Trump Fills Government Boards With Loyalists as Term Nears End
(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump has appointed a slew of prominent aides, supporters and fundraisers to federal advisory boards since losing re-election, a sometimes controversial practice that indicates recognition his presidency is coming to a close.
Roughly three dozen Trump allies have received appointments to federal boards and commissions in recent weeks -- including some who bring no apparent expertise to the posts.
For instance, Trump appointed two of his 2016 campaign officials, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, to the traditionally nonpartisan Pentagon Defense Business Board. Andrew Giuliani, the 34-year-old son of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, secured a spot on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s board, along with the president’s close aide and body man, Nick Luna.
Other appointees are overseeing the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and military service academies and supervising funding for organizations and programs including the Library of Congress and education research. The positions can be highly coveted, as they represent affiliations with prestigious Washington institutions.
The appointments are yet another implicit recognition by the president that he will soon leave office, even as he continues to refuse to concede defeat to President-elect Joe Biden. The largely ceremonial and unpaid appointments, which don’t require Senate confirmation, typically happen at the end of a presidency.
The appointments aren’t extraordinary -- President Barack Obama named his close aides Susan Rice and Valerie Jarrett to the Kennedy Center board with three days remaining in his second term, and some of his appointees remain on government advisory committees today.
‘Nice Thing to Do’
“These are things you want to put your friends on because it’s a nice thing to do for somebody or it’s something they care about,” said Terry Sullivan, executive director of the White House Transition Project.
But some of Trump’s selections have drawn backlash from critics who say the backgrounds of the appointees aren’t suited for the positions they’ll hold, or that they lack qualifications.
On Wednesday, Trump announced the appointment of Andrew Giuliani, a White House aide who works as a liaison to sports teams. The elder Giuliani, the former New York mayor, has been representing Trump in his effort to overturn the election results.
Andrew Giuliani referred to a statement he posted on Twitter saying that the appointment “by this president, who has been a champion for our Jewish brothers and sisters all around the world, makes this honor that much more humbling.”
Earlier this month, Trump appointed Lewandowski and Bossie to the Pentagon board, which provides advice to senior officials on business management.
Members of the board are supposed to have experience running large corporations and organizations or posses a “wealth of top-level, global business or academic experience,” according to its website. The former Trump aides were named to the board after other members were dismissed.
“It’s not standard practice to put your former campaign manager and a campaign adviser onto a core defense advisory board. That is not typical fare,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit that seeks to make government more effective and efficient.
President-elect Joe Biden’s administration could replace Lewandowski and Bossie upon taking office since their board seats do not carry a fixed term, Stier said.
The Anti-Defamation League last month demanded that Trump rescind the appointment of Darren Beattie to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, which identifies cemeteries and historic buildings in Europe, including Holocaust sites. Beattie was ousted in 2018 from his job as a White House speechwriter after he participated in a conference of the H.L. Mencken Club, a right-wing group that has hosted racist speakers.
The unpaid commission seat carries a three-year term that will last into the Biden administration.
Heidi Stirrup, a White House liaison at the Department of Justice, was named to the board of visitors of the U.S. Air Force Academy on the same day the Associated Press reported that she was banned from DOJ headquarters after pressuring officials for information on sensitive investigations and work on election irregularities.
Air Force Academy Board
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager and former White House counselor, was also named to the board of visitors of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Matt Schlapp, the American Conservative Union chairman who has amplified Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud, will serve on the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board.
Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, said that with some of Trump’s appointments, it appears “there’s no effort whatsoever to match names with interest.” While it’s not unusual for presidents to make last-minute picks for boards and commissions, Light said, political loyalty seems to be the overriding factor for Trump even more so than his predecessors.
“It’s about the prestige and it’s about the favors owed,” he said.
The positions Trump has recently filled generally do not provide a salary, though reimbursements for travel expenses are allowed. While the titles pad résumés of the people appointed to the posts, they will have little to no effect on Biden’s ability to run the federal government.
The administration has made other recent personnel moves, however, that could hamper Trump’s successor. The Senate’s confirmation this month of a Trump nominee to the Federal Communications Commission will cause a 2-2 partisan deadlock on the panel once Biden takes office, with chairman Ajit Pai stepping down.
And the administration has reportedly installed a Trump supporter as general counsel at the National Security Agency, a career post that carries civil service protections.
“Trump is creating a hornet’s nest of a kind and Biden could find that those hornets are pretty damn aggressive if they are disturbed,” said Light.
Other board appointments have gone to Trump campaign fundraisers. Republican lobbyists Brian Ballard and Jeff Miller on Dec. 3 received posts on the Kennedy Center’s board of trustees and the Holocaust Memorial Council, respectively. Both raised large sums of money for Trump’s re-election.
Their board positions will last well into Biden’s presidency; the Kennedy Center seat carries a six-year term while the Holocaust Memorial Council’s term last five years.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Dec. 8 was named to the Kennedy Center board. She is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Global warming skeptic David Legates, a top official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was named to the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science. The 12-person panel evaluates nominees for the medal.
Last Friday, Trump named pro sports figures who have publicly supported him to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. The list includes New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, former NFL running back Herschel Walker and mixed martial artist Jorge Masvidal.
Former Trump campaign adviser Bryan Lanza, who accepted a spot on the President’s Advisory Commission on Hispanic Prosperity, described a deliberative process for his selection. He said he was in discussions with the White House about serving on various boards during the first year of the Trump administration and was asked about his interests and in what capacity he would want to work.
Lanza, a partner at the lobbying and public affairs firm Mercury, didn’t take a position at the time. But he decided to join the commission when the post was offered again following the election, he said.
Stier said the process of filling government advisory boards should be overhauled to focus on merit and qualifications.
“These positions are all highly sought after. It’s the reason why the outgoing president uses it as a chit or a recognition because they know they are doing a consequential favor for somebody,” he said. “We ought to be asking the question, ‘is that what we want to see in anything associated with the public sector?’”
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