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Leaked Trump transition vetting documents show numerous officials with 'red flags': Axios

The Hill logo The Hill 6/24/2019 Rebecca Klar
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Some of the Trump administration's top officials had "red flags" appear during the transition team's vetting process, which was outsourced to the Republican National Committee (RNC), according to internal documents leaked to Axios.

The documents show that many of the controversies Trump's Cabinet members were eventually ousted for were already known to the transition team.

The vetting documents for former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who resigned following numerous controversies regarding his spending, ethics and management style, had a section titled "allegations of coziness with big energy companies," according to documents released by Axios.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned after facing backlash for using his private jet for official business. Vetting documents for Price flagged "criticisms of management ability," Axios reported.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised a red flag for his "deep" ties to Russia, according to Axios.

The Trump transition team fired former Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) days after President Trump's surprise victory. It was then headed by Vice President Pence, who outsourced political vetting to the RNC, Axios reported.

Axios reported that sources on the RNC vetting team said Trump officials asked them to do an initial "scrub" of candidates' records before meeting with Trump. In many cases, it was the only vetting available to Trump when he announced his picks, Axios reported.

An RNC official pointed The Hill to a statement RNC spokesman Mike Reed shared with Axios, defending the team's work.

"It is not abnormal for a presidential transition team to utilize the national party committee as a resource in putting together background briefings on potential nominees and executive branch staff," he said. "These over 2-year-old documents were initial pre-interview briefings put together to inform the transition team of top-line issues of note in the candidates' background. Individuals selected for high-level administration jobs would have gone through more thorough background checks by lawyers, law enforcement agencies, and ethics officials before formally assuming their role."

The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.

DAY 53 - In this March 13, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order on "Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch" in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Listening from left are, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Vice President Mike Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File) © ASSOCIATED PRESS DAY 53 - In this March 13, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order on "Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch" in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Listening from left are, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Vice President Mike Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The vetting team often put a candidate's harsh criticism of Trump near the top of the file, which didn't stop the president from meeting with or sometimes hiring an official, Axios reported.

In a statement to Axios, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said, "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."

Christie looked over the team's vetting dossier for him in an interview with Axios reporter Jonathan Swan.

"It's fascinating," Christie said. "And by the way, the interesting part of this, which shows you how disorganized they were, was they had an entire vice presidential vetting file on me."

"That's what makes this even funnier that they would go through this," he added.

Christie said that before he was fired from the transition team, he turned over a 30-volume set of transition planning with four Cabinet recommendations for each position.

"The longer-term consequences for the president and for the country was that he didn't have the very best people in front of him to be able to make a full and fair decision about, and then he paid the price for that later on with people like Scott Pruitt, with people like Mike Flynn," Christie said.

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