By James Hohmann

The Washington Post

The Trump administration withdrew Sam Clovis’s nomination to be undersecretary at the USDA in November after special counsel Bob Mueller revealed that he had encouraged foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to meet with Russian officials overseas during the 2016 campaign. But two months later, Clovis continues to work as a “senior adviser” inside the department. It’s a prominent role that does not require Senate confirmation and leaves him unaccountable to Congress.

Clovis pulled out just days before his scheduled confirmation hearing. That spared him more than just tough questions about Russia: He has described himself as “extremely skeptical” of climate change, argued that protecting gay rights could lead to the legalization of pedophilia and was the mastermind behind Trump’s 2015 proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

Clovis pulled out just days before his scheduled confirmation hearing. That spared him more than just tough questions about Russia: He has described himself as “extremely skeptical” of climate change, argued that protecting gay rights could lead to the legalization of pedophilia and was the mastermind behind Trump’s 2015 proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.


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He’s one of multiple Trump picks who couldn’t pass muster with a GOP-controlled Senate yet continues to wield immense authority inside the government.

* Brett Talley’s nomination to be a federal judge in Alabama failed when multiple Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee turned against him. Among other things, it emerged that he posted a defense of “the first KKK” online in 2011. He failed to disclose that his wife is the chief of staff to the White House counsel on required paperwork about conflicts of interest. He’s also never tried a case. He has, however, written science fiction novels and pulled all-nighters as an amateur ghost hunter.

Talley continues today to be the deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy, which (ironically) oversees the Justice Department’s vetting of candidates for judicial nominations.

* Matthew Petersen withdrew from consideration to be a federal judge in the D.C. district court after one of the most cringeworthy performances during a confirmation hearing in modern times. He was unable to answer basic questions about legal procedure that were posed to him by Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy and acknowledged that he lacked meaningful courtroom experience.

But Petersen gets to finish his term as a Republican commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, where he holds a pivotal vote to determine how campaign finance laws are enforced.

* Andy Puzder withdrew as Trump’s nominee to be the secretary of labor last February. His ex-wife had gone on Oprah Winfrey’s show to allege domestic abuse in 1990, though she later recanted her story and he denies any wrongdoing. He acknowledged employing an undocumented housekeeper and not paying taxes on her for years. As the chief executive of the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, he greenlighted commercials that demeaned and objectified women.

Now the White House is considering finding a place for Puzder in the administration where he wouldn’t need to get confirmed by the Senate, three people familiar with the discussions told Politico this week. “It’s not clear what role Puzder might take . . . [He] is generally well-liked inside the West Wing and has maintained a strong relationship with the president,” Nancy Cook and Marianne Levine report.

* Trump this week renominated 75 controversial picks for administration and judicial posts who couldn’t make it through the Senate last year because of questions about their qualifications, temperament or extreme views.

On the list is K.T. McFarland, a Michael Flynn loyalist who Trump named as ambassador to Singapore after she was pushed out as deputy national security adviser. The former Fox News talking head testified under oath this summer that she was “not aware of any of the issues or events” surrounding Flynn’s contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but the New York Times obtained emails in December that showed she was very aware of at least one of their exchanges that Flynn subsequently lied to the FBI about.

* It’s possible that there are additional people who couldn’t get confirmed by the Senate that are now working under the radar inside the executive branch. Every president gets to bring on about 4,000 political appointees, but only around 1,200 of those need to be confirmed by the Senate. It’s hard to find out the identities of the other 2,800. This opacity means that a lot of apparatchiks who have been installed in somewhat important government jobs aren’t being vetted.

“There’s no way to know. That’s a problem. It ought to be the case that there’s transparency on all appointees in some central database,” said Max Stier, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that tracks executive branch nominations. “It’s a big blind spot not to have a requirement that all political appointees . . . are in a single location available for the public, the media and [members of Congress] to know that they are there.”

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve.

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