Years ago, I spent a summer interning at the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York. The final step before they would accept me for the internship was that I had to undergo an FBI background check. They asked such detailed questions going so far back in time that I actually had a hard time remembering some of the information and was afraid I would accidentally tell them something that wasn’t true. I also had to submit my fingerprints to be run through their database. Just to be a summer intern.
I’m telling you about this because tomorrow, Republicans are beginning confirmation hearings on some of Trump’s top cabinet nominees without them having completed their FBI background checks (many of them also haven’t completed other aspects of the vetting process, particularly the financial/conflicts vetting). Republicans have stacked the decks for confirmation hearings this week, with numerous nominees scheduled each day, but first up today are Secretary of Homeland Security nominee John Kelly and Attorney General nominee, Jeff Sessions. Later in the week come some of Trump’s nominees who are completely new to government, and that’s where the lack of vetting becomes even more alarming. These are people who are almost entirely unfamiliar to Congress (other than their public faces) making the lack of FBI check even riskier if possible and, with respect to the financial vetting, they are some of the wealthiest nominees ever chosen (all together, historians think Trump’s cabinet would be the wealthiest cabinet in U.S. history). Their financial portfolios are extraordinarily vast and complex, making the opportunities for conflicts immense.
Democrats have asked for the hearings to be delayed until vetting is complete, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed their concerns as “little procedural complaints.” Men and women (okay, almost entirely men) who are about to take on the most important roles in our government – including the highest levels of responsibility for our national security – haven’t completed their FBI background checks or conflicts of interest vetting, and Mitch McConnell thinks that’s just a little procedural issue. And he’s not even promising that they’ll have it done by the time the Senate actually votes on these confirmations. All he said with regard to that is that he’s “optimistic” it would be done by then. Knowing that Trump is busy doing Twitter combat with his mortal enemies at all hours of the day, it’s really reassuring to see Republicans in Congress taking their duties so seriously.
Update: It was announced this morning that the confirmation hearing for Rep. Mike Pompeo as CIA Director, which was originally scheduled for this Wednesday, will be postponed until Thursday. It’s unclear if this is related to the incomplete vetting discussed in this post. The aides who announced the postponement gave no explanation, and a delay of only one day wouldn’t seem to help much in that department. But Democrats seem to feel that their pressure campaign had an influence.
Also, I forgot to mention in my initial post that one other postponement was announced last night: the hearing for Bety DeVos as Education Secretary, which was also originally scheduled for this Wednesday, has now been postponed by almost a week, until January 17th. Again, there was no mention of the vetting issues when the postponement was announced, however, an aide to the Democratic Senator who heads the committee involved told the Washington Post, “Senator Murray is hopeful that this additional time will allow Ms. DeVos to complete the required ethics paperwork in time for the Office of Government Ethics to submit it to the HELP Committee before her hearing, just as every single one of President Obama’s nominees did and as Leader McConnell demanded eight years ago.” (Additional sources have given Politico the same general sentiment).
There were originally five confirmation hearings scheduled for this Wednesday, which is a lot of business to pack into one day, and obviously more than the media would be able to cover with any depth. And wouldn’t you know it, Wednesday is the very same day Donald Trump decided to schedule his first press conference in nearly six months.