March 20, 2018
Washington DC — Each week seems to bring a new White House staffer forced out for being a risk to national security. However, the likelihood that similar issues are rampant across Trump’s Cabinet has not yet sunk in even as revelations of conflicts and misdeeds among Trump Cabinet members flood the news. How the Senate confirmation process failed, and why, is the subject of a report released today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), “Broken: The Confirmation Process of Trump’s Unvetted Cabinet,” by Jeff Hauser, Director of the Revolving Door Project.
The Senate confirmation process started with the Eisenhower administration as a way to validate the integrity of top government officials. FBI background checks help the Senate fulfill their constitutionally granted advice and consent role and ensure national security is uncompromised. Before starting the confirmation process, a nominee usually completes a review of their tax returns and financial disclosures, undergoes a standard FBI background check, and receives a conflict of interest review from the Office of Government Ethics.
The Trump administration managed to push nominees through confirmation hearings in spite of incomplete paperwork and reviews. This report focuses on three individual confirmations, Wilbur Ross, Steven Mnuchin, and Jeff Sessions, whose nominations illustrate where and why the process failed and offers policy recommendations to remedy the broken process.
“There is good reason to believe that the FBI contributions to the Senate were rushed, in light of issues that arose with the incompleteness of information known to the Senate, and presumably to the FBI, during the confirmation hearings of those three officers,” said Hauser.
As a result, Sessions is now exposed for lying to the Senate during his confirmation hearing and on his background questionnaire; Mnuchin failed to provide complete financial records; and, either by ignorance or design, the Senate failed to ask Wilbur Ross about his connection to Putin’s family through his interests in Navigator Holdings.
Hauser recommends that in the future, the Senate certifies that cabinet officers meet the standards of Top Secret clearance before confirmation. Nominees who conduct business through offshore shell companies designed to minimize legal and tax liability should not be confirmable. And, in the short run, the Inspector General in each agency should review the files for each member of Trump’s Cabinet and investigate any standard vetting question that remains unanswered. After completing that investigation, the Inspectors General ought to share that information in a report to relevant Senate committee chairs and ranking members.