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"Ready, shoot, aim": President Trump's loyalty tests are causing recruitment difficulties



Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President of President Trump's early cabinet at that time, gathered his staff and selected Sarah Isgur Flores as his spokeswoman.

There was only one problem: she had repeatedly criticized Trump during the 2016 Republican primaries. Flores' prospects for a job at the Department of Justice stagnated, and Trump's advisors knew that there was only one way Sessions could hire them: if she puked Trump.

So she paid her respects to the President at the Oval Office – warmly welcoming her to tell the President that she was on board with his agenda and honored to serve him, according to several people aware of the meeting had.

Unprecedented in early 201

7, the episode underscores the scale Trump calls for loyalty in the review of civil servants-even well-trained Republicans like Flores, who look for jobs with Cabinet secretaries who have considerable room for personal attitudes in the past ,

Recognized candidates had to prove their loyalty to the president, with many still blocked for earlier anti-Trump declarations. For example, hundreds of national security officials were not included because they spoke out against Trump during the campaign. But for long-time Trump loyalists, their loyalty to the president often suffices and obscures what would be red flags in a more traditional government.

The failed nomination of Ronny L. Jackson, the presidential physician, to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs was the latest example of the sometimes accidental way Trump unilaterally elevates people with whom he has a personal relationship.

Trump's operating principle is "ready to shoot, aim, as opposed to ready, aim, shoot," said a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity to openly comment

A Republican strategist working closely with the West Wing, was even blunt: "Trump White House's testing machine is an oxymoron – there's only one answer – Trump decides who he wants and tells people that's the testing process."

The result was As was the case with Jackson, many candidates who could not be considered qualified for their positions were driven forward by the President before a thorough review of their professional and personal background was possible – and without the necessary political support helping them to weather challenges.

"You'll probably need to check before they start throwing names out," said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).

Walter Shaub, a former director of the US Bureau of Ethics, who resigned last summer in protest of Trump's behavior, said the president's "ethics are based on loyalty." Shaub said he repeatedly told government officials to slow down and investigate the candidates.

He added, "If you make the announcement before you do all the work, you could embarrass the candidate."

Even Vice President Pence is not immune. At least two of his best candidates for his National Security Advisor crashed after being considered unfavorable to Trump. Jerry Hendrix, a retired naval captain, was seriously considered, but was partially insulted for anti-Trump tweeting, according to two people familiar with the matter. Hendrix declined to comment.

Pence later announced that he was presenting Jon Lerner, Deputy US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, in an unusual agreement in which he would continue to work for Haley. But Lerner retreated from the White House after the president was upset after learning that he had previously worked for the Club for Growth, an anti-tax group that attacked Trump during the 2016 primaries, and the presidential campaign of Senator. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Trump consultants say the White House is carrying out similar security checks as the George W. Bush administration.

The Office of the Presidential Staff, headed by Johnny DeStefano, employs Katja Bullock, 75, who worked in the same office during the last three Republican governments. But the bureau has come under fire since a Washington Post report showed that it's just as much a social hub as a rigorous operation, with young former campaign workers organizing happy hours, drinking games, and smoking electronic cigarettes.

The process typically begins with personal candidate interviews where the assessing staff qualified for questions such as whether a candidate was involved in litigation or associations that limited membership based on ethnicity, gender or other categories , checks. Candidates will complete questionnaires that comply with the SF-86 form required by Senate committees for candidates requiring confirmation. White House voters also search public records to investigate candidates.

In addition, veterinarians consult officials at the agency and agency to determine if the candidates are qualified. White House lawyers examine potential conflicts of interest or other ethical and financial issues. Once the President signs a nomination or appointment, the FBI will begin a background investigation used to conduct a security clearance and an IRS tax audit and credit check will also be conducted.

But lawyers involved in the process say Trump, or the White House, often announces picks before they are fully reviewed – and they describe an erratic process that is sometimes not followed when a candidate has high approval. Everything goes with the highest nominees.

"The President has made it clear that ethics play no role and conflicts of interest do not matter," said Richard Painter, the White House's chief ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush. "He decided to ignore ethics rules and say," I do not have to. "

During the transition period, a number of Cabinet members were announced with little more than a public search, according to current and former government officials." He would announce, and then we would say, "You need to fill in some forms" In Jackson's case, the president anesthetized some of his highest-ranking aides when he asked them at the Oval Office on a Monday in March that he could select his personal doctor to lead Veterans Affairs.

At that time, Division Secretary on duty, David Shulkin, was still at work, and officials said neither Trump nor his team had even conducted a fleeting interview with Jackson.

Aides urged the president to delay the announcement but two days later he shared his new VA selection on Twitter.

The White House defended the nomination by arguing Jackson had already been thoroughly screened for the sensitivity of his presidential job. But a White House official confirmed that Jackson's FBI background investigation was only completed after Trump had already stated on Twitter that Jackson was his choice.

The White House also failed to consult or even notify important members of Congress prior to the announcement. The inclusion of lawmakers in the deliberations could, according to White House officials and senators, have helped pave the way for Jackson.

"You need to talk to people and let people know what they are going to do and see what the feelings are," said Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). "Talk to the people who will vote here."

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) Agree: "I think the White House only has to consult with Congressmen and Congress, and hopefully more buy-in at the front end before the nominee quits."

However, since the early days of the president's transition, the Trump team has been particularly scrutinizing candidates for loyalty to the president and his policies, their social media profiles, and writings on anti-Trump posts.

Even mild comments in the opposition could torpedo candidates, current and former officials said. Trump himself would sometimes ask if candidates were "Never Trump" or if they supported him during the general election, officials said. After he posted on the social networks with the hashtag "#NeverTrump" or signed a public letter against his candidacy, the nomination became a non-starter.

Aides described a process of simply using Google searches to review candidates during the transition. and receiving recommendations from other political appointees before the more rigorous White House review process was underway. At the beginning of the term, when more than a dozen senior advisors regularly boarded and disappeared in the Oval Office, some negative articles on the President's Resolute desk wrote about their internal rivals to block them, people familiar with them said ,

White House officials said that the president could appoint only a tiny fraction of federal officials, and it was reasonable that he could demand allegiance from those appointees.

"One thing we're looking for open-source and in interviews is, is this person-oriented mission? Are they loyal to the president over the president's policies?" One of the officials said, on condition of anonymity to clarify the inspection process. "If we find something on the social media that indicates otherwise, that will matter."

Problems often arose when the president chose candidates largely from the gut. For example, Trump hired Rex Tillerson as Foreign Minister after a meeting with him and remarked to consultants that he admired his pride and business acumen. However, he did not delve into their foreign policy differences, which led to a source of tensions and ultimately to a cause for Tillerson's dismissal.

Trump recently announced the recruitment of Victoria Toensing and Joseph DiGenova as personal advocates to the Russia probe after watching them for cable news defending him. But the arrangement collapsed days later, after helpers had identified conflicts of interest with other customers.

And White House officials said they had not read any files about Rob Porter, who was later dismissed for his domestic violence by his two ex-wives as collaborators, even though the FBI interviewed the women and collected photographic evidence of abuse and abuse shared his findings with the White House.

Others saw themselves subjected to a stricter investigation for less-than-usual misdeeds.

Ann Marie Hauser, a senior executive in the office of Senator John Thune (RS.D.), was to become a high-ranking representative in the State Department. But as she scoured her public profile, officials found that she was retiring a post from the South Dakota Republican in 2016, prompting Trump to leave after the Access Hollywood band surfaced.

Hauser, who did not want to comment, saw her candidature sunk, these people said. She never came to Foggy Bottom.

Seung Min Kim and John Hudson contributed to this report.


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