In a letter to the president-elect dated Tuesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) took aim at Donald Trump for choosing "Wall Street insiders" for top financial posts. Warren's letter singled out three members of Trump's transition team––David Malpass, Paul Atkins and Steve Mnuchin––with ties to Wall Street and "demonstrated records of failure during the 2008 financial crisis." Malpass is a former Bear Sterns chief economist working on shaping Trump's Treasury Department, and Mnuchin, an ex-Goldman Sachs partner, is the top candidate to lead it. Atkins is reshaping the ranks of financial regulatory agencies and was a former Securities and Exchange Commission commissioner during the George W. Bush administration.
"You made numerous promises to the American people in your election campaign, none bigger than the promise to ‘drain the swamp' of Washington D.C. special interests rigged against the middle class," Sen. Warren wrote. "The decisions you make with your transition team will shape the next four years of this nation. They will also reflect the strength of your character and your ability to truly lead--not just follow the marching orders of the special interests and Wall Street bankers you purportedly oppose."
She urged Trump to appoint advisors who will fight for the best interests of the American public and warned him that a refusal to do so would likely result in confirmation battles in the Senate: "Let me be clear. Should you refuse, I will oppose you, every step of the way, for the next four years. I will champion the millions of Americans you will fail to protect. I will track your every move, and I will remind Americans, every day, of the actions you take that fail them. And I will not be the only one watching. The millions of Americans who voted for you - and the millions who didn't - will all be watching you."
Sen. Warren made similar criticisms while speaking at The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council Event yesterday, saying that the influence of corporate lobbyists directly contradicted Trump's promise to purge Washington of its political establishment. “I think that the clearest point that comes out of this election is that the American people do not want Wall Street to run their government. They do not want corporate executives to be the ones who are calling the shots in Washington,” she said to an audience of corporate executives. “What Donald Trump is doing is that he’s putting together a transition team that’s full of lobbyists — the kind of people he actually ran against."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (Credit: Source.)
Sen. Warren is not alone in her criticisms: Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) have also voiced their concerns over the inclusion of lobbyists and industry executives on Trump's transition team.
Sen. Sanders blasted the president-elect for going back on his promise to keep special interests out of Washington before even setting foot in the White House. “Mr. Trump described himself as a populist taking on the establishment, someone who would ‘drain the swamp,'” Sen. Sanders said. “Unfortunately what we’re beginning to see is what I feared, which is a lot of what Mr. Trump said to get votes is not what he intends to do as president of the United States.”
Sen. Whitehouse agreed: “It doesn’t look like they’re draining the swamp, it looks like they’re pouring the swamp into the transition,” he said. “If nothing changes, they’ll be pouring the swamp into the Oval Office as well.”
Both senators pointed to President Barack Obama's executive order restricting lobbyists and special interests off his transition team and administration. The Obama executive order has not always been effective––the administration waived certain restrictions and allowed some lobbyists in––but it has worked to appease "watchdog groups" looking to reduce ethical lapses
in the executive branch. The Trump transition team has not publicly indicated what ethics rules, if any, apply to the lobbyists and executives now exerting influence on policy and federal agency personnel issues.
Among the corporate lobbyists molding Trump's transition team:
- The aforementioned team of David Malpass, Paul Atkins and Steve Mnuchin.
- Steve Hart, who is overseeing the Labor Department; he is a tax lobbyist and chairman of the law and lobby shop Williams & Jensen.
- Mike McKenna, an energy lobbyist overseeing planning for the Energy Department.
- Mike Catanzaro, a partner at the lobby firm CGCN who has represented Halliburton and Koch Industries.
- Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier on the executive committee leading the transition.
- Harold Hamm, a billionaire Oklahoma oil executive, who advised the Trump campaign on policy and is on the short list for a Cabinet post.
Sens. Sanders and Whitehouse demand that Trump implement changes to lobbying laws that he proposed on the campaign trail, which include a five-year ban on members of Congress and executive branch officials who want to become lobbyists after leaving government, and a permanent ban on senior executive branch officials from lobbying for foreign governments.
The criticisms from all three senators may be having an effect as vice president-elect Mike Pence moves to clean house after Chris Christie's ouster as head of the transition. Pence supposedly has removed all lobbyists from the transition team, but critics worry key Cabinet positions will go to investment bankers and Wall Street insiders such as the ones Sen. Warren blasted and are listed above.
Vice president-elect Mike Pence. (Credit: Source.)
Yesterday evening, Pence signed a memorandum of understanding putting him in charge of the transition team. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a similar document and spent months in charge of the transition team before his demotion last week. The switch has slowed Trump's ability to coordinate the transfer of power with Obama's administration. White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine told the Associated Press that the administration must wait on more documents required by law before agencies can begin sharing information with the transition team.
Among those who departed Trump's transition team last night was former Representative Mike Rogers, who was advising the transition team on national security issues. Frank Gaffney, a former defense official in the Reagan administration, joined the team as his replacement and will assist Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California) and former Rep. Pete Hoekstra.
According to another source familiar with the transition team's efforts, the team was also reviewing Secretary of State candidate Rudy Giuliani's paid consulting work for foreign governments. Their review could delay a nomination, if not bump him to a different position altogether. Giuliani, who founded his own firm, Giuliani Partners, in 2001, assisted businesses on behalf of foreign governments, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. He also advised TransCanada––which sought to build the Keystone XL pipeline––and helped Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, settle a dispute with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
As the transition team undergoes these shakeups, another source familiar with the transition efforts told reporters that different factions on the transition team are "fighting for power" and that the organization, as it stands, "is not designed to work."