While vetting DeVos, transition team knew family’s concerns about Trump ‘warming to Putin’

By: - June 24, 2019 2:12 pm

President Donald Trump participates in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic School on Friday, March 3, 2017, in Orlando, Florida. | Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead via Flickr Public Domain

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos accepted her role in President Donald Trump’s cabinet despite her strong personal reservations about him, as shown in a trove of vetting documents obtained and published Sunday by Axios.

Betsy DeVos

The documents used to vet DeVos, the billionaire Grand Rapids native, former chair of the Michigan GOP and long-time charter school advocate, highlight how she and her influential family were largely skeptical of Trump as he emerged as the frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

The files leaked from the Trump transition team include information on not just DeVos, but other Trump appointees, like former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. The documents reveal how the Trump administration was fully aware before their nominations that the president’s eventual cabinet members had serious reservations about his attendant controversies and scandals.

The dossier also recounts the DeVos family’s long history of political donations to Republican candidates and conservative causes, including gifts to the tune of $11 million just in 2018, as the Advance previously reported based on research from the nonprofit watchdog group Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

DeVos family doles out $11 million in 2018 election

The DeVoses’ stated concerns included Trump’s “warming to Russian President Vladimir Putin,” according to the file, as well as Trump’s stated policy positions on deporting immigrants.

“I still have reservations about him as a person,” DeVos told the Washington Post in 2016 during that year’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, a quote cited in her vetting documents.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, White House photo, Flickr

“I cannot and will not support and vote for Hillary Clinton,” DeVos said, “But I think there are things I want and personally need to hear [from Trump], and that is a more serious focus on the really critical and important issues of the day, and a demeanor that I think would reflect the office of the presidency.”

The vetting document also notes that DeVos voted as a delegate for presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich at the 2016 Republican National Convention, citing an MLive report.

Trump’s team included her lengthy résumé in the file, as well as notes on the controversy surrounding her brother, Erik Prince, founder of private security firm Blackwater.

Erik Prince’s Russian contacts highlighted in Mueller report

Prince’s connections to the Trump transition team and Russian figures were documented in the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the investigation into Russian interference in the last presidential election.

In response to the documents’ release, DeVos Chief of Staff Nate Bailey told Axios, “Secretary DeVos has spent more than 30 years helping disadvantaged students unlock better educational opportunities. That’s why the president said he selected her, and that’s what she focuses on as secretary every day. Old items about other members of her family hardly seem relevant.”

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.