Friday, April 14, 2017

Trump Taps Salesman to Run Military Draft

President Trump quietly announced his intention to Nominate former Washington State Senator Don Benton (R) to be Director of the Selective Service System, which operates the Nation’s Military Draft.

Of the Announcement, there wasn’t one mention of the Military, the Draft, or anything related to what the Selective Service System actually does. Nor were there any references to Qualifications or Experiences that prepare Benton to manage the Millions of Records in the Draft system, or the Agency’s roughly $25 million Budget.

Benton had originally been expected to fill a Top Position at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where he was part of the Trump “Landing Team” during the Presidential Transition.
But this was before Benton began to infuriate his Boss, the newly confirmed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Benton’s habit of interrupting Policy discussions to make Bizarre Comments became so maddening, according to The Washington Post, that Senior Staff began keeping him out of Policy Meetings.

Benton is the first Director in the history of the Selective Service who has not served in any Branch of the Military.

All of which posed a dilemma for the President: On one hand, Benton was an early Trump supporter and the Chair of Trump’s Washington State Campaign. Given how few Republican Legislators were early Trump Supporters, there was a real desire to reward each one. On the other hand, the Agency where Benton was actually qualified to work, the EPA, did not want to hire him. So Trump’s solution was to give Benton Oversight of the Military Draft.

Benton, a Sales Consultant by trade, was sworn in Thursday afternoon, according to the Selective Service System website. The Agency didn’t announce Benton’s swearing in or respond to questions.

“This is a completely inappropriate appointment for that position,” said Richard Painter, the Chief Ethics Lawyer for former Republican President George W. Bush. “We need to convince young men to register for the draft, and to step up if they’re needed to fight. And who is it who’s asking them to do that? Someone who’s never served, and for whom this is a throwaway political patronage job.”

As the Trump Administration struggles to fill more than 450 Senior Government positions, its combination of Inexperience and Political Patronage risks creating a Federal Bureaucracy where patently under-qualified people are given Oversight of critical Government functions. Benton’s case is a prime example of how this happens.

According to the White House, one of the Chief reasons why Benton is Qualified to run the Selective Service is that he has experience in Business. “Benton started his first company when he was 17 years old, and has built and sold several companies since,” according to his White House biography. Yet HuffPost was unable to find any evidence that Benton started a company at 17, or that he has ever sold any companies. That doesn’t mean he didn’t, but if he did, he did it awfully quietly.

Moreover, a wide-ranging HuffPost review of Benton’s Public records, Past Interviews, Marketing materials, Biographies, and Corporate Disclosures reveals that his career has been marked by Lawsuits, Ethics problems, Public feuds, and allegations of Cronyism.

The President first met Benton in the Spring of 2016, during Trump’s only Campaign stop in deep Blue Washington State. The two men reportedly bonded over a meal of McDonald’s. “I had Filet-O-Fish and he had a Big Mac,” Benton later said. Soon after, Trump hired Benton to be his Campaign Director in Washington State, a doomed mission, Trump lost by 15 points.

Nonetheless, over the next few months Benton charged the Trump Campaign more than $135,000 in Fees and Reimbursements, according to a review of Federal Election Commission records. This included Rent paid for by the Trump Campaign, along with Money paid to Benton’s son, his wife, Mary, and his Sales Training company, The Benton Group.

Benton’s company also goes by the name National Advertising Consultants as well as National Consulting Services Inc. Over the years, Benton has frequently used these entities as Brokers for his own Campaign Ads in Washington State. In these cases, Benton pays himself the standard 15% Commission.

The last time the Draft was used was toward the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, and today the U.S. Armed Forces are staffed entirely with Volunteers. But in today's troubled times, don't take the Nation’s current All-Volunteer Army for granted. “If we’re going to abolish the draft, let’s abolish it,” he said. “But if we’re not, we need to assume that it could still be used, and that men’s lives are going to be at stake here.”

This is why, for Painter, Benton’s record is particularly worrisome. “We cannot have someone at the top who is not of the utmost integrity,” he said. “Because you effectively get to decide who gets drafted and who doesn’t.”

Painter also dismissed the notion that the Draft Board’s relatively small size made the Director’s job a less important one, and thus easier for Trump to give to one of his cronies. “There are plenty of jobs in the Pentagon that would only be activated in the event of a nuclear attack, but those jobs would never be considered less important than others,” Painter said.

In addition to concerns about Benton’s Ethics and his Temperament, Experts noted that there are also more basic questions about his ability to run the Agency, which employs 400 full and part-time workers with a that budget of roughly $25 million.

“If you have a job that’s relevant to the military, like this one, it’s important to ask, ‘what kind of experience does the nominee have to do this kind of work?” said Alex Howard, Deputy Director of the Nonprofit Sunlight Foundation. “And what kind of experience does this nominee have managing a system with tens of millions of individual records?”

For Howard, what’s troubling about this nomination isn’t simply Benton. It’s the entire Administration’s attitude towards Ethics, Hiring, and Experience. “The lack of certain qualifications, which would have been prohibitive to job seekers in previous administrations, are not prohibitive in this one,” he said.

As for the White House’s bizarre announcement about Benton’s experience Cleaning up Hazardous Waste, Howard chalked it up to Mismanagement in the White House Press office. Still, he said, “these are taxpayer funded positions, so it’s not unreasonable to expect them to be up to the standards of public disclosure. This is nuts and bolts stuff.”

Painter was less forgiving. “If this administration doesn’t understand the difference between disposing of hazardous waste and determining the fate of young men’s lives, then they’ve got bigger problems to deal with than this one nominee,” he said.

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