Trump transition team packed with Washington insiders

Donald Trump pledged to “drain the swamp” in the US capital, but the president-elect’s transition team is populated by former federal bureaucrats, think tank academics, corporate lawyers and special-interest lobbyists.

Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion on national security in his offices in Trump Tower in New York, with Gen Mike Flynn, left, and Lt Gen Keith Kellogg. Trump’s transition team is rich with lobbyists, a climate change denier and an ex-federal prosecutor involved in the mass firings of US lawyers. Gen Kellogg and Gen Flynn, both retired, have been advising Mr Trump on foreign policy and national security. Gerald Herbert / AP Photo
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WASHINGTON // Donald Trump drew wild cheers on the campaign trail by pledging to “drain the swamp” in the US capital, but the president-elect’s transition team is populated largely by creatures of Washington, including former federal bureaucrats, think tank academics, corporate lawyers and special-interest lobbyists.

An organisational chart for the Trump transition team lists more than 30 names, some well-known within the Republican establishment. They are tasked with helping to select and vet Mr Trump’s cabinet, as well as map out the key policy initiatives the new administration will pursue.

Their areas of experience and policy expertise on the chart hint at efforts to restrict abortion rights, strip consumer protections, increase defence spending and dismantle environmental regulations.

Key members of Mr Trump’s team are also advocates for sweeping privatisation of government programmes, including social security.

The team will not necessarily carry over into the Trump administration, although members of past transition teams often have.

Instead, they are in charge of putting together hiring recommendations, working with outgoing appointees and putting down the groundwork for administration’s early months.

“For people who voted for him thinking that he’d shake things up, I don’t think they thought he was going to privatise everything,” said Dean Baker, a progressive economist and founder of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research. “He runs this populist, anti-Wall Street campaign, and he turns to Wall Street and lobbying guys.”

The behind-the-scenes transition operation is being run by Ron Nichol, a senior partner at The Boston Group, a management consulting firm where 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney launched his business career.

A former submariner, Mr Nichol oversees five teams targeted at “agency transformation and innovation”.

Leading the transition at the state department is Jim Carafano, currently the Heritage Foundation’s vice president for foreign and defence policy studies.

A 25-year army veteran, Mr Carafano has been advising Mr Trump on terrorism and border security. In a recent radio interview, Mr Carafano said he told Mr Trump that the next administration must pay more attention to transnational criminal cartels, toughen border security and fight Al Qaeda globally.

Mr Trump has tapped retired Lt Gen Keith Kellogg, who is close to Mr Trump’s military adviser Michael Flynn, to oversee the transition for the defence department. Gen Kellogg was chief operating officer for Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, which governed the country after Saddam Hussein was hunted and deposed in 2003.

Working with Gen Kellogg is Mira Ricardel, a former acting assistant defence secretary during the George W Bush administration who more recently served as vice president of business development for Boeing Strategic Missile and Defence Systems, a major military contractor.

Overseeing the transition for domestic issues is Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state, state treasurer and Cincinnati mayor. He is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, which opposes same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

For the interior department there is David Bernhardt, a leading lawyer at the agency under president George W Bush who represents mining companies seeking to use resources on federal lands and Indian reservations.

Lobbyist Steven Hart, who focuses on tax and employee benefits, is leading the transition team for the labour department.

Cindy Hayden, a former congressional staffer who is now the top lobbyist for Altria, the parent company of cigarette-maker Philip Morris, is overseeing the transition for the homeland security department.

The man put in charge of staffing for the social security administration, Michael Korbey, is a former lobbyist who led George W Bush’s effort to privatise America’s retirement system.

Mr Trump campaigned on keeping social security within the federal government.

One of his campaign pledges was to spending up to $1 trillion (Dh3.67 trillion) over 10 years on infrastructure projects. But his selection to oversee the transition for the transportation department, Shirley Ybarra, has been a champion of “public-private partnerships” to build toll roads and bridges.

A former Virginia state transportation secretary, Ms Ybarra now works as a policy analyst with the libertarian-leaning Reason Foundation, which has received support from conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch.

Mr Trump has also pledged to renegotiate the Paris climate treaty signed in December, saying efforts to restrict the carbon emissions are harming American industries such as coal mining. His pick to oversee the transition for the environmental protection agency is Myron Ebell from the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has voiced the false view that man-made global warming is a hoax.

Mr Ebell has called for dismantling environmental protections and assigning international carbon-cutting agreements to the “dustbin of history”.

Mr Trump has pledged to transform a national economy he said was hobbled by bad trade deals and rigged against American workers by Wall Street and the big banks.

His list of advisers indicated an interest in rolling back many of the reforms made after the 2008 recession and appeared to signal an interest in deregulating the financial sector.

David Malpass, who is overseeing the treasury department transition, was Bear Stearns’ chief economist in the years before the firm’s 2008 collapse.

A few months before the recession began, Mr Malpass wrote a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled "Don't Panic About the Credit Market".

“Housing and debt markets are not that big a part of the US economy, or of job creation,” Mr Malpass said in August 2007, predicting continued economic growth.

Dan DiMicco, who is overseeing the transition of the US trade representative’s office, fits in well with Mr Trump’s avowed hard line on tariffs. The former chief executive of steel company Nucor and a board member at Duke Energy, he is likely to steer the US toward far more aggressive trade policy.

Former Republic representative Mike Rogers, from Michigan, is taking the lead on crafting Mr Trump’s national security team. At the justice department, Kevin O’Connor, a former US attorney for Connecticut, is overseeing the transition.

* Associated Press