The White House has installed 16 political appointees across multiple Cabinet agencies in order to track secretaries' loyalty to the president and his agenda, the Washington Post reported late Sunday, citing eight unnamed officials.
The unusual "shadow government" arrangement, which sees senior White House aides sitting in on Cabinet meetings and reporting to White House deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn, has apparently created frustration and unease within President Donald Trump's Cabinet.
The Post reports:
The political appointee charged with keeping watch over Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides has offered unsolicited advice so often that after just four weeks on the job, Pruitt has shut him out of many staff meetings, according to two senior administration officials.
At the Pentagon, they're privately calling the former Marine officer and fighter pilot who's supposed to keep his eye on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis "the commissar," according to a high-ranking defense official with knowledge of the situation. It's a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal.
"Many of the senior advisers lack expertise in their agency's mission and came from the business or political world," the Post continues:
They include Trump campaign aides, former Republican National Committee staffers, conservative activists, lobbyists, and entrepreneurs.
At Homeland Security, for example, is Frank Wuco, a former security consultant whose blog Red Wire describes the terrorist threat as rooted in Islam. To explain the threat, he appears on YouTube as a fictional jihadist.
Most of the aides installed to track Cabinet loyalties were part of the "beachhead teams," or the staff tasked with overseeing the agencies immediately after Trump's inauguration. These Cabinet appointees are not subject to Congressional approval and operate largely in the shadows, as ProPublica reported earlier this month.
Trump's obsession with loyalty is apparently also resulting in widespread paranoia within the White House itself, Politico reported last week, also citing anonymous officials:
In interviews, nearly a dozen White House aides and federal agency staffers described a litany of suspicions: that rival factions in the administration are trying to embarrass them, that civil servants opposed to President Donald Trump are trying to undermine him, and even that a "deep state" of career military and intelligence officials is out to destroy them.
Aides are going to great lengths to protect themselves. They're turning off work-issued smartphones and putting them in drawers when they arrive home from work out of fear that they could be used to eavesdrop. They're staying mum in meetings out of concern that their comments could be leaked to the press by foes.
The "culture of paranoia" has "hamstrung the routine functioning of the executive branch," Politico wrote. "Senior advisers are spending much of their time trying to protect turf, [and] key positions have remained vacant due to a reluctance to hire people deemed insufficiently loyal."
Indeed, "[m]ost members of President Trump's Cabinet do not yet have leadership teams in place or even nominees for top deputies," observed the Washington Post. "But they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged—above all—with monitoring the secretaries' loyalty."