All the pres­i­dent’s men must go through him

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - NATION & WORLD - By Lisa Rein The Wash­ing­ton Post

If Johnny DeSte­fano ap­plied for a job in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, chances are pretty good that Johnny DeSte­fano wouldn’t hire him.

DeSte­fano is the pres­i­dent’s of­fi­cial head­hunter, re­spon­si­ble for fill­ing up to 4,000 po­lit­i­cal jobs — about 500 of which are re­ally im­por­tant jobs — in a gov­ern­ment that his boss promised to clear of the per­ma­nent class of cap­i­tal in­sid­ers to drain the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., swamp.

So the ideal ap­pli­cant wouldn’t have spent much of his ca­reer on Capi­tol Hill like DeSte­fano has, start­ing with a col­lege in­tern­ship. Or served as po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor for former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who em­bod­ies the GOP es­tab­lish­ment. Or raised money for House Repub­li­cans, then built a data oper­a­tion used by the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

And yet this didn’t stop DeSte­fano, 38, from get­ting an un­der-the-radar role as some­one to see in Trump world.

In an in­ter­view at hisD.C. of­fice, the di­rec­tor of pres­i­den­tial per­son­nel sits eas­ily in a navy blue suit at the con­fer­ence ta­ble where he asks peo­ple why they want to work for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

“What I’m in­ter­ested in now is, ‘Why do you want the job, and more specif­i­cally why do you want to work for this ad­min­is­tra­tion?’ ” DeSte­fano says he asks can­di­dates he in­ter­views for jobs rang­ing from un­der­sec­re­tary of trans­porta­tion to am­bas­sador to the Euro­peanUnion.

“What’s your vi­sion? I want to know that my­self,” he says. “I’m the per­son who’s vouch­ing for them to the pres­i­dent of the United States.”

He’s also strug­gling to fill crit­i­cal jobs across a gov­ern­ment still miss­ing­most of its se­nior lead­ers, a per­son­nel road­block caused by a slow start, screen­ing de­lays, can­di­dates turned off by a post-gov­ern­ment lob­by­ing ban — and the pos­si­bil­ity that Trump doesn’t want to fill all of those posts.

When the White House an­nounced DeSte­fano’s ap­point­ment, the far-right bl­o­go­sphere lit up in anger.

“Those who hoisted the pi­rate flag and joined the Trumpteamwhen­hewas at 2 per­cent in the polls ... must won­der what the devil is go­ing on,” long­time con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist Richard Viguerie wrote, call­ing the choice a “ma­jor im­ped­i­ment” toTrump’s goals.

And yet DeSte­fano has won over the “pi­rate” wing led by Steve Ban­non, Trump’s com­bat­ive chief strate­gist.

“Johnny was a con­tro­ver­sial pick for the Bre­it­bart crowd,” Ban­non says, re­fer­ring to the right-wing news site he ran be­fore join­ing Trump’s cam­paign. “Hewas looked at as not close to what the Trump move­ment was look­ing for.”

But he now calls DeSte­fano “just a huge piece of man­power” with a “very good sense of who could be a change agent and what are thekey­po­si­tions youhave to fill and get filled right away.”

DeSte­fano’s new­post and or­nate of­fice are a long way from the Data Trust, the Repub­li­can voter-data firm where he could wear flip flops and jeans to work while over­see­ing the team of 24 tech­nol­ogy geeks he built to mod­ern­ize the GOP’s voter files.

His sur­round­ings notwithstanding, he re­tains a sense of min­i­mal­ism, with al­most-empty book­cases and a bare desk ex­cept for some stray pa­pers and an empty tube of Air­borne, the im­mune-sys­tem booster. It looks like­he­hasn’tmovedin.

Friends say the sparse of­fice shouldn’t be con­fused with dis­en­gage­ment: DeSte­fano is a strate­gic thinker with a radar for as­sess­ing peo­ple’s tal­ents.

In a White House be­sieged by in­fight­ing, he tries to man­age the chaos.

“Johnny takes a lot of heat,” says chief of staff Reince Priebus, de­scrib­ing pres­sure that comes from above, be­low and from the cal­en­dar. “He’s calm, he’s pa­tient and he has a good un­der­stand­ing of who’s in charge, mean­ing the pres­i­dent.”

DeSte­fano finds him­self fir­ing­back­at­naysay­er­swho think that Trump is mov­ing too slowly to staff the gov­ern­ment. Bill Clin­ton had 100 peo­ple look­ing through re­sumes and Trump has 36. So what? Back then, they came in on pa­per. Now they’re emailed.

“I think that do­ing it right is more im­por­tant than do­ing it fast,” he says. Johnny DeSte­fano, pres­i­dent’s of­fi­cial head­hunter

DeSte­fano didn’t to the job he landed.

Priebus, who got to know DeSte­fano when he was Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man, called DeSte­fano two days be­fore Christ­mas to ask him to come to New York the next day to meet the pres­i­den­t­elect’s son-in-law and ad­viser, Jared Kush­ner, at Trump Tower.

“Lit­er­ally, this came out of the blue,” Boehner says. “You don’t have to won­der what you’re get­ting with Johnny. He brings sta­bil­ity.”

DeSte­fano had no ex­pe­ri­ence in ex­ec­u­tive searches be­fore this. Most pres­i­dents have their per­son­nel chiefs in place months be­fore the elec­tion.

He wasn’t on board un­til late Jan­uary, af­ter Trump’s tran­si­tion team had dumped New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie and his lists of po­ten­tial job can­di­dates. The hir­ing oper­a­tion was on life sup­port.

DeSte­fano and his team en­sure that can­di­dates pass the ul­ti­mate test in this ad­min­is­tra­tion: loy­alty. #Nev­erTrumpers or those who said some­thing un­flat­ter­ing about the can­di­date on Twit­ter or Face­book are al­most al­ways dis­qual­i­fied.

He’s also the gate­keeper, culling from thou­sands of re­sumes — the White House won’t say how many — in the per­son­nel of­fice’s data­base for lower-level posts that don’t re­quire Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion. Fe­wof the top jobs are filled from that list but emerge from a more chaotic process by which an ad­viser, fam­ily mem­ber, se­na­tor or the vice pres­i­dent will hand DeSte­fano a name and tell him to take a look. He has to tell Cabi­net sec­re­tarieswhen­their picks aren’t go­ing to fly with the White­House.

So where do you be­gin to hire 4,000 peo­ple­whowant to up­end the fed­eral gov­ern­ment aswe knowit?

For starters, this isn’t spoils sys­tem.

“There wasn’t a huge cam­paign,” DeSte­fano says. “This isn’t a Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion that came with thou­sands and thou­sands of folks who are ex­pect­ing jobs.”

They’re look­ing in­stead for peo­ple­who­have “driven change” in or out of gov­ern­ment.

He ac­knowl­edges that find­ing out­siders in­volves “a lit­tle bit more of a mix of re­cruit­ment and place­ment than I think most ad­min­is­tra­tions have had,” but he calls it an “op­por­tu­nity.” as­pire


Johnny DeSte­fano, Don­ald Trump’s di­rec­tor of pres­i­den­tial per­son­nel, has spent much of his ca­reer on Capi­tol Hill.

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