Trump transition packed with Washington insiders, lobbyists

(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump elicited wild cheers on the campaign trail by pledging to “drain the swamp” in Washington, but the president-elect’s transition team is populated largely with creatures of the capital, including former federal bureaucrats, think-tank academics, corporate lawyers and special-interest lobbyists.

An internal organizational chart for the Trump transition team lists more than 30 names, some well-known within the GOP establishment. They are tasked with helping to select and vet Trump’s Cabinet, as well as map out the key policy initiatives the new administration will pursue.

Their areas of experience and policy expertise on the chart hint at future efforts to restrict abortion, strip away consumer protections, boost defense spending and dismantle environmental regulations. Key members of Trump’s team are also advocates for sweeping privatization of government programs, including Social Security.

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“Personnel is policy,” said Republican operative Ron Kaufman, who also served in George W. Bush’s White House.

The team will not necessarily carry over into the Trump administration — though members of past transition teams often have. Instead, they are in charge of putting together hiring recommendations, working with outgoing appointees and laying the groundwork for administration’s opening months.

“For people who voted for him thinking that he’d shake things up, I don’t think they thought he was going to privatize everything,” said Dean Baker, a progressive economist and founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “He runs this populist, anti-Wall Street campaign, and he turns to Wall Street and lobbying guys.”

The behind-the-scenes transition operation is being run by Ron Nichol, a senior partner at The Boston Group, a management consulting firm where 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney launched his business career. A former nuclear submarine officer, Nichol oversees five teams targeted at “Agency Transformation and Innovation.”

Overseeing the transition for domestic issues is Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state, state treasurer and Cincinnati mayor. He is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, which opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

Veteran agribusiness lobbyist Michael Torrey is tasked with transforming the Agriculture Department. Energy industry lobbyist Mike McKenna, who represents electricity and chemical companies, is leading the Energy Department transition team.

For the Interior Department there is David Bernhardt, a top lawyer at the agency under President George W. Bush who represents mining companies seeking to use resources on federal lands and Indian reservations. Lobbyist Steven Hart, who focuses on tax and employee benefits, is leading the transition team for the Labor Department.

Cindy Hayden, a former congressional staffer who is now the top lobbyist for Altria, the parent company of cigarette-maker Philip Morris, is overseeing the transition for the Homeland Security Department. Jeff Eisenach, a consultant and former lobbyist who has called for deregulation of the telecommunications industry, is overseeing the transition for the Federal Communications Commission.

The man put in charge of staffing for the Social Security Administration, Michael Korbey, is a former lobbyist who led President George W. Bush’s effort to privatize America’s retirement system. Trump campaigned on keeping Social Security within the federal government.

One of Trump’s campaign pledges was to spending up to $1 trillion over 10 years on infrastructure projects. But his selection to oversee the transition for the Transportation Department, Shirley Ybarra, has been a champion of “public-private partnerships” to build toll roads and bridges. A former Virginia state transportation secretary, Ybarra now works as a policy analyst with the libertarian-leaning Reason Foundation, which has received support from conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch.

Trump has also pledged to renegotiate the Paris climate treaty signed in December, saying efforts to restrict the carbon emissions are harming American industries such as coal mining. Trump’s pick to oversee the transition for the Environmental Protection Agency is Myron Ebell from the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has voiced the false view that man-made global warming is a hoax. Ebell has called for dismantling environmental protections and assigning international carbon-cutting agreements to the “dustbin of history.”

Trump has pledged to transform a national economy he said was hobbled by bad trade deals and rigged against American workers by Wall Street and the big banks. His list of advisers indicates an interest in rolling back many of the reforms made in the wake of the 2008 recession and appears to signal an interest in deregulating the financial sector.

David Malpass, who is overseeing the Treasury Department transition, was Bear Stearns’ chief economist in the years before the firm’s 2008 collapse. A few months before the recession began, Malpass wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Don’t Panic About the Credit Market.”

“Housing and debt markets are not that big a part of the U.S. economy, or of job creation,” Malpass said in August 2007, predicting continued economic growth. He has complained about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the brainchild of progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Dan DiMicco, who is overseeing the transition of the U.S. trade representative’s office, fits in well with Trump’s avowed hard line on tariffs. The former chief executive of steel company NUCOR and a board member at Duke Energy, he’s likely to steer the U.S. toward far more aggressive trade policy. In his 2015 book, DiMicco declared that the United States is already in a trade war with China — and that it’s losing.

Former Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., is taking the lead on crafting Trump’s national security team. The former chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rogers serves on boards for consulting firms IronNet Cybersecurity and Next Century Corp.

At the Justice Department, Kevin O’Connor, a former U.S. attorney for Connecticut, is overseeing the transition. He briefly served as chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a George W. Bush appointee who resigned from the Justice Department in 2007 amid a scandal over the firing of U.S. attorneys. He was also a partner at the law firm of close Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani.

Jim Carafano is the Heritage Foundation’s vice president for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies and is leading the transition at the State Department. A 25-year Army veteran, Carafano has been advising Trump on terrorism and border security. In a recent radio interview, Carafano said he told Trump that the next administration must pay more attention to transnational criminal cartels, toughen border security and fight al-Qaida globally.

Trump has tapped retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who is close to Trump military adviser Michael Flynn, to oversee the transition for the Defense Department. Kellogg was chief operating officer for Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, which governed the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Working with Kellogg is Mira Ricardel, a former acting assistant defense secretary during the George W. Bush administration who more recently served as vice president of business development for Boeing Strategic Missile & Defense Systems, a major military contractor.