Nearly 100 internal Trump transition vetting documents leaked to "Axios on HBO" identify a host of "red flags" about officials who went on to get some of the most powerful jobs in the U.S. government.
Why it matters: The massive trove, and the story behind it, sheds light on the slapdash way Donald Trump filled his Cabinet and administration, and foreshadowed future scandals that beset his government.
- Scott Pruitt, who ultimately lost his job as EPA administrator because of serial ethical abuses and clubbiness with lobbyists, had a section in his vetting dossier flagging "coziness with big energy companies."
- Tom Price, who ultimately resigned as Health and Human Services secretary after Trump lost confidence in him in part for stories about his use of chartered flights, had sections in his dossier flagging "criticisms of management ability" and "Dysfunction And Division Has Haunted Price's Leadership Of The House Budget Committee."
- Mick Mulvaney, now Trump's acting chief of staff, had a striking assortment of red flags, including his assessment that Trump "is not a very good person."
- The Trump transition team was so worried about Rudy Giuliani, in line for secretary of state, that they created a separate 25-page document titled "Rudy Giuliani Business Ties Research Dossier" with copious accounting of his "foreign entanglements."
- One red flag for Gen. David Petraeus, then under consideration for secretary of state and national security adviser: "Petraeus Is Opposed to Torture."
Behind the scenes: In the chaotic weeks after Trump's surprise victory, Trump fired Chris Christie as transition chief. The new team outsourced the political vetting of would-be top officials to the Republican National Committee.
- We obtained the RNC's political vetting dossiers on Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Don McGahn, Laura Ingraham, Elaine Chao, John Bolton, Scott Pruitt and dozens of others — about 100 people.
- President-elect Trump reviewed many of these documents at Trump Tower and his Bedminster golf club before his interviews, according to a source with firsthand knowledge.
- Traditionally, any would-be top official faces three types of vetting: an FBI background check; a scrub for financial conflicts of interest from the Office of Government Ethics; and a deep dive from the president-elect's political team, which veteran Washington lawyers often handle.
- The documents below are from the political vetting category. According to sources on the RNC vetting team, senior Trump officials asked them to do an initial "scrub" of the public record before Trump met the contenders. But in many cases — for example the choice of Andrew Puzder as Labor secretary — this superficial-by-design RNC vetting was the most substantive vetting the Trump team had done by the time he announced his nominees for top government jobs.
The RNC researchers identified some striking red flags.
- One red flag for Fox News host Laura Ingraham, considered for White House press secretary: "Ingraham said people should wear diapers instead of sharing bathrooms with transgender people."
- One heading in the document about Kris Kobach, in the running for Homeland Security secretary, listed "white supremacy" as a vulnerability. It cited accusations from past political opponents that he had ties to white supremacist groups.
The RNC vetted some left field contenders. Nobody we spoke to, including senior members of the transition, could remember why Hollywood talent agent Ari Emanuel was vetted.
Our process: We are publishing a selection of these vetting documents. We redacted personal details that weren't newsworthy, information from spurious sources, material the vetting team described as rumors about contenders’ personal lives, and contact and identification information. All the unredacted information is from public sources.
- We've reached out for comment to the White House, the Republican National Committee and each person whose vetting form we are publishing. You can see the responses here, and we publish the RNC's full statement in a separate article that has behind-the-scenes details about their work.
White House response: "President Trump has assembled an incredible team throughout the federal government who — in spite of 93% negative news coverage — has accomplished undeniable successes like tax cuts, record employment levels, a booming economy ... unleashing energy exploration, rebuilding the military and crushing ISIS," said principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley.
- "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."
Read the leaked vetting documents here.
Go deeper: Our full story on the Axios stream has more highlights from the huge document dump.