Before leaving office, Donald Trump appointed dozens of allies and former aides to a wide range of government boards and commissions — and there’s not much Joe Biden can do about it.
Pam Bondi is helping oversee the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. Kellyanne Conway is primed for a posting on the board of the Air Force Academy. And Corey Lewandowski is set to serve on a panel that gives business advice to the secretary of Defense.
For the next four years, Biden will be stuck with Trump’s partisan warriors — some with no or little experience — having input on schools and museums and recommending policies on everything from defense to agriculture.
It’s just another way Trump left his imprint on the federal government in the days after he was ousted from office. He fought to overturn the election and postpone the transition in unprecedented ways. He moved his political appointees into powerful but protected career jobs. And he gave presidential appointments to dozens and dozens of supporters, allies, and campaign and administration aides.
Biden’s team is trying to determine whether they can do anything about the appointments, a person familiar with the situation said. “We are tracking closely and seeing what we can do,” the person said.
But those who have reviewed the law governing the boards say removing appointees can be difficult, especially if they come with political or business connections that could help the organizations. Most appointees do not need Senate confirmation and will remain until the end of their yearslong terms. Those who support Trump’s appointments say if Congress opposes the appointment process, lawmakers should change it.
The prestigious appointments are generally considered ways to pad resumes and though they generally do not come with salaries, they could come with travel money or perks, such as seats in the trustees boxes at Kennedy Center.
Matt Schlapp, who is a Trump ally and husband of former campaign and White House aide Mercedes Schlapp, dismissed criticisms of partisan appointments, saying he was honored to be asked to serve on the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board.
“I’ve always looked forward to working with Democrats and have always had great friendships with people who disagree with me politically,” he said. “I think one of the most tragic things about the period of time we’re in … is we’ve lost that and if you lose that in Washington, D.C. It’s a big problem.”
Members of the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board aren’t removed when a new president is elected, said Brett Zongker, chief of media relations at the Library of Congress. Rather, he said, vacancies are filled by the president or others at the end of a member’s term, which are five years, though they may be asked to remain for an additional year.
Biden’s team will be able to replace some appointments, usually if they don’t come with a set term.
Lewandowski and fellow Trump political adviser David Bossie, both named to the Pentagon Defense Business Board, are in the midst of completing their ethics paperwork and security checks, defense officials say. That delay could mean they will ultimately be replaced because they serve “at the pleasure of the secretary of defense.”
In December, nine members of that Pentagon board were removed to make way for Trump loyalists, including Lewandowski and Bossie.
Outside of removal, members come and go based on their tenure on the board, the personal time they have available to serve, and the relevance of their focus areas, defense officials say. During each administration, board membership is reviewed, changed and adjusted depending on the secretary’s priorities for all boards, these officials say.
Some Trump appointees decided to depart with Trump. Lobbyist Bryan Lanza, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and the transition, was tapped for the President’s Advisory Commission on Hispanic Prosperity in December. He said he withdrew after Biden was sworn into office last week.
But others are apparently sticking around. Steve Cortes, another Trump campaign aide who is still advising Trump, is still listed as a member of that same commission.
Previous presidents of both parties have made similar appointments on their way out of the door. In the final weeks of his term, President Barack Obama appointed major Democratic donor Fred Eychaner and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to the Kennedy Center board. Both served on the board through the entire Trump presidency and continue to serve their six-year terms.
“We aren’t aware of a process for removal,” said Brendan Padgett, the director of public relations at the Kennedy Center.
But those who have studied modern presidential transitions say the difference this time is that Trump’s appointees generally have little or no experience with the subject on which they are being tasked.
“Most presidents make these prestige appointments based on what the individuals either did for them in the past or could do for the organizations they serve in the present, while Trump paid special attention to appointing people who could save him from prosecution in the present and maintain influence in the future,” said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University who has closely studied presidential transitions over the years. “Trump’s motto has been to ‘ask not what you can do for the country, but what you can do for me.’"
Trump named three loyalists to the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s board: body man Nick Luna; former acting director of national intelligence Ric Grenell, who later advised Trump’s reelection campaign; and Andrew Giuliani, who served as sports liaison in the White House and is the son of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. No president has tried to remove a member since the first council was established in 1980, said Andy Hollinger, museum communications director.
Giuliani said he was honored to be appointed to the council “especially by a president who has done more for Israel than any president in the history of the United States.” Others appointed to that and other boards did not respond to requests for comment.
Hope Hicks, one of Trump’s closest confidants, was tapped for the board overseeing the prestigious Fulbright scholarship. She joins former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who launched a campaign for Arkansas governor on Monday largely focused on her work in the Trump White House. Sanders was appointed to the board in 2019.
Elaine Chao, who served as Trump’s transportation secretary and is the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and lobbyist Brian Ballard, who helped raise money for Trump, were named to the Kennedy Center board. They’ll join Lee Greenwood who wrote “God Bless the U.S.A.,” the song Trump played at every MAGA campaign rally.
David Legates, a top administration official who has questioned how much global warming is manmade, was appointed to the committee responsible for selecting the National Medal of Science winners.
And in one of his last appointments, Trump appointed Alabama attorney Mark McDaniel, who represents the family of one of the Capitol rioters killed Jan. 6, to the International Food and Agricultural Development board, which advises the U.S. Agency for International Development on agriculture projects in developing nations.
“The nature of the people he put on are more troubling,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit that works to make government more effective and efficient. “It’s not to say every previous president has in fact selected high-quality germane people for these positions … but the nature of Trump’s choices are a step beyond what has been done before … There is zero relevance or expertise.”
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