The Chosen: Who Trump Is Putting in Power

by Jessica Huseman and Rob Weychert

As President Donald Trump picks his top officials, we’re laying out the best accountability reporting on each. Think we missed something? Email us or send us a tweet. We’ll keep this updated.

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Cabinet Positions in the Line of Succession

Rex Tillerson

Secretary of State
Confirmed by the Senate (56–43)

Rex Tillerson

Secretary of State
Your Reading Guide

Tillerson is the CEO of Exxon Mobil, which has operations in about 50 countries. Russia awarded Tillerson its Order of Friendship in 2013, and Tillerson maintains a close relationship with Vladimir Putin. Exxon Mobil has billions of dollars’ worth of deals that can only proceed if the U.S. lifts sanctions on Russia, the New York Times reports. Unlike Trump, Tillerson praised the Trans-Pacific Partnership and has long spoken out in favor of free trade. He originally supported Jeb Bush for president, giving him the maximum allowed contribution in September of last year.

Steve Mnuchin

Secretary of the Treasury
Confirmed by the Senate (53–47)

Steve Mnuchin

Secretary of the Treasury
Your Reading Guide

Mnuchin is a former Goldman Sachs banker who served as Trump’s campaign finance chairman. He ran OneWest Bank, which doubled its branches but foreclosed on 36,000 homeowners and was accused of racial bias in lending under his leadership, the Los Angeles Times reports. He sold OneWest in 2014 for double what he paid for it. He ran Relativity media, which went bankrupt — but not before it paid a $50 million loan back to OneWest.

James Mattis

Secretary of Defense
Confirmed by the Senate (98–1)

James Mattis

Secretary of Defense
Your Reading Guide

A retired general, he was the supreme allied commander of NATO for nearly three years. He is known for his scholarly intellectualism and pithy quotes. His animus for Iran led Obama to (controversially) replace him as the head of CentCom. He said Iraq was “probably […] a strategic mistake.” The Washington Post reported he pushed the Army to use Theranos despite red flags, then joined its board.

Jeff Sessions

Attorney General
Confirmed by the Senate (52–47)

Jeff Sessions

Attorney General
Your Reading Guide

The Alabama senator was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 due to allegations of racist statements and concerns over his level of involvement in what critics said was a racially motivated voter fraud case. His track record on race continues to be scrutinized. The Atlantic found no evidence he’d filed desegregation lawsuits in Alabama, as he’s repeatedly claimed. He co-sponsored the Fair Sentencing Act, which cut the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. He defends harsh minimum sentences and bucked a bipartisan criminal justice reform effort. He opposes any form of citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Ryan Zinke

Secretary of the Interior
Confirmed by the Senate (68–31)

Ryan Zinke

Secretary of the Interior
Your Reading Guide

A congressman from Montana, Zinke is “all over the map” on environmental and public land issues integral to his appointed position, the L.A. Times reports. He’s once voted for a bill that turned over federal land to states, then resigned as a delegate to the RNC because the platform included a similar land transfer. He’s broken party lines to vote for many conservation efforts, and once signed a letter warning of the threat of global warming. Now, he says, he views climate science to be “unsettled.”

Sonny Perdue

Secretary of Agriculture
Confirmed by the Senate (87–11)

Sonny Perdue

Secretary of Agriculture
Your Reading Guide

The former two-term Georgia governor is a veterinarian by trade and has spent years in the agriculture business. He was a Democrat until switching parties in 1998. During a severe drought in 2007, the then-governor controversially gathered hundreds to the steps of the capitol to pray for rain. Many Perdue projects have been the subject of scrutiny. He was the main supporter of a $14 million state-funded fishing museum, which the New York Times described as “a symbol of waste.” Perdue, who will run the country’s food stamp program, has also been criticized for reducing aid to Georgia’s poor.

Wilbur Ross

Secretary of Commerce
Confirmed by the Senate (72–27)

Wilbur Ross

Secretary of Commerce
Your Reading Guide

Billionaire Wilbur Ross made his money making failing businesses profitable, especially in textiles, coal and steel. He helped Trump save his troubled Atlantic City casino. The Nation reports he was involved with two different home mortgage companies that routinely violated the law. He’s invested in troubled banks all over the world, including Greece and Cyprus. He favors tax cuts for big business, has called the Trans-Pacific Partnership a “horrible deal,” and said he’d prioritize increasing American exports. His investments present potentially unprecedented conflicts of interest for the office.

Alexander Acosta

Secretary of Labor
Confirmed by the Senate (60–38)

Alexander Acosta

Secretary of Labor
Your Reading Guide

R. Alexander Acosta is the dean of Florida International University’s law school — an appointment that became contentious among black faculty because of Acosta’s time as chief of the controversial Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under George W. Bush. He also testified before Congress on the importance of defending the civil rights of Muslims. Bush had previously appointed Acosta to the National Labor Relations Board. He was also the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he tried several high-profile cases. He is the chairman of U.S. Century Bank.

Tom Price

Secretary of Health and Human Services
Confirmed by the Senate (52–47)

Tom Price

Secretary of Health and Human Services
Your Reading Guide

A congressman and physician, Price has been a strong opponent of Obamacare since its inception and has proposed restructuring Medicaid and Medicare. Kaiser Health News reports he has sponsored legislation that shields doctors from lawsuits and limits the data doctors must submit to a database hospitals use to make hiring decisions. He is a strong opponent of Planned Parenthood and abortion, and once claimed he did not know of a single woman who couldn’t afford birth control.

Ben Carson

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Confirmed by the Senate (58–41)

Ben Carson

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Your Reading Guide

Carson, a famed neurosurgeon, ran unsuccessfully for president against Donald Trump. After he dropped out, Carson gave Trump a tour of blighted areas of his hometown of Detroit. While many said his experience living in public housing made him uniquely qualified to lead HUD, Carson never actually lived in public housing. He’s criticized fair housing policy as “social experimentation” and called poverty “more of a choice than anything else.” Carson had previously declined a cabinet post because he had “no government experience.”

Elaine Chao

Secretary of Transportation
Confirmed by the Senate (93–6)

Elaine Chao

Secretary of Transportation
Your Reading Guide

Chao ran the Labor Department under George W. Bush. The Government Accountability Office said the department’s failure to investigate complaints left “low-wage workers vulnerable to wage theft.” She’s been accused of helping to cover up an environmental disaster. Her family owns Foremost Group, a shipping company that flies Liberian and Hong Kong flags . Drugs were once found aboard one of the company’s ships. She is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and has been integral in his reelection campaigns.

Rick Perry

Secretary of Energy
Confirmed by the Senate (62–37)

Rick Perry

Secretary of Energy
Your Reading Guide

The former Texas governor previously supported abolishing the Department of Energy entirely. He was on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. Oil production surged during his governorship, boosting the economy but raising environmental concerns. Many credit him with Texas’ relative stability during the economic crisis, but some reject the “Texas Miracle” altogether and others say it came at the expense of necessary programs. He gave millions out to businesses in tax incentives, including $30 million to a company that didn’t exist.

Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education
Confirmed by the Senate (51–50)

Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education
Your Reading Guide

DeVos is a billionaire philanthropist who has campaigned for charter schools and vouchers in her homestate of Michigan — and fought to minimize oversight of them. She’s led the efforts to drastically expand charters in Detroit, but they have scored lower than their public school counterparts, Politico reports. Bridge, a non-profit Michigan news outlet, reports her fight for school choice has left many public schools scrambling for students. An education advocacy group she headed owes Ohio $5.3 million for election law violations, stemming from an unpaid fine in 2008.

David Shulkin

Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Confirmed by the Senate (100–0)

David Shulkin

Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Your Reading Guide

Shulkin currently runs the Veterans Health Administration. He was nominated to the position by President Obama in March 2015 and confirmed unanimously by the Senate. He currently oversees 1,700 medical facilities serving veterans. He is a physician, and founded DoctorQuality, a health care information company that is now defunct. He would be the first non-veteran to run the VA.

John Kelly

Secretary of Homeland Security
Confirmed by the Senate (88–11)

John Kelly

Secretary of Homeland Security
Your Reading Guide

The retired Marine general has a reputation for preferring “soft power” over military strength. He rejects criticism of Guantanamo Bay, which he was responsible for as head of U.S. Southern Command. In that position, he also helped police the southern border — experience Trump will rely on to implement his immigration policies, Politico reports. Kelly has voiced concern over opening up combat positions to women. He is widely respected for continuing to serve even after his son died in Afghanistan.

Cabinet-rank Positions

Reince Priebus

Chief of Staff
No Senate confirmation required

Reince Priebus

Chief of Staff
Your Reading Guide

He’s the longest serving chairman of the Republican National Committee and was formerly the head of the Wisconsin Republican Party — the youngest person ever to serve in that role. He’s raised record amounts for the RNC. He authored the party’s “autopsy” calling for a more inclusive message after its 2012 loss, but has since found himself defending positions taken by Trump that are in direct contrast with that report. He’s known for his ability to “build and maintain” political relationships.

Mick Mulvaney

Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Confirmed by the Senate (51–49)

Mick Mulvaney

Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Your Reading Guide

A congressman from South Carolina, Mulvaney was a founder of the House Freedom Caucus, which pressed former Speaker John Boehner to resign. He supported shutting the government down rather than raising the debt limit under President Obama, embracing the term “Shutdown Caucus” with gusto. He so opposes raising spending that he “almost single-handedly took down” a $50 billion relief bill after Hurricane Sandy, reports the New York Times. He will now be responsible for helping shape the administration’s budget and reviewing the budgets of other federal agencies.

Scott Pruitt

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Confirmed by the Senate (52–46)

Scott Pruitt

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Your Reading Guide

The Oklahoma attorney general has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, and formed a secret alliance between the industry and other AGs to fight Obama’s climate proposals. He is seen as a hero among conservatives who believe the EPA oversteps its federal authority. A billionaire oil magnate headed his 2013 re-election. He is a climate change skeptic, has repeatedly sued to prevent EPA regulations, and has vowed to “cancel” the Paris accord, a United Nations agreement to curb CO2 emissions starting in 2020.

Robert Lighthizer

Trade Representative

Robert Lighthizer

Trade Representative
Your Reading Guide

Lighthizer is a former trade official under President Reagan, and is currently a partner in international trade at Skadden, one of the world’s largest law firms. He has represented U.S. Steel Corp in several anti-dumping cases against China. While he has been heavily involved in international trade issues over the last three decades, little reporting has been done about him. He was an early Trump supporter, and penned an op-ed in the Washington Times defending his protectionist trade policies against conservative critics.

Nikki Haley

Ambassador to the United Nations
Confirmed by the Senate (96–4)

Nikki Haley

Ambassador to the United Nations
Your Reading Guide

Governor of South Carolina, unemployment fell to 15-year lows during her tenure, but opponents criticize her handling of the state’s long-running child welfare controversy, and say she bungled a cyber attack in 2012. Little reporting has been done about Haley’s foreign policy views, nor has she been vocal about them. A daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s met with the Indian Prime Minister to encourage investment in South Carolina. She is a strong supporter of Israel and signed a bill that prevented divestment in the country.

Linda McMahon

Administrator of the Small Business Administration
Confirmed by the Senate (81–19)

Linda McMahon

Administrator of the Small Business Administration
Your Reading Guide

The co-founder of wrestling organization WWE gave $6 million to a pro-Trump super PAC and $5 million to Trump’s foundation. She unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate twice, spending almost $100 million. She resigned after a year of serving on Connecticut’s education board when a legal opinion barred members from participating in political activity. She supported a plan by President Obama that would have eliminated the Small Business Administration entirely.

Other Top Positions

Steve Bannon

Senior Counselor and Chief Strategist
No Senate confirmation required

Steve Bannon

Senior Counselor and Chief Strategist
Your Reading Guide

Bannon was the CEO of Trump’s campaign. He ran Breitbart, a far right website known for publishing sexist, racist and homophobic content. Politico reports Breitbart employees described constant mistreatment under his leadership. He believes we are at war against “jihadist Islamic fascism.” He’s called liberal women “a bunch of dykes.” He’s cited Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl as an inspiration. He once wrote a screenplay setting Shakespeare's “Titus Andronicus” in outer space.

Dan Coats

Director of National Intelligence
Confirmed by the Senate (85–12)

Dan Coats

Director of National Intelligence
Your Reading Guide

As a two-time Indiana senator, Coats served on the Senate Intelligence Committee and has a reputation for bipartisanship. He was previously the ambassador to Germany, then worked as a manufacturing lobbyist before being elected to the Senate for a second time. He is banned from Russia because of his support for sanctions after the annexation of Crimea. He supported a bill to expand cyber threat data sharing between private companies and the government, which civil liberties groups staunchly opposed. He also wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed defending bulk data collection.

Mike Pompeo

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Confirmed by the Senate (66–32)

Mike Pompeo

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Your Reading Guide

As a Kansas congressman, Pompeo has been a strong supporter of the NSA’s bulk data collection and supports the death penalty for Edward Snowden. He’s pledged to end the “disastrousIran deal and advocated bombing Iran’s nuclear capacity to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. He supports keeping Guantanamo Bay, calling it a “goldmine of intelligence” that treats prisoners “exceptionally well.” He founded Thayer Aerospace with investment from Koch Industries, and the Koch brothers have been some of his largest political donors.

Jay Clayton

Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission

Jay Clayton

Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission
Your Reading Guide

Clayton is a partner in the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, specializing in mergers and capital market offerings. Little reporting has been done about him. In a video posted by his firm he compares cybersecurity mandates for banks to Dodd-Frank, which he considers flawed. He was the head of a committee that advocated the rollback of parts of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which the SEC has partial authority over. He has represented several high-profile companies including Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs and Ally Financial Inc.

H.R. McMaster

National Security Adviser
No Senate confirmation required

H.R. McMaster

National Security Adviser
Your Reading Guide

McMaster is a career army officer and strategist, most recently responsible for advising the army on how to guard against future threats. He has previously criticized the preparedness of the military, calling it “outranged and outgunned.” He has also called cyber-terrorism “a significant threat.” He was widely praised for securing the city of Tal Afar in Iraq in 2005. McMaster wrote a book about the failure of military leaders to question President Johnson’s failing Vietnam strategy. He is widely regarded as a top military intellectual.

Donald McGahn

White House Counsel
No Senate confirmation required

Donald McGahn

White House Counsel
Your Reading Guide

McGahn was Trump’s campaign lawyer, and spent much of his career fighting against limits on political contributions. As chairman of the Federal Election Commission, he tried to restrict prosecutors from being able to use the Internet for research. He represented Tom Delay, a Texas Republican who faced a series of investigations over mishandling political contributions. He moonlights as a guitarist in the band Scott’s New Band.

Stephen Miller

Senior Policy Adviser
No Senate confirmation required

Stephen Miller

Senior Policy Adviser
Your Reading Guide

The 30-year-old former Jeff Sessions staffer served as a senior policy adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign. He is most known for revving up crowds before Trump spoke at rallies. Miller helped write Trump’s immigration policies, and has worked closely with far right news organization Breitbart. Miller began writing political columns at age 17, writing on everything from his high school’s “rampant political correctness,” Duke University’s “unrelenting health fascists,” and Maya Angelou’s “racial paranoia.”

Kellyanne Conway

Counselor
No Senate confirmation required

Kellyanne Conway

Counselor
Your Reading Guide

Conway, a longtime Republican strategist, pundit and pollster, was Trump’s campaign manager. She had originally endorsed Ted Cruz, leading his super PAC and going after Trump in attack ads in key states. She was hired by the Trump campaign when Cruz exited the race. Conway worked for Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, and defended him after his controversial “legitimate rape” comment. She has spoken out against feminism, calling it “doom and gloom” and arguing it should be replaced by “femininity.”

Thomas Bossert

Homeland Security Adviser
No Senate confirmation required

Thomas Bossert

Homeland Security Adviser
Your Reading Guide

Bossert was a top national security aide under President George W. Bush, helping craft the nation’s first cyber security policy. He currently runs a security consulting firm and is a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative. Fittingly, the newly upgraded position in Trump’s administration will focus largely on cybersecurity. In a 2015 opinion in the Washington Times, Bossert criticized Obama for failing to lay out when “it is just and necessary to use American military power.”

Peter Navarro

Trade Czar
No Senate confirmation required

Peter Navarro

Trade Czar
Your Reading Guide

Navarro was a member of Trump’s economic transition team, and is a professor at the University of California, Irvine. He is staunchly anti-China, and called Trump’s proposed 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods “appropriate.” He wrote a book called “Death By China: Confronting the Dragon,” in which he argued China was becoming “the planet’s most efficient assassin.” He self-produced a low budget documentary based on the book, which was panned by critics.

Sean Spicer

Press Secretary
No Senate confirmation required

Sean Spicer

Press Secretary
Your Reading Guide

Spicer has been the Republican National Committee’s communications director since 2011 and chief strategist since 2015. He has previously been an outspoken advocate of free trade, and will now have to represent Trump’s protectionist policies — something he likened to the work of a defense attorney defending a criminal. While Spicer has said Trump will not ban media from the White House briefing room, he has also said briefings may no longer be daily.

Jared Kushner

Senior Adviser
No Senate confirmation required

Jared Kushner

Senior Adviser
Your Reading Guide

Kushner is Donald Trump’s son-in-law and the helps run his family’s real estate empire. He isn’t taking a salary for his White House position. He’s selling many of his assets to his brothers or placing them in a family trust. Ethics experts say the family ties mean the plan falls short of meaningful divestiture. He was reportedly responsible for the Trump campaign’s successful digital strategy and acted as a “de facto campaign manager.” He was admitted to Harvard University after his father donated $2.5 million.

Carl Icahn

Regulatory Czar
No Senate confirmation required

Carl Icahn

Regulatory Czar
Your Reading Guide

The 80-year-old billionaire is a noted investor and “activist shareholder,” buying and selling stakes in companies in order to push the direction of their boards. He was an early Trump supporter, and pledged $150 million to a super PAC supporting him. Icahn bought Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino Resorts in Atlantic City, N.J. out of bankruptcy in 2014. He closed it in October after a union dispute. The new administration position is not formal, nor is it paid, so Icahn will not have to sell off any of his business interests — an arrangement likely to create large conflicts of interest, reports CNBC.

To Be Announced

Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers

To Be Announced

Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers

Resigned/Withdrawn

Withdrawn

Andrew Puzder

Secretary of Labor

Andrew Puzder

Secretary of Labor
Your Reading Guide

Puzder is the CEO of the parent company of Carl’s Jr., which is currently navigating several lawsuits concerning wages and employee treatment. He opposes raising the minimum wage and expanding overtime eligibility. He believes Obamacare helped lead to a “restaurant recession.” He defends Carl’s Jr.’s racy ads, calling bikinis and burgers “very American.” After weeks of controversy stemming from domestic abuse allegations — which his ex-wife later recanted — and dozens of complaints against his company for mistreatment of workers, Puzder withdrew from the nomination on Feb. 15.

Resigned

Mike Flynn

National Security Adviser
No Senate confirmation required

Mike Flynn

National Security Adviser
Your Reading Guide

A retired general, Flynn was forced out as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, reportedly for his attitude and “conspiratorial worldview,” Politico and the New York Times report. He’d previously been “one of the most respected military intelligence officers of his generation.” Files show he “inappropriately shared” classified information. Prior to this, Flynn had been a foreign lobbyist and has close ties to Russia. After a brief 24-day tenure, Flynn resigned on Feb. 13 following days of controversy after the Washington Post reported he’d mischaracterized a conversation he’d had with the Russian Ambassador.

Update, Feb. 15, 2017: On Feb. 8, the Trump administration announced the position of Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers was being demoted, and would no longer be a Cabinet-level position. We have updated our cards to reflect this change.

Correction, Jan. 19, 2017: We originally reported Larry Kudlow had been picked by President-elect Trump to head the White House Council of Economic Advisors. He has not been officially named, and the card has been removed.

Correction, Dec. 20, 2016: We initially wrote Mick Mulvaney, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, opposed “lowering” all spending. We intended to say “raising.” We also clarified the OMB’s role.


Rex Tillerson photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images; Steve Mnuchin photo by Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images; James Mattis photo by Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images; Jeff Sessions photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images; Ryan Zinke photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call; Sonny Perdue photo by Jason Getz/Getty Images; Wilbur Ross photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Andrew Puzder photo by Joe Kohen/Getty Images; Tom Price photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images; Ben Carson photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call; Elaine Chao photo by Wang HE/Getty Images; Rick Perry photo by Fred Lee/ABC via Getty Images; Betsy DeVos photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call; David Shulkin photo by Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images; John Kelly photo by Dina Rudick/The Boston Globe via Getty Images; Reince Priebus photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images; Mick Mulvaney photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call; Scott Pruitt photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP/Getty Images; Robert Lighthizer photo courtesy of Skadden; Nikki Haley photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; Linda McMahon photo by Richard Messina/Hartford Courant/MCT via Getty Images; Steve Bannon photo by Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images; Dan Coats photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call; Mike Pompeo photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call; Jay Clayton photo by Sullivan & Cromwell, LLP via YouTube; Mike Flynn photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images; Donald McGahn photo by Mary Altaffer/AP Photo; Stephen Miller photo by Paul Sancya/AP Photo; Kellyanne Conway photo by Chris Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Thomas Brossert photo courtesy of Atlantic Council; Peter Navarro photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Sean Spicer photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Jared Kushner photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images; Carl Icahn photo by Heidi Gutman/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images.


Jessica Huseman is a reporting fellow at ProPublica.

Rob Weychert is ProPublica’s editorial experience designer.


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