Say Good-bye to Trump’s Lesser Ghouls

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump White House holds many horrors. Some have become well-known. There’s Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, and his dreadful wife Ivanka; white nationalists Stephen and Katie Miller; the unbelievably named Chad Wolf at the Department of Homeland Security; and Betsy DeVos, who appears to be on a personal mission to privatize the public education system. But presidential administrations are powered by thousands of staff and propped up by various appointees who often don’t receive much public attention. But Trump’s noncelebrity ghouls deserve the same opprobrium liberals have dished out to Kushner et al. Below, an incomprehensive list of the worst Trump officials you’ve probably forgotten about. Better memorize their names now, before they all disappear into lucrative consultancies.

Seema Verma

The crown for Worst Little-Known Trump Ghoul goes to Verma. In her role as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Verma approved drastic cuts to Medicaid that left thousands of needy Americans without health care. She did so with enthusiasm, too.

This alone makes Verma a monstrous human being. But it’s her commitment to craft that really sets her apart from the other names on this list. Verma did not content herself with the knowledge that she’d deprived poor Americans of the care they need to stay alive. She also treated the very same taxpayers as though they were a resource to exploit. Last year, she filed a bizarre $47,000 claim for lost property with the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CMS. That figure included “an Ivanka Trump–brand pendant, made of gold, prasiolite and diamonds, that Verma’s jeweler valued at $5,900,” as Politico reported at the time. In 2020, an HHS inspector general report and a separate investigation by House Democrats found that Verma had spent millions on outside consultants, often to boost her own public profile. Verma also billed CMS $3,000 for a “girls’ night” party at the Georgetown home of USA Today’s Washington bureau chief, Susan Page. (Page later moderated the vice-presidential debate and belongs on a separate, but thematically similar, list.)

Congratulations, Seema Verma! May your time in the Trump administration hang around your neck like a millstone forever.

Sonny Perdue

Perdue is the secretary of Agriculture, and as such, helps set food stamp policy. And what is that policy? Let’s revisit 2019, when the Department of Agriculture first announced a trio of new food stamp rules branded as an attempt to encourage “personal responsibility” in the poor. The rules would have tightened work requirements and allowed states to raise eligibility standards for the food stamp program. The changes would save the federal government billions over time, Perdue boasted; meanwhile, hungry Americans would go without food. Analysis from the Urban Institute found that if the “changes had been implemented in 2018, 3.7 million fewer people and 2.1 million fewer households would have received SNAP, and annual benefits would have decreased by $4.2 billion.” A federal judge struck down one of those rules in October, Reuters reported.

Nevertheless, Perdue deserves to be remembered for what he tried to do: starve people.

Eugene Scalia

Trump pretends to be a friend of workers. In fact, he’s anything but, and Eugene Scalia (yes, one of those Scalias) has been an important weapon in the president’s war on labor. As Labor secretary, Scalia presided over a deregulatory push at the expense of unions and workers. The fate of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is a particular highlight of his tenure. Scalia ended a policy directing OSHA to generate negative publicity for dangerous employers. In April, The New Yorker reported, Scalia introduced a policy memo that would have relieved “the vast majority of employers of any duty to keep records about whether employees’ coronavirus infections were ‘work-related.’” Scalia later retracted that memo under pressure. But he’s already done plenty of damage. The number of federal workplace safety inspectors employed by OSHA is the lowest it’s been in 45 years. In the middle of a pandemic.

Scalia will almost certainly return the big-money law world that spawned him. He will be fine. A lot of essential workers won’t be.

Gina Haspel

Republicans celebrated Haspel’s confirmation as director of the CIA as a landmark achievement for women. She’s the first female to hold the position — and proof, they hoped, that their party wasn’t as misogynistic as its opposition to abortion and its pussy-grabbing president implied. But Haspel’s confirmation was only ever a victory for a narrow category of woman. If you’re a woman, and you ordered someone tortured, then congratulations on the representation.

Before she shattered a dubious glass ceiling at the CIA, Haspel supervised a black site and the extensive torture of detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a suspected participant in the plot to bomb the USS Cole. Haspel later repeatedly petitioned the Bush administration for permission to destroy videotapes showing the violent interrogations of both al-Nashiri and another detainee, Abu Zubaydah. Permission never came, according to a report in ProPublica, and a different CIA official later decided to destroy them anyway. “She [Haspel] was concerned that I was taking this risk on my own — that I was putting myself in this situation,” that official told ProPublica. “She didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’ She may have thought I was going to talk to more people about it before hitting ‘send,’ but I had made up my mind that I was going to follow through.” Haspel’s exact role in the destruction of the tapes remains unclear.

Nevertheless, she sailed through to confirmation with the help of a handful of Democratic senators. Haspel ought to resign. But that requires the capacity for shame and self-reflection, which she lacks.

Julia Hahn 

White House speechwriter Stephen Miller has hogged all the attention for his links to organized white nationalism. But this is very nasty and unfair to Hahn, who has her own unsavory affiliations. A Southern Poverty Law Center investigation reported that Hahn, a former writer for Breitbart News, attended a writers’ workshop hosted by the Social Contract Press, which was founded by racist eugenicist John Tanton and publishes a number of white nationalist authors. She’s also linked to Peter Brimelow, the white nationalist who founded As a special assistant to Trump, and the White House director of Surrogate and Coalition Communications, Hahn’s played a key, if somewhat obscure, role in shaping the president’s nativist message. It should follow her for the rest of her life.

Robert Wilkie

Wilkie is the head of the Veterans Administration. He’s also pretty fond of Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy. Wilkie called Davis a “martyr to ‘The Lost Cause’” in a 1995 speech to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, CNN has reported. Though he said in the same speech that he was no “apologist for the South,” he also deflected blame from the Confederacy, saying instead that “slavery was a collective American tragedy” and that listeners should protect American history from “an enforced political orthodoxy dictated to our children by attention-starved politicians, street corner demagogues, and tenured campus radicals.” According to CNN, Wilkie attended pro-Confederate events “as recently as 2009.” The Washington Post previously reported that he once belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He did not disclose his pro-Confederate ties in his confirmation paperwork.

Wilkie is not the only senior VA official to potentially harbor some affection for the Confederacy. Another — David Thomas Sr. — hung a portrait of Confederate general and inaugural KKK grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest in his office. He later told the Washington Post he didn’t know about Forrest’s KKK role.

After taking over the VA, Wilkie proceeded to bust unions. The Association of Federal and Government Employees has also criticized Wilkie for failing to properly address pervasive racial discrimination and harassment at the VA. Who knows where Wilkie will go next! The VA will be better off with him gone.

Paula White 

Maybe you’ve seen the videos.

This is Paula White, the prosperity gospel preacher who chairs the White House evangelical advisory board. Though she’s claimed credit for leading Trump to salvation, her theological sensibilities place her at odds with many white evangelicals who consider the prosperity gospel to be heretical teaching. Nevertheless, Trump’s ties to White don’t appear to have substantively hurt him with white evangelical voters and may have even helped him with Pentecostal and Charismatic voters who share her views. Predictably, White is anti-LGBT and anti-abortion, and her prominence in the Trump White House symbolized an overall disregard for the separation of church and state. Soon, she’ll be gone, and for that we praise God.

Alyssa Farah

Farah has bounced from post to post in the Trump administration, serving most recently as the White House communications director. The daughter of Joseph Farah, who founded the conspiratorial WorldNetDaily, Farah is perhaps not as well known as White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. But as one of Trump’s principle propagandists, Farah is tireless and entirely disconnected from reality. She has to be in order to do her job, which is to lie. Just this week, she implied that electoral fraud had undermined voting in Pennsylvania.

Farah’s rise through the ranks of the Trump White House has been enabled by the administration’s preference for young, poorly qualified, extremely far-right recruits. At least she had a good time, though.

Very important stuff! Anyway, Farah almost certainly has a job waiting for her somewhere in the fever swamp press. Here’s hoping the major networks are sensible enough to exile her from the air.

Russ Vought

Vought is very dull, but he has earned his place on this list. As the director of the Office of Budget and Management, Vought’s task is to reshape the executive branch according to Trump’s whims. The administration’s war on “critical race theory” is thus spearheaded by Vought, who recently took credit for canceling racial sensitivity trainings at the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (where staff have complained of rampant racial discrimination). Vought has called these trainings “unAmerican” and “taxpayer funded indoctrination.” Vought is also responsible for implementing Trump’s memoranda and executive orders as they pertain to federal agencies, which means he’s instrumental to Trump’s efforts to deregulate and shrink the size of the government.

His efforts make him a frequent guest on right-wing radio and TV and have earned some rather cringe-worthy praise.

Hasta la vista, indeed.

William Perry Pendley

Pendley is the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, and he shouldn’t be. But don’t take my word for it: A federal judge ordered him removed from the position because he’d been illegally appointed by David Bernhardt, the secretary of the Interior. But Pendley, who refers to himself as the “Sagebrush Rebel,” refused to leave. He shares that dramatic flair with Cliven Bundy, a figure he publicly sympathized with before he landed at the BLM. Bundy, of course, instigated an armed standoff with BLM agents after he refused to pay around $1 million in unpaid grazing fees for his cattle. That standoff later inspired the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge by Bundy’s son, Ammon, and various allies; it remains a flash point in the gradual escalation of far-right militia activity over the last several years.

Pendley shares Bundy’s basic grievance: that the federal government owns too much public land in the West, an act of tyranny that afflicts ranchers and blocks economic development. He has suggested that the federal government sell public land to pay for the border wall and moved repeatedly to open public land for oil and gas drilling — decisions that states and various advocacy groups immediately challenged. Though Pendley doesn’t have the profile of Andrew Wheeler, the EPA administrator whose deregulatory agenda favors the oil and gas industries, his exit is still very good news for environmentalists as well as indigenous tribes, whose land rights Pendley frequently opposed. It’s time for Pendley and his handlebar mustache to ride back into the sunset, after which we will hopefully never hear from him again.

Say Good-bye to Trump’s Lesser Ghouls