constant contact with the White House.”
The aides reportedly act as policy liaisons for the White House and the agencies.
“Behind the scenes, though, they’re on another mission: to monitor Cabinet leaders and their top staffs to make sure they carry out the president’s agenda and don’t stray too far from the White House’s talking points, said several officials with knowledge of the arrangement,” the Washington Post reported.
In some agencies and departments, government administrators have ridiculed and even rejected the Trump aides, according to the paper.
For example, the Trump appointee who oversaw Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides was excluded from staff meetings after just four weeks of offering advice, two senior administration officials said.
And at the Pentagon, a high-ranking defense official told the Post a senior Trump aide – a former Marine officer and fighter pilot – has been nicknamed “the commissar.” The name references Soviet-era Communist Party officials who oversaw military units and ensured commanders were loyal.
Former Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett applauded Trump’s embed strategy.
“Especially when you’re starting a government and you have a changeover of parties when policies are going to be dramatically different, I think it’s something that’s smart,” Bennett told the newspaper. “Somebody needs to be there as the White House’s man on the scene. Because there’s no senior staff yet, they’re functioning as the White House’s voice and ears in these departments.”
A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Post in an email: “The advisers were a main point of contact in the early transition process as the agencies were being set up. Like every White House, this one is in frequent contact with agencies and departments.”
Many of the advisers have business or political backgrounds, and they lack include Trump campaign aides, former Republican National Committee staffers, conservative activists, lobbyists and entrepreneurs.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump adviser, told the Post Trump must send his allies to the agencies and departments because the president has big plans to scale back bureaucracy.
“If you drain the swamp, you better have someone who watches over the alligators,” Gingrich said. “These people are actively trying to undermine the new government. And they think it’s their moral obligation to do so.”
The Post noted that Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and even Abraham Lincoln used similar arrangements with embedded aides.
“Trump’s approach may not be so different from Abraham Lincoln’s. Coming into the White House after more than a half-century of Democrats in power, Lincoln worked swiftly to oust hostile bureaucrats and appoint allies,” the newspaper reported. “But he still had to deal with an Army led by many senior officers who sympathized with the South, as well as a government beset by internal divisions.”
Gettysburg College professor Allen C. Guelzo said Lincoln was “surrounded by smiling enemies,” so he assigned his friends to oversee army camps and some departments.
Guelzo said, “I think that presidents actually do this more than it appears.”