President Trump, in a highly unusual new effort, has begun making significant staffing changes inside top federal agencies without the consent — and, in at least one case, without even the knowledge — of the agency head, according to officials familiar with the effort.
Why it matters: This campaign — helmed by Trump’s loyalty enforcer, a 30-year-old former body man, John McEntee, Director of the Presidential Personnel Office, who now runs hiring for the government — is part of the systematic purging or reassigning of those deemed insufficiently supportive of Trump.
- The effort’s pace has alarmed top officials, according to 11 current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation.
“…… to the growing frustration of Defense Secretary Mark Esper, McEntee is trying to exert more control over staffing at the Defense Department. Trump’s conservative allies have long told the president he needs more loyalists there, per two sources with direct knowledge.”
- Before McEntee took over PPO, Esper had already made selections, which the White House had cleared, to fill a number of vacancies. But McEntee restarted the selection process and overrode Esper’s decisions on key positions.
- For example, Esper had green-lit Katie Wheelbarger to be the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security. McEntee overruled that decision, even though the White House had already announced her nomination in a press release.
- McEntee killed the nomination of Elaine McCusker as the Pentagon’s comptroller, also over Esper’s objections. The Senate already had her paperwork.
- And Esper had decided to promote David Trulio to an assistant secretary position, but McEntee squashed that plan and moved Trulio to the Export-Import Bank. This was coupled with Trump’s firing of John Rood, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy.
- Despite this, Wheelbarger and McCusker still remain at the Pentagon in acting positions. McEntee simply blocked Esper from getting them into Senate-confirmed roles.
Between the lines: McEntee tests job seekers’ loyalty to Trump in informal conversations, and he has formalized this emphasis in a new “research questionnaire.”
- Axios has obtained McEntee’s questionnaire for potential political appointees. CNN first reported the existence of the document.
- One question on the form: “What part of Candidate Trump’s campaign message most appealed to you and why?”
- We’ve uploaded the previous version of the questionnaire and McEntee’s new version: See Axios for copies.