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Donald Trump’s Hiring Style Is a Destabilizing Factor at the White House

Gary Cohn, then president of Goldman Sachs, made a real impression on Donald Trump in a Trump Tower meeting on Nov. 30 2016. Dazzled, Trump offered Cohn five totally different jobs that day, according to legendary journalist Bob Woodward’s new book Fear: Trump in the White House.

Bob Woodford’s book, Fear: Trump in the White House, was released today. The quote above is from a Quartz article highlighting the haphazard hiring process Trump employed with Cohn. Assuming this is accurate, there’s little wonder why staffing has been a consistent problem in Trump’s White House.

When I was interviewed to join Geico as a claims adjuster, my interview had far more vetting involved than Cohn’s experience interviewing for potentially a cabinet-level position. I had to pass a full criminal, driving and credit background check, then a phone interview with HR, aptitude tests, an in-person with a second HR employee, a role playing portion, an interview with the claims department hiring manager, then an interview with the department head of claims. Compared to that, Cohn’s interview was a breeze.

In a single interview, Trump offered Cohn the following positions: deputy secretary of defense, director of national intelligence, energy secretary, director of the office of management and budget, and treasury secretary. Cohn turned down all five jobs. Again from Quartz:

Sitting in front of Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s chief campaign fundraiser who had already been offered the treasury secretary post, the president-elect reportedly said: “You know what…I hired the wrong guy for treasury secretary. You should be treasury secretary. You would be the best treasury secretary.”

How awkward is that? This hiring process may go a long way toward explaining the record turnover in the Trump White House. According to CNBC:

President Donald Trump has seen staff turnover in excess of 37 percent over the calendar year ending June 30, an AP analysis of White House filings shows.
According to the most recent filing, 141 staffers who worked for the president at that point last year are gone, with 138 new arrivals. The figures don’t include those who arrived and departed during the year — like short-lived communications director Anthony Scaramucci — or those who departed before June 30, 2017.

Even within the White House, not everyone was thrilled about Trump’s hiring process with Cohn. Again from Quartz:

Chief of staff-to-be Reince Priebus apparently protested the speed with which Trump had hired a pro-Clinton Democrat. Trump, himself a former Clinton donor, would hear none of it: “We don’t need to talk about it…he’s going to be great.”

Of course, now both Priebus and Cohn are gone from the administration. Priebus has the dishonor of being the shortest-serving chief of staff in White House history, according to CNN. His departure came after constant chaos among staff, reports that the Oval Office was open constantly to everyone, and meetings being constantly interrupted. Then Department of Homeland Security chief and retired four-star general, John Kelly, took his place to bring some order. The general sentiment is that the situation has not improved since July 31st of last year — the beginning of Kelly’s tenure.

So what is Kelly’s version of bringing order? Firing communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, after only serving ten days on the job. This happened on Kelly’s first day in office. A few weeks later, he canned Steve Bannon, the White House Chief Strategist. By early 2018, multiple media outlets were conceding they were wrong about Kelly. Here’s FiveThirtyEight:

But the media got it wrong, myself included. Kelly seems to have deeply held views, particularly on immigration, that he has asserted — and they are not those of the McCain-like GOP establishment. Unlike past chiefs of staff, he hasn’t been careful to avoid bombastic comments. There was the attack on [Frederica] Wilson. But more recently, Kelly suggested that undocumented immigrants who had not yet signed up for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were “lazy.” He has also praised Confederate general Robert E. Lee. You might even call Kelly’s rhetoric Trumpian.

The Wilson episode was about a botched condolence call. Trump told parents of a slain soldier that “he knew what he signed up for.” Kelly inaccurately described what Wilson said, and when caught, refused to apologize. Shortly after was the Rob Porter episode where the staff secretary was accused of domestic abuse. Later, reports claimed Kelly was aware of Porter’s accusations and promoted Porter anyway. Some say Kelly’s failure was rushing forward without due diligence. Which fits the theme of this administration’s hiring, promoting, and firing. Eventually, Porter was dismissed despite Kelly’s protests.

According to Bloomberg, following these events, Kelly found himself sidelined while Trump made more staff changes:

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has lost some of his clout following recent missteps and wasn’t at President Donald Trump’s side for crucial decisions on staffing and policy moves, according to several senior aides.
Kelly wasn’t with the president last week when Trump abruptly decided to oust H.R. McMaster as national security adviser and replace him with John Bolton. Just two people were in the room for that decision: Trump and Bolton.

Kelly’s loss of influence, if he ever had any, has left him sulking around the White House, grumbling things like: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had,” which according to CNN is also from Woodford’s book. Though, this is what Trump had to say:

Trump’s haphazard staffing procedure has also caused multiple people to experience slowdowns with security clearances. The most notable is Jared Kushner. Kushner operated on a interim clearance until eventually being downgraded from top secret to secret level, losing access to information concerning his foreign policy portfolio. Following the Porter scandal, increased scrutiny of clearances began, because Porter was also operating on an interim clearance. Kushner had disclosure inconsistencies. But so did many others including Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions’ failure to disclose meetings with Russians ultimately led to his recusal from the investigation into the Russia and Trump campaign collusion. According to Business Insider:

Last March, Sessions came under scrutiny for failing to disclose meetings he had with Sergei Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the US, during the 2016 campaign. Following the revelations, Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, which is examining whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the race in his favor.

Lots of these staffing issues, which non-trivially disturbs the continuity of the administration and its ability to govern effectively, seems to stem from too much rushing around. Too little due diligence. Not looking into who to hire to begin with, who to promote, who has their paperwork and disclosures in order, and who is best to replace outgoing staffers. Woodford’s new book is painting a better picture of the inner workings of this administration that is leading to the news of the past two years.

Let’s leave things on a more positive note. After finishing this piece, I read Eric Medlin’s story: No One Can Replace Robert Mueller. In it he writes:

The Donald Trump legal team has been notably unable to escape from the shadow of its client. At every step of the way, otherwise professional lawyers start to act like the bombastic, reckless President that they are trying to keep out of prison or historical infamy. First, Trump attorney Mark Kasowitz was fired after directing vulgar language at a private citizen. Then, Ty Cobb and John Dowd loudly discussed sensitive details of the case at a press-adjacent steakhouse. Later embarrassing moments included the unhiring of Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, everything about Michael Cohen, and the crown jewel of all Trump’s-terrible-lawyers stories, Rudy Giuliani’s media circus.
What does the Trump legal team’s revolving door mean? These stories point to inherent instability. Matt Ford at The New Republic wrote that Trump will never be able to keep a proper legal team because he has no real legal strategy. Whatever strategy exists “so far appears to be predicated on punching back rather than crafting a sound defense, which helps explain why he’s had so much difficulty hiring and retaining lawyers.” A law professor writing for The Hill was even more direct: “You simply must have a strategy that you are following through on. He has literally nothing…” No strategy uniting Trump’s legal defense has made all of its parts interchangeable; it’s the same no matter which individual lawyers are involved.

Even as Trump’s hiring style has created chaos in the White House, Medlin has reminded me that this style, and the inability to form a legal strategy that it causes, may also be part of Trump’s eventual downfall.

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