Donald Trump speaks at a "get-out-the-vote" rally on December 9, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
DON EMMERTDON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

Team Trump shouldn’t have skipped the vetting process

Ordinarily, a presidential campaign will start preparing a transition process long before Election Day – without knowing whether they’ll win or lose – in order to be fully prepared to govern. As part of the process, campaign staffers will identify possible cabinet nominees, and begin a preliminary vetting process, all with the goal of being ready, just in case.

Donald Trump, however, told his staff not to make any such preparations – because he was superstitious about the effects on his candidacy. After the election, Team Trump started making cabinet selections “without extensive reviews of their background and financial records,” because the Republican president-elect preferred to make decisions “based on gut instinct and his chemistry with people.”

When the president-elect would meet with prospective members of his cabinet and White House team, Trump’s principal focus was on how they look, not their qualifications.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 1/18/17, 9:17 PM ET

Trump weak vetting of nominees a symptom of poor preparation

Rachel Maddow lists some of the embarrassing details being learned about Donald Trump cabinet nominees while they are in the confirmation process because they were not well vetted beforehand.
Rachel Maddow lists some of the embarrassing details being learned about Donald Trump cabinet nominees while they are in the confirmation process because they were not well vetted beforehand.
That was unwise.
President-elect Donald J. Trump’s choice for White House budget director failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a household employee, he admitted in a statement to the Senate Budget Committee, the sort of tax compliance issue that has derailed cabinet nominees in the past.

In a questionnaire provided to the committee, Representative Mick Mulvaney, a conservative from South Carolina and vocal proponent of fiscal restraint noted, “I have come to learn during the confirmation review process that I failed to pay FICA and federal and state unemployment taxes on a household employee for the years 2000-2004.”
The New York Times’ report added that Mulvaney claims that he subsequently paid “more than $15,000 in taxes and awaits the state tax bill, as well as penalties and interests.”

In previous administrations, this has been the kind of legal misstep that has derailed nominees for important posts. It’s exactly the sort of information a transition team would’ve uncovered before someone was even offered a powerful government job.

But before anyone says, “Well, this is just one guy with a ‘nanny problem,’” it’s worth appreciating how many similar problems Trump World is confronting right now.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, Vincent Viola, Trump’s choice for Secretary of the Army, “was accused in August of punching a concessions worker at a high-end racehorse auction in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., according to a police report and local law enforcement officials.”

Andrew Puzder, Trump’s choice for Labor Secretary, was accused of domestic violence. Tom Price, Trump’s HHS nominee, is dealing with a controversy surrounding his investments in companies his legislation affected. Wilbur Ross, Trump’s choice for Commerce Secretary, conceded yesterday he “employed an undocumented household worker for seven years.”

Team Trump has only named two people to the National Security Council, and one of them had to step down following a series of plagiarism incidents.

That effectively leaves us with three possible explanations: (1) Trump and his aides are genuinely horrible at vetting; (2) Trump and his aides didn’t care about the controversies in their nominees’ backgrounds; or (3) Trump and his aides simply didn’t bother to do any meaningful vetting at all.

The day before Inauguration Day, it’s an inauspicious beginning.