Trump wants fewer people on his team -- but more loyalists
Posted February 24, 2020 8:46 a.m. EST
CNN — President Donald Trump has told aides he wants fewer people working for him in the White House and only loyalists installed in key administration positions, several people familiar with the matter say.
Trump's allies have provided him lists -- not always solicited -- of people they've identified as disloyal and of names they say would work better toward advancing his agenda. The lists have been generated over the past three years, but some are being dusted off in the post-impeachment purge.
It's not clear how seriously Trump takes the recommendations. But after hearing for three years from acquaintances and confidants about various people deemed disloyal, his efforts seem to have newfound urgency.
Trump told people recently he wants to take action on removing some people who he's been "warned about," according to one person who's spoken to him.
Some of the conservative activists who have been working on the effort to compose the lists include Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Senate staffer Barbara Ledeen.
CNN has reached out to Thomas and Ledeen for comment.
Axios, which first reported on the lists, detailed on Sunday a memo that was reviewed by the President regarding the actions of former US Attorney Jesse Liu. Liu's office handled many politically sensitive cases important to the President, including the prosecution of friend Roger Stone. The administration pulled her nomination for a top Treasury Department job earlier this month. She then resigned from the government.
It's common for Trump's wide network of allies and friends to make recommendations about staffing, and he doesn't always act on what he's heard. But some officials believe he's more willing after being acquitted by the Senate to act on staffing decisions he's previously avoided.
Trump has honed in on the size of the federal government, one officials said, insisting there are too many people working for him both at the White House and at outside agencies. Trump has said in recent days that more people with access to sensitive information increases the risk of leaks.
Last week, the National Security Council announced the departure of deputy national security adviser Victoria Coates, who was transferred to the Energy Department. Trump's top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, had been leading the charge inside the West Wing that Coates is the author of the book "Anonymous," according to three people familiar with the situation.
In announcing her departure, the White House strenuously denied that Coates was the anonymous author. Even after the unsubstantiated rumor began circulating inside the West Wing, forcing the book's publishers to deny Coates was the author, Navarro continued to insist it was her, two people said.
"Suspects are everywhere," Navarro told CNN on Friday, going on to rail against reporting from "so-called senior administration officials."
Trump has instructed his new personnel chief to direct his focus on rooting out disloyal officials. John McEntee, the President's former body man who was elevated to run the presidential personnel office, made it clear in a meeting last week with agency officials that his office will be on the lookout for staffers across the bureaucracy who are seen as disloyal to Trump.
Another official said McEntee indicated he plans to first focus his efforts on personnel at the State Department and Defense Department. He also told the liaisons that promotions and significant staff changes should not occur without prior approval from the presidential personnel office.
In his role, McEntee focuses on political appointees at various agencies, not career staff. Hiring and firing of career government employees are typically handled at the agency level.
One person who attended said the meeting was mostly introductory and a chance for the liaisons to highlight potential problems at the agencies. McEntee asked them to let him know about people they believe are working against the President's agenda.
One administration official said McEntee indicated his office would spend the next week or two reviewing past processes and how they will change them moving forward.
McEntee's overtures to the Cabinet officials -- whose job is to liaise with the White House to ensure agencies are working in concert with the rest of the administration -- weren't universally seen as helpful.
"Not a good idea on his part," one of the White House officials said. "Going to get himself and a lot of people in trouble."
But some aides and allies have expressed concern about getting qualified people to join the administration in an election year. One White House aide described a sense that some jobs simply won't be filled or will be filled only temporarily until after the President wins reelection, as high-level hires will likely be reluctant to take posts that at this point may not last longer than eight months.
Others have noted the bench of competent people who have also never criticized Trump is virtually nonexistent.
Extreme loyalty tests hampered hiring at the beginning of Trump's presidency, when candidates were sometimes nixed for offenses as minor as an anti-Trump tweet in their pasts.