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From Lobbyists to Reality Show Stars, Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed

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ProPublica’s Justin Elliott has been looking into the hundreds of officials Trump has quietly installed across the government. He describes the backgrounds of these officials in a recent piece for ProPublica: "A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed 'ethnic cleansing' in a plot to 'liquidate' the white working class. A former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool. A pair of healthcare industry lobbyists. A lobbyist for defense contractors. An 'evangelist' and lobbyist for Palantir, the Silicon Valley company with close ties to intelligence agencies. And a New Hampshire Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school."

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AMY GOODMAN: So I want to move on to some of your other writings. I want to ask you about one of your recent pieces, which was headlined "Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the Government." You begin the piece by describing some of the people the Trump administration has hired for positions across the federal government, quote: "A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed 'ethnic cleansing' in a plot to 'liquidate' the white working class. A former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool. A pair of healthcare industry lobbyists. A lobbyist for defense contractors. An 'evangelist' and lobbyist for Palantir, the Silicon Valley company with close ties to intelligence agencies. And a New Hampshire Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school." Justin, take your pick, and take us through it.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Sure. So, it’s interesting. At the same time that President Trump has not been nominating people for the Senate-confirmed positions—these are high-level positions at agencies across the government, like deputy undersecretary of X—he has been—he has hired these people on what they’re calling "beachhead teams," that do not face Senate scrutiny. And they’re at agencies like the Department of Labor, the Department of Defense. The Department of Labor, which I have done the most reporting on, you know, there is no secretary of labor yet. As you may remember, Trump’s first pick for secretary of labor, Andrew Puzder, because he had go through this Senate scrutiny, revelations about domestic abuse, mistreatment of workers at his company came out. He had to drop out. So there’s no Senate-confirmed official at the Department of Labor right now. But there is this group of people, some of whose names we didn’t even know until last week, on this so-called beachhead team. And there’s, again, a lot of unknowns about what these people are doing. Are they setting policy? Many of these people, dozens of them, actually, are lobbyists who previously were lobbying the agencies that they’re now working at.

AMY GOODMAN: So, but I want to ask you about this—

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —because Donald Trump talked about a ban on lobbying.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Five-year lobbying ban. And this is all of the people—most of the people standing behind me will not be able to go to work or do anything adverse to our wonderful country. OK, five-year ban. It’s a two-year ban now, and it’s got—full of loopholes. This is a five-year ban.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what about that?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: So, Trump has—there’s two parts of it. And Trump has talked about a five-year ban on lobbying after you leave the administration, although it’s filled with loopholes. You know, during the campaign, he also said that he wouldn’t have a problem banning lobbyists, former lobbyists, from joining his administration. Our reporting and research on these hundreds of people hired across the government show that he in fact has hired dozens of people who were lobbyists—a complete violation of what he said during the campaign. I mean, this was not a sort of swamp-draining group of people that he’s hired.

AMY GOODMAN: Name names.

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: One example, again, Department of Labor, a man named Geoff Burr. Until a few months ago, he was the chief lobbyist for the construction industry trade association. You know, construction industry has tons of business before the Department of Labor on wage regulations, workplace safety, that kind of thing. He’s now been hired in the Department of Labor. There’s several healthcare industry and health insurance, Pharma lobbyists, who have been hired at the Department of Health and Human Services to work under Tom Price. There’s defense—

AMY GOODMAN: Jon Perdue?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Jon Perdue is—was not a lobbyist, I believe. He’s been hired at the Treasury Department. He’s a guy who, frankly, has worked for a sort of fringe think tank, written for Breitbart. There’s several people—

AMY GOODMAN: Inventor of a survivalist tool called the Packbow?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: That’s right. He actually appeared on a CNBC reality show called Make Me a Millionaire Inventor. According to the website of the Packbow, which describes him as a expert in guerrilla warfare, his study of, quote-unquote, "societal collapse" led him to invent this bow and arrow, in which you can also have—store your water purification tablets, has a lot of other functions. We’re not quite sure what he’s doing at the Department of Treasury. But there are some interesting characters.

AMY GOODMAN: The high school student in New Hampshire?

JUSTIN ELLIOTT: Many former Trump campaign staffers. This one gentleman—his name is Danny Tiso—has been hired at the Department of Labor, seems to have from graduated high school just in 2015, then went to work for the Trump campaign. You know, to be fair, it’s not unusual for administrations to bring in people who worked for the campaign. But the Trump administration has brought in many more of these people for these early hires.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I’m going to ask you to stay during this snowpocalypse, and we’ll do a post-show and post it online at democracynow.org. And we’re just going to go through some of the names of the people who have been chosen because they don’t have to be approved by Congress. Justin Elliott, reporter at ProPublica, we’ll link to your pieces, "Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the Government."

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