Trump ran his campaign on a message that he would "drain the swamp" in Washington
He has so far fully embraced lobbyists within his transition
To shape his administration, President-elect Donald Trump is drawing squarely from the “swamp” he has pledged to drain.
Trump’s transition team is staffed with long-time Washington experts and lobbyists from K Street, think tanks and political offices.
It’s a far cry from Trump’s campaign, which ended only Tuesday night, and message that he would “drain the swamp” in Washington. He has advocated congressional term limits and proposed a “five-point plan for ethics reform” that included strengthening restrictions on lobbying, including five-year bans for members and staff of the executive branch and Congress from lobbying, and expanding the definition of lobbyist to prevent more revolving door activity.
But he has so far fully embraced lobbyists within his transition, and all signs point to a heavy influence from longtime Washington Republican circles on his transition. And with Trump mostly skipping detailed policy proposals during his campaign, they can have a powerful impact on his agenda.
Leaders in his transition include former Rep. Mike Rogers, former Reagan Attorney General and Heritage Foundation fellow Edwin Meese, former President of Heritage Edwin Feulner, former Bush administration official and lobbyist Christine Ciccone, former Dick Cheney adviser Ado Machida, former Senate Budget Committee staffer Eric Ueland and Sen. Jeff Sessions’ former chief of staff Rick Dearborn. The effort is chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Trump counts former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sessions as close advisers.
Lower level staffers assigned with crafting different departments are also heavily drawn from K Street, the center of lobbying in Washington, and congressional staff, according to a staff organizational chart obtained by CNN.
Sources close to the operation say Sessions and the conservative Heritage Foundation have had a strong role in shaping the transition, in addition to staffers from the Bush administration, K Street and Capitol Hill.
At a Heritage Foundation event Thursday, John Yoo, a Berkeley Law professor and scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, got a warm reception from the crowd by cracking about the closeness.
“I’m surprised there are so many people here because I thought everyone at Heritage was working over at transition headquarters,” Yoo said on the panel about Trump’s win. “I asked the taxi cab driver to take me to Trump transition headquarters and he dropped me off here, instead.”
The crowd let out an appreciative laugh.
Insiders seek to sway Trump’s policy direction
Trump’s policy is likely to be shaped largely by Republican stalwarts. Trump’s policy positions throughout the election have been thinner than traditional campaigns, and he has made contradictory statements at times or has changed his state policy goals amid criticism.
Meese told CNN that in general, the transition is going “very well,” and suspected the heavy involvement from key Heritage personnel shows that his think tank will have a strong influence on Trump. With Trump having less experience in some areas of policy, he will have to draw on others’ expertise to craft his positions, Meese said.