It finally happened: Donald Trump, the blustery billionaire businessman, is the Republican Party’s presumed nominee for president.
But when Americans head to the polls in November, they will not only be choosing between Trump and the Democratic Party’s nominee. They will be choosing between a whole slew of people who will advise the two candidates. Knowing who those people are, and how they have historically operated in the political world, is crucial to understanding what kind of sprawling, consequential decisions will be made from the White House.
This is particularly true when it comes to Trump, a man who has not only never held elected office, but whose policy positions seem to change at the drop of a hat. With his lack of political experience and ever-changing platform, it’s hard to know what Trump himself really thinks — which is why it matters even more who is advising him, as they may have an outsized role in dictating policy.
Here are the people who currently have the ear of the presumed Republican presidential nominee.
“Campaign confidante,” “long-time ally,” “closest political advisor” — Roger Stone may no longer have an official role in Trump’s presidential campaign, but he remains an important influencer for the presumed GOP nominee.
A longtime political operative, Stone has built his reputation on controversy and dirty tricks. During his time on the Nixon campaign, for example, he reportedly created a fake identity, and made multiple donations to Nixon’s opponent from the Young Socialist Alliance. He then tipped off a local newspaper about those donations, to prove Nixon’s opponent was a left-wing extremist.
In 2008, he created an anti-Hillary Clinton group called C.U.N.T., which he said stood for Citizens United Not Timid. Stone later lamented that he could not think of a good acronym for B.I.T.C.H.
His political friendship with Trump grew in 2012, after Trump went on a crusade to question the validity of President Obama’s birth certificate and citizenship. Stone called the accusations “brilliant. … It’s base building,” he said. “It gives voice to a concern shared by many on the right.”
Trump tapped Steve Mnunchin, the chairman and CEO of private investment firm Dune Capital Management, to serve as his campaign’s finance chair last week. Though his name may not immediately ring a bell, he is “one of the most notorious bankers in America” — at least according to David Dayen at the New Republic.
Dayen’s profile of Mnuchin is worth reading in full. It details the era of Mnuchin’s career when, during the height of the financial crisis, he purchased OneWest Bank and immediately began foreclosures on thousands of people’s homes. The foreclosures, which disproportionately happened in non-white neighborhoods, were accomplished through fraud, Dayen writes. One employee testified that she “’robo-signed’” 6,000 foreclosure-related documents per week, spending just 30 seconds on each sworn affidavit that attested to the veracity of all relevant information in the case.”
For Dayen, Trump’s choice of Mnuchin for finance chair calls into question Trump’s stated brand of populism. “The foreclosure history in Mnuchin’s past reflects an extreme mentality of profit at all costs, and hardly a viewpoint of standing up for the little guy,” he writes. “Trump as populist was always something of a pose, covering for a deep nationalism and antipathy to immigrants. The Mnuchin pick just brings that into sharper relief.”
Perhaps the most well-known of Trump’s campaign staff, Corey Lewandowski launched into the national spotlight earlier this year when he grabbed a Breitbart reporter by the arm, and then, despite video evidence, refused to acknowledge that the incident occurred. Police charged Lewandowski with misdemeanor battery, but a court recently said he would not be prosecuted.
Though Lewandowski served as campaign manager at the time of the charges, he was reportedly demoted to a body man and scheduler hours before the New York primary.
Lewandowski has also been caught on camera grabbing a protester by the shirt collar. And Politico has reported on his long history of sexist and racist behavior, including that he has “made sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to ― and about ― female journalists who have covered Trump’s presidential bid.”
Prior to his role on Trump’s campaign, Lewandowski was a political operative in New Hampshire, working for the Koch Brothers’ influential conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
A former investment banker who spent seven years at Merrill Lynch, Carter Page — one of Trump’s foreign policy advisers — is currently the managing partner at Global Energy Capital, which he founded. He was previously a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
In online essays, Page has been heavily critical of the sanctions imposed on Russia by NATO powers after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Page has deep business ties in Russia, and spent three years in Moscow, where he advised Gazprom, a large Russian oil and gas company majority owned by the Russian government. Page told Bloomberg that he’s also an investor in Gazprom, and that the U.S. sanctions on Russia have directly impacted his business.
Page’s close ties with Russia dovetail with Trump’s apparent admiration of President Putin and disdain of NATO, which Trump called “obsolete” immediately after the terrorist attacks in Brussels, NATO’s headquarters.
Though he does not have an official campaign role, the journalist-turned-gossip columnist Edward Klein was recently seen dining with Trump at a campaign stop in Indiana. Klein has said he’s known Trump “for 35 years, met with him on numerous occasions, talked to him on the phone countless times, traveled with him, and written two lengthy magazine cover stories about him.”
Klein biggest claim to fame is that he’s an expert on smearing Democratic politicians — particularly Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton — by writing salacious, almost mind-boggling stories about them. He bases these stories on quotes from anonymous sources, which has caused both conservative and liberal writers alike to raise serious questions about his credibility.
Klein’s discredited stories include that Hillary Clinton was once raped by her husband Bill, and their daughter, Chelsea, was conceived in the rape. Klein has also claimed that Clinton has debilitating health problems, including a brain injury that has her constantly fainting. He has a whole book dedicated to an alleged “blood feud” between Clinton and President Obama, which among other things alleges that Clinton and Obama once got into a physical fight.
Katrina Pierson may literally be the face of the Donald Trump campaign — mostly because if Trump himself can’t make an appearance on cable news, Americans see her face talking on the screen instead.
Pierson, Trump’s national spokesperson, is a polarizing figure in Texas politics. Before joining the Trump team, she actually worked for Trump’s former challenger, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). But allies of Cruz told Politico that she was motivated more by getting her face on camera than by trying to instill conservatism in government; that she was “an activist more interested in self-promotion than in the unglamorous work of political organizing.”
A former Democrat, Pierson voted for President Obama in 2008, but decided to switch her affiliation to Tea Party Republican after hearing that Obama did not wear an American flag pin on his lapel. After that, she attempted an unsuccessful primary challenge against long-time Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX). She then became the spokesperson for the Tea Party Leadership Fund, a PAC that purported to spend money to elect conservative candidates. However, a 2013 ThinkProgress review of the Tea Party Leadership Fund’s campaign finance records found that almost none of the candidates they claimed to support actually received any money from the group.
Paul Manafort was hired by the Trump campaign with one specific purpose — to make sure Trump secures enough delegates to clinch the nomination at the Republican National Convention this summer.
At the time, Manafort was certainly the right man for the job. When he joined the campaign, it looked increasingly likely that the remaining Republican candidates would head to a contested convention, where no candidate had received a plurality of delegates. And Manafort himself was no stranger to contested conventions — he was in charge of protecting Gerald Ford’s delegates during the last contested Republican convention in 1976. Ford did not lose one delegate during that time.
But like many of Trump’s other advisers, Manafort also has ties to people and causes that may have made him an undesirable hire to a more traditional candidate. For instance, he co-founded the lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly (BMS&K;), which has made millions of dollars lobbying for and advising what the Daily Beast called “dictators, guerilla groups, and despots with no regard for human rights — including one man responsible for mass amputations, and another who oversaw state-sanctioned rape.” The latter refers to Mobutu Sese Seko, dictator of the Democratic Republic of Congo who human rights activists have accused of government-sanctioned torture and rape, among other things.
In some ways, Paladino was the original Trump: A blustery, rich, white, New York businessman who used untraditional and often offensive rhetoric to secure the Republican party nomination. The Republican nomination Paladino secured was for New York state governor in 2010, a campaign he eventually lost to current New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Now, Paladino acts as Trump’s New York surrogate, campaigning for him across the state.
As a politician, Paladino was one of the original Tea Party heroes. He made headlines more than a few times for what many considered outlandish behavior — He once forwarded emails to colleagues containing racist memes and horse porn; he brandished baseball bats in the state capitol; he bragged about boycotting a gay pride parade; and claimed people on welfare need to be taught personal hygiene. While campaigning for Trump last month, he referred to president Obama as “raccoon in the basement.”
As a businessman in Buffalo, New York, Paladino was also controversial. He once received $3 million in state tax breaks to revive the city’s flailing economy, but wound up creating only 25 jobs and pocketing the tax breaks himself.
The most notable thing about Michael Glassner, Trump’s national political director, is his history with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Glassner was Palin’s top adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign when she ran as Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) running mate. According to The Hill, Glassner also helped Palin become “a national voice for the Tea Party” following McCain’s loss. Glassner’s history with Palin was one reason why he said he was chosen for the Trump campaign.
“The Palin connection was also very attractive to them because, although Palin and McCain’s campaign was not successful, I think that was sort of a marker for the anti-establishment movement,” Glassner told the Jewish Journals. “I think that that helped my credentials in this arena because I’ve shown that I was willing to take on the status quo, willing to buck the establishment, and I think that is what this campaign is all about.”
Glassner is also staunchly pro-Israel. In 2014, became the southwest regional political director for the influential Jewish and Israel lobbying organization American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He joined, he told the Journal, because he “felt very strongly about the threat of radical Islam.”
The law firm Jones Day is serving as Trump’s principal campaign counsel, and Don McGahn is leading the team. Before joining Jones Day, McGahn was the Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), presiding over what the Washington Post called “one of the most consequential tenures in the commission’s 38-year history.”
What McGahn did on the FEC, essentially, was work to loosen campaign finance rules to allow special interests to have an easier time giving to political campaigns. According to the Post, he voted “several times to relax restrictions on political money the parties can use for recounts and litigation, and he won over some Democratic commissioners by framing the funds as money that could be spent on voting rights cases.”
Though McGahn was best known as a controversial former FEC commissioner and election lawyer, he is also a bit of an iconoclast. According to the Center for Public Integrity, he “for a long time wore his shaggy hair long and played a mean Les Paul guitar for Scott’s New Band, hitting power chords on everything from Whitesnake to AC/DC.”
Trump’s communications director Hope Hicks has a famously low profile. But Cosmopolitan has a handy listicle compiling the most interesting tidbits we do know.
Probably the most noteworthy is that, like Trump, the 27-year-old public relations professional had never worked on a political campaign before becoming the go-to person for journalists covering Trump’s White House bid. Her father, Paul Hicks III, is also a former public relations executive, who “now works as the top spin doctor for the NFL,” according to the New York Post.
Hicks is also reportedly integral to Trump’s controversial Twitter feed, in that she takes dictation of Trump when he’s talking about something, then sends his thoughts to someone else in Trump’s circle to make it into a tweet.
One of Trump’s foreign policy advisers, Joseph Schmitz was brought into the Pentagon as Defense Department inspector general under President George W. Bush, charged with investigating waste, fraud and abuse. Three years later he left under a cloud of suspicion and a barrage of attacks from, notably, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and John McCain (R-AZ) over his role in a controversial Boeing deal and his ties to lobbyists. According to a 2005 investigation by the LA times:
Schmitz slowed or blocked investigations of senior Bush administration officials, spent taxpayer money on pet projects and accepted gifts that may have violated ethics guidelines, according to interviews with current and former senior officials in the inspector general’s office, congressional investigators and a review of internal e-mail and other documents.
After leaving the Defense Department, Schmitz joined Blackwater, a mercenary fighting force used during the Iraq war. Schimtz’ primary role, according to a 2011 report in the Nation, was to coordinate Blackwater’s legal defense. In 2008, he tried to argue that lawsuits against Blackwater should be tried under Sharia law because they occurred in Afghanistan. Ironically, he is also the author of “Sharia: The Threat to America” for the Center for Security Policy, the same widely-criticized organization that provided the poll information cited in Trump’s Muslim ban proposal.
Sam Clovis joined Team Trump as the campaign’s national co-chair and senior policy adviser after former Texas Gov. Rick Perry bowed out of the presidential race in 2015. Clovis was the Iowa director of Perry’s run for president, and expressed interest in Trump shortly after Perry dropped out. “It’s like watching NASCAR,” he said of Trump’s blossoming campaign. “You just can’t take your eyes off the cars.”
In Iowa, Clovis was well-known as a college professor and far-right radio host. He made waves during his time as a radio host for suggesting that President Obama only “claims to be black,” and that Obama’s racial makeup would make it difficult to impeach him.
Shortly after Clovis joined Trump’s campaign as a senior policy adviser, Trump announced his controversial plan to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the United States. In an interview with the Guardian, Clovis defended the policy, calling it a “reasonable precaution.””Our view there is nothing wrong with stepping back and taking a break,” he said.
Daniel Scavino Jr.
Daniel Scavino, Trump’s director of social media, was formerly the executive vice president and general manager at the Trump Organization until 2013. Though he’s mostly remained in the background on the campaign, Scavino manages Trump’s social media presence, which includes his nontraditional Twitter account.
It’s clear where Trump’s own online style comes from when you look at Scavino’s defensive — and often offensive — tweets. He has used the Twitter platform to attack politicians, including the other GOP presidential candidates, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton. When the National Enquirer ran an unsubstantiated story accusing Ted Cruz of having affairs, Scavino tweeted a video about one of the women, claiming she was in a relationship with Cruz.
Yet Scavino cannot seem to handle when Twitter attacks are turned on him. Last year, Scavino asked the Secret Service to investigate people who were cyber-bullying Trump on Twitter.
Gen. Keith Kellogg
Keith Kellogg is also a Trump foreign policy adviser. Since retiring from the Army in 2003, he has primarily worked for national defense contracting firms, including CACI international — which, prior to his arrival, was entangled in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
Kellogg also had a brief stint in Iraq as CEO of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) from 2003–2004. Tasked with rebuilding Iraq following the war, the CPA is largely judged as a failure. While at CPA, Kellogg served under L. Paul Bremer, who is widely credited with the dissolution of the Iraqi Army — a move which many view as helping fuel insurgency in Iraq and as a key factor in the formation of ISIS.
After suspending his own presidential campaign, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson endorsed Trump and quickly became a part of his inner circle, appearing beside him at press conferences and changing his once negative tone about the real estate mogul. Last week, Trump announced that he would be starting his vice presidential selection committee, with Carson playing an integral role. On Tuesday, however, conflicting reports began to surface about the degree of Carson’s role. The Daily Beast reported that Carson was off of Trump’s vice presidential vetting committee, while CNN reported the opposite.
Well before joining team Trump, Carson held a number of controversial opinions, including claiming that women who have abortions are like slaveholders, that Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery, and that Americans should not elect a Muslim to the presidency.
George Papadopoulous, another one of Trump’s foreign policy advisers, graduated from college in 2009. He obtained a masters degree in 2010. When he was first announced as Trump’s advisor, he had Model U.N. prominently cited among his credentials on LinkedIn — a line he has now removed.
Most of Papadopoulos’ published work — of which there is relatively little, consisting mainly of a few op-eds for Isreali news sites — focuses on natural gas in the Mediterranean region. Jonathon Stern, director of gas research at the Oxford Institute for Energy studies, told the Post that Papadopoulos “does ring a very faint bell but he’s not written anything very significant on East Mediterranean natural gas and pipelines that I can remember.”
Papadopoulos advised Ben Carson during his presidential bid, and is the director at the Center for International Energy and Natural Resources Law & Security at the London Center of International Law Practice. He previously worked as a research fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute.
When Trump named Phares as a foreign policy advisor, he succinctly described him as “Walid Phares, who you probably know. Ph.D., adviser to the House of Representatives. He’s a counter-terrorism expert.”
Phares may indeed be the most recognizable name on Trump’s foreign policy list. He also advised Mitt Romney in 2012, and is a frequent guest on Fox News. He’s also a conspicuous hawk known for stoking fears of radical Islam — particularly about the spread of Sharia law in the United States, which is considered by most terrorism experts to be a fringe issue. Phares is involved in numerous groups accused of fueling Islamophobia in America, and is so extreme that in 2011, Representative Pete King (R-NY) was forced to drop him from his “Muslim Radicalization” hearings that the ACLU called “McCarthyism 2.0.”
During the 1980s, Phares, a Maronite Christian, trained Lebanese militants in ideological beliefs justifying the war against Lebanon’s Muslim and Druze factions, according to former colleagues.
Phares advised Samir Geagea, a Lebanese warlord who rose to run the Lebanese Forces — a group which massacred hundreds of Palestinian refugees in 1982. Although Phares didn’t actually fight, according to colleagues from that time, he was responsible for turning militia soldiers into Christian ideologues.
Kira Lerner contributed reporting.