Similarly, Republican spokeswomen for the Senate committees with jurisdiction over the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments said they would not move forward with hearings until the nominees submit their completed paperwork, including signed ethics agreements. “Democrats are creating a red herring here—there is no concern that forms will not be filled out,” said Margaret Atkinson, spokeswoman for the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
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Where did things go awry for the Trump transition? Close observers of the process point to his decision, made just a few days after the election, to replace New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as chairman of his transition committee, along with some of the people who had spent months doing the prep work in Washington for a possible Trump administration. The president-elect had, by his own admission, given little thought to the transition before the election out of a sense of superstition. He and his inner circle took over the operation immediately after November 8, moving the power center from government-provided offices in D.C. to Trump Tower (and his other properties in New Jersey and Florida), where a parade of job seekers has traveled for job interviews.
Yet the formal vetting of those candidates has not, in most cases, begun before Trump selects them for a job. Take the case of Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the high-ranking Republican congresswoman who was poised to become Trump’s nominee for interior secretary before the president-elect was persuaded to pick Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana instead. Over the course of about 10 days, McMorris Rodgers met twice with Trump and had phone calls with Vice President-elect Mike Pence and one of Trump’s sons, Donald Jr., according to a Republican familiar with the process. Her name was leaked to the press, which reported that she was likely to get the interior job. Yet at no time did Trump officials collect paperwork of any kind from McMorris Rodgers. “We were not asked for anything at all, ever,” this Republican said.
The Trump transition team did not respond to requests for comment on their vetting operation.
Several people familiar with the transition process said McMorris Rodgers’s experience was not unique. In the case of Tillerson, Trump was not even considering, much less vetting, the oil magnate until his name came up in conversations with former defense chief Robert Gates and Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, according to multiple published reports.
“It’s dangerous to nominate first and vet later,” Eisen said. Both he and Painter said numerous potential appointees in the Bush and Obama administrations had walked away from jobs before their names were made public once they found out how much they’d have to divest. Wealthy nominees have had to forgo millions of dollars in stock options as part of ethics agreements, for example. And that doesn’t even account for the damaging personal or political revelations that could threaten Senate confirmation or, at minimum, surprise and embarrass an administration without preliminary internal investigations.