The Trump administration is giving its top aides a channel from the president's ear to major federal agencies, creating a so-called "shadow cabinet" that will help the White House control policy despite promising to give department secretaries "unusual autonomy," Politico reports.
Chosen aides will be given the title of "senior adviser" in various bureaus, and have already been responsible for some of the hiring decisions and crafting policy before all of President Donald Trump's nominees have even completed their confirmation processes. The liaisons will also be expected to sign off on major decisions.
"Having senior advisers reporting to both the agency chiefs and the White House could spur early tensions and create conflicts with that pledge of autonomy," Politico's Josh Dawsey and Nancy Cook write Tuesday.
A person familiar with the arrangement said, "They want to keep kind of a West Wing-infused attachment to the agencies. There will be tentacles from the White House to these agencies. … The effort is to demonstrate that all points lead back to certain people," such as Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was sworn in as a senior adviser without having to go through the nomination process, or White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.
Another insider said the Trump team wanted a "real strong line at the agencies to have someone monitoring and directing what they're doing."
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That's a break from historic policy, which usually allows big decisions to be made by cabinet secretaries, and contradicts the Trump administration's separate pledge to give them wide latitude.
And it's notable in light of several of Trump's nominees breaking with the president during confirmation hearings on top issues from Russia to climate change.
"What's different about the Trump hierarchy is the power these advisers are likely to have, according to people familiar with it. [Former President Barack] Obama's liaisons were often less powerful, while Trump's will connect directly to senior White House officials such as Kushner and Rick Dearborn, Trump's deputy chief of staff for policy," Dawsey and Cook write.
Tevi Troy, a former White House aide and deputy secretary at Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush, pointed out to Politico that senior advisers are unlikely to face subpoenas in the event of a "mishap."
Ethics experts sounded alarm bells over the shadow cabinet earlier this month.