After Michael Flynn set a record for the shortest tenure as the national security advisor, many people were asking what kind of vetting process the Trump administration had used for hiring its people. According to a new report from the Washington Post, the campaign preferred to just Google people and go for it.
According to Trump, Carter Page was a foreign policy advisor for his campaign around the time that the primaries were reaching a climax. The campaign was having a tough time getting anyone with experience to work for them. Trump was starting to win races, but he had a credibility problem. “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain,” he told the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe in mid-March. Looking too hard at potential hires wasn’t really a luxury his people could afford. One longtime campaign official tells the Post, “Anyone who came to us with a pulse, a résumé and seemed legit would be welcomed.”
Page has become a prominent figure of interest in the FBI’s investigation into coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. One reason for that is that the FBI has had its eye on him since 2013. Page first came to their attention in an investigation of Russian intelligence agent Evgeny Buryakov, who allegedly tried to use Page as a source of information. The Trump campaign might have been aware of that (or the fact that Page had money tied up in the Russian energy company Gazprom that would stand to make a large profit if sanctions were lifted) if proper vetting had been done. But, according to the Washington Post, when Page volunteered with an introduction from Richard Nixon’s son-in-law:
A top Trump adviser, Sam Clovis, then employed what campaign aides now acknowledge was their go-to vetting process — a quick Google search — to check out the newcomer. He seemed to have the right qualifications, according to former campaign officials — head of an energy investment firm, business degree from New York University, doctorate from the University of London.
Page was in. He joined a new Trump campaign national security advisory group, and in late March 2016, the candidate pointed to Page, among others, as evidence of a foreign policy team with gravitas.
Suddenly, the strange cast of characters that has made their way in and out of Trump’s circle make a lot more sense. The formula appears to be: someone is willing to work for Trump, Google them for any related experience, hire them because there’s no one else who wants to work for Trump.
Of course, we don’t know that more thorough vetting of employees would have made any difference to the Trump campaign. Michael Flynn told the transition team that he was under federal investigation before he was appointed National Security Advisor. They put him in the position anyway. It seems that many top players in the White House are well aware of what a liability connections to Russia might be. So far, Flynn, senior advisor Jared Kushner, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have all conveniently forgotten to disclose their contacts with Russian officials on security clearance applications.
It’s all just another example of probable incompetence and possibly criminal negligence on the part of Trump and his people. Even when he had the resources of the federal government at his disposal, he didn’t care about vetting. The Office of Government Ethics warned him that his intention of appointing a cabinet without coordinating with the agency was unprecedented and foolish.
At this point, if Trump’s people claim someone has been thoroughly vetted, you just have to hope they read the first page of results instead of hitting “I’m feeling lucky.”