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FEMA debacle becomes latest vetting failure for Team Trump

Trump recently boasted that the White House has "a very good vetting process." The evidence to the contrary is staggering.
In this Oct. 5, 2017 file photo, Department of Homeland Security personnel deliver supplies to Santa Ana community residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico.
In this Oct. 5, 2017 file photo, Department of Homeland Security personnel deliver supplies to Santa Ana community residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

The Department of Homeland Security is currently being led by an acting secretary, an acting deputy secretary, an acting general counsel, an acting under secretary for management, an acting CBP commissioner, an acting ICE director, an acting USCIS director, and an acting FEMA administrator. For nearly all of these posts, Donald Trump hasn't even nominated anyone for the positions.

At least, however, the White House has a nominee to lead FEMA. Actually, wait, that's no longer true.

The White House will pull the nomination of Jeffrey Byard to be the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency after a federal inquiry into a possible barroom altercation involving Mr. Byard prompted concern in Congress and the White House, according to federal officials familiar with the investigation.

As Rachel noted at the top of last night's show, all has not been well at FEMA of late. One key official has been caught up in a bribery scandal, and we learned soon after that her deputy was caught up in an entirely different scandal. The most recent FEMA administrator, Brock Long, was investigated for misusing public funds and resigned from his post under a cloud of controversy.

It was against this backdrop that Trump tapped Jeffrey Byard to lead FEMA, though his nomination quickly ran into trouble, and the White House made no real effort to defend him. There's an official explanation for Byard's withdrawal from consideration, though there's ample reason to be skeptical of the administration's line.

Maybe if Team Trump had vetted Byard before the president nominated him to lead FEMA, this could've been avoided, but the Trump White House can be defined in large part by its staggering ineptitude in this area.

Just two months ago, Trump announced that Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), his choice to serve as the new director of National Intelligence, had also withdrawn from consideration after getting caught up in a series of controversies that could've been avoided if the White House had examined his background.

In the immediate aftermath of the fiasco, a reporter asked the president, "What does this say about the White House's vetting process?"

Trump replied, "Well, no. You vet for me. I like when you vet. No, no, you vet. I think the White House has a great vetting process. You vet for me. When I give a name, I give it out to the press and you vet for me.... I give out a name to the press, and they vet for me. We save a lot of money that way."

In other words, in Trump's mind, the White House has no due-diligence obligations whatsoever. The president will pick someone he likes for an important government post, he'll alert the media, journalists will uncover embarrassing information, at which point Trump's nominee will slink away, humiliated, and the process will start anew.

No American presidential administration has ever tried to function this way, probably because it's ridiculous.

Nevertheless, it keeps happening. Before the Ratcliffe debacle, the vetting failures surrounding Patrick Shanahan's Pentagon nomination were just as awful.

As regular readers know, we can keep going down the same embarrassing road. Stephen Moore’s nomination to serve on the Federal Reserve board collapsed  in large part because the White House hadn’t vetted him before the president chose him. A month earlier, Herman Cain was unable to join the Fed board for the same reason.

Team Trump was similarly caught off-guard by controversies surrounding Matt Whitaker, who wasn’t vetted before the president made him acting attorney general. Trump failed to vet Ronny Jackson, whose nomination to lead the V.A. failed.

In June, the president boasted, "We have a very good vetting process. And you take a look at our Cabinet and our secretaries — it’s very good. But we have a great vetting process."

It was among the most laughable of his many falsehoods.