Trump still hasn't nominated director for Violence Against Women at Justice Department

Thursday , February 15, 2018 - 7:25 AM

James Hohmann

(c) 2018, The Washington Post.

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump has not nominated anyone to be the director of the Office on Violence Against Women in the Justice Department.

The person in this position oversees a budget of more than $450 million and is supposed to be the administration’s leading voice on domestic and sexual violence, both nationally and internationally. By controlling the flow of grants, the director can influence programs to better protect and serve victims. Women’s advocates lobbied for years to elevate this job and require that the Senate confirm the president’s pick.

It is one of more than 200 high-profile appointments that Trump has left vacant over the past 13 months, far more than his predecessors. But this opening has become especially glaring against the backdrop of the White House’s botched response to revelations that former senior aide Rob Porter allegedly assaulted both of his ex-wives, top officials learned about it months ago from the FBI and he was allowed to stay until the press found out.

Cindy Dyer, who served as director of the Violence Against Women office during George W. Bush’s second term, thinks Trump nominating someone to the job would be an effective way to show that he’s serious about addressing domestic violence after the lapses on Porter.

“Boy, talk about an opportunity,” she said in an interview yesterday. “To do it right now, in light of what’s going on, I think it’d be a powerful statement and a great opportunity to set an example. It’s perfect timing, and it’s an opportunity to make a statement that violence affects us all and we’re not going to stand for it.”

Susan Carbon, who held the post during Barack Obama’s first term, said being a presidential appointee who has been confirmed by the Senate “brings with it clout and credibility and speaks volumes - within and outside the administration - about the importance of the issue.”

“[They] also can exercise a greater degree of independence in the work of the office, ensuring that its mission is maintained and promoted appropriately,” she said.

Asked about the delay, a White House spokesperson emailed Wednesday: “The individual identified for this position is currently in the clearance process and will be announced when the process is completed.”

Katie Sullivan, who spent the past decade as a county-level judge in Colorado, started last month as the principal deputy director of the office. This is a political appointment that does not require Senate approval, so there’s less scrutiny and no confirmation hearing, but Sullivan can function as acting director until someone else gets nominated and confirmed to be her boss. Her biography notes that she’s a former deputy district attorney and has “presided over multiple domestic violence sentencings and jury trials.”

Trump’s team at the Justice Department notes that the office has not been led by a Senate-confirmed director since 2012 because Obama never nominated a permanent replacement when Carbon left. “In the absence of a director, the . . . Principal Deputy Director can and has served as the head of the office,” emailed DOJ spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman. “The Justice Department is excited to have Katie Sullivan onboard . . . The Principal Deputy has the same authority as the Director. We also look forward to having a nominee for the Director’s job sometime soon.”

Carbon, who is now a New Hampshire circuit judge, was the last director confirmed by the Senate. Obama formally nominated her on Oct. 1, 2009, eight months into his term, and she was approved the following February. She partnered often with Vice President Joe Biden, who has a special interest in the issue, and she worked closely with the FBI to change the legal definition of rape for the first time since 1929, broadening an archaic standard to make it easier to prosecute rapists when the victim is incapable of giving consent. Physical resistance is now no longer required to demonstrate lack of consent.

Bea Hanson held the job on an acting basis during Obama’s second term and stepped down when Trump was inaugurated.

Dyer, who ran the office under Bush, thinks it’s “a shame” that interim leaders have filled in for so long because they have less juice inside the department. “It deserves to have a more senior person that can get into these closed conversations that occur in order to maintain the high profile,” she explained. “The Justice Department is so large that if the office loses its status and loses this importance, because it’s seen as a less senior position, I really think it’d have ramifications all around.”

Dyer had been the longtime chief prosecutor in the Dallas County, Texas, district attorney’s family violence division when Bush tapped her to come to Washington. “I really felt that having been approved by the president and confirmed by the whole Senate in this bipartisan way gave me more credibility, and allowed me to be involved in conversations and decisions that I would not have otherwise been invited to attend,” she said. “That nomination and confirmation process really does give you more gravitas and allows you to be involved in more conversations. And I think that’s what we need.”

One truism in Washington is that “personnel is policy.” Because the president has so much on his plate, consequential decisions get made by the people in roles like this one.

Among the other Senate confirmable jobs that Trump has not nominated anyone for is the ambassador at large for global women’s issues. By law, this person is supposed to be the secretary of state’s principal adviser on foreign policy matters related to women’s empowerment. They forge partnerships with organizations and foreign governments to coordinate advancing the rights of women and girls.

The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, have been working together to track the status of 626 top jobs like this in the executive branch. As of today, 226 have no nominee and another 150 have nominees that are still awaiting confirmation. (Check out our database here.)

“You sequence by priority,” said Max Stier, the president of the Partnership. “Historically administrations have been slow, but not slower than this one.”

In that vein, the vacancy at the Violence Against Women office is especially notable because of the president’s personal liabilities in this area. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women] - I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Trump said on a hot microphone during a 2005 taping of “Access Hollywood,” after he had married the first lady. “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. . . . Grab them by the p---y. You can do anything.”

“Trump tells friends that he deplores the #MeToo movement and believes it unfairly exposes CEOs to lawsuits from their female employees,” Axios’s Jonathan Swan reported Sunday. “The fact that women frequently face sexual predation in the workplace doesn’t impact his view on this.”

The president was roundly criticized over the past week for not explicitly condemning domestic violence. Trump praised the work Porter did as a staffer last Friday, wishing him well and emphasizing that he maintains his innocence. Then he tweeted over the weekend that men deserve due process.

Trying to turn the page, Trump made a brief statement at the White House yesterday afternoon. “I’m totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind,” he said. “Everyone knows that. And it almost wouldn’t even have to be said. So, now you hear it, but you all know.” Then reporters were shooed out of the room. The president ignored follow-up questions.

THE PORTER FALLOUT CONTINUES:

-- “More than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November 2017, including the president’s daughter, son-in-law and his top legal counsel,” according to internal White House documents obtained by NBC News. “Of those appointees working with interim clearances, 47 of them are in positions that report directly to [the president]. About a quarter of all political appointees in the executive office are working with some form of interim security clearance. . . . It is unclear whether some employees have had their clearance levels changed since mid-November.

- “On the National Security Council, 10 of 24 officials listed in the documents - about 42 percent - had only interim security clearances as of November.

- “A total of 34 people who started their government service on Jan. 20, 2017, the first day of the Trump presidency, were still on interim clearances in November. Among them are White House counsel Don McGahn, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah, who had only interim clearances."- CNN obtained the same information from November, suggesting that sources with access to this sensitive information are eager to push back on what they see as a false narrative being pushed by the White House press shop.

-- A senior official on the National Economic Council resigned after being told he would not qualify for permanent security clearance.Politico’s Andrew Restuccia reports: “George David Banks, who had served since February 2017 as special assistant to the president for international energy and environmental policy, [said] he was informed by the White House counsel’s office Tuesday that his application for a permanent clearance would not be granted over his past marijuana use.”

-- The Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced he has launched an investigation into why Porter was allowed to stay in such a powerful job despite credible allegations of spousal abuse.From Herman Wong and Mike DeBonis: “Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the panel’s chairman, sent letters Wednesday to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly asking for information on what they knew about the allegations against Porter and when they knew it ...‘I have real questions about how someone like this could be considered for employment,‘ Gowdy said on CNN . . . adding that ‘the chronology is not favorable for the White House.‘”

- - -

The Washington Post’s Breanne Deppisch contributed to the Big Idea.

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