Speed Reads

Russia? Really?

Pentagon leaders have reportedly given their White House political overseer a Soviet-era nickname

Most members of President Trump's Cabinet do not have senior leadership teams or top deputies in place amid historically slow nominating and hiring of White House appointees, "but they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries' loyalty," The Washington Post reported Sunday, citing "eight officials in and outside the administration." The Post called the arrangement "unusual," and some of those political liaisons, called White House senior advisers, have apparently overstayed their welcome.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, Don Benton — a former Washington state senator who ran Trump's campaign in the state — offered his unsolicited opinion on policy matters so frequently that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has reportedly disinvited him from meetings, in a situation one official described to The Post as out of an episode of Veep. Pentagon officials privately call Brett Byers, charged with keeping an eye on Defense Secretary James Mattis, "the commissar," The Post reports, helpfully explaining that the nickname is "a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal."

Most of these political overseers, placed near the Cabinet secretary's office in every department, have little expertise in the subject matter handled at their assigned agencies — Frank Wuco at Homeland Security, for example, plays a fictional jihadist on YouTube to illustrate his blogged contention that Islam is the root of the terrorist threat — and some observers expect their influence to wane once the departments get staffed up. Also, some Cabinet secretaries have been more welcoming of their White House liaisons.

Trump allies argue that the arrangement is necessary for a new president from a different party — though none of Trump's three predecessors employed a similar system. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who still advises Trump, describes the political monitors as part of Trump's pledge to root out corruption in Washington — in this case, the "swamp" would be career bureaucrats and not, say, lobbyists. "If you drain the swamp, you better have someone who watches over the alligators," he said. "These people are actively trying to undermine the new government." You can read more, including what some experts see as the likely outcome of this system, at The Washington Post.