Donald Trump's Cabinet picks conduct "murder-board" sessions to prepare for rapid-fire confirmation hearings this week

As Mitch McConnell trivializes concerns, Trump's nominees expect to face tough questions about ethics and milk

By Taylor Link

Published January 9, 2017 3:18PM (EST)

In this Nov. 9, 2016, photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.  (AP)
In this Nov. 9, 2016, photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

Senate Republicans will push forward with Cabinet confirmation hearings this week, despite the fact that the nonpartisan Office of Government and Ethics (OGE) warned that some of President-elect Donald Trump's nominees have not been properly vetted for conflicts of interest. Nine nominees are scheduled to meet before the Senate this week, beginning with Homeland Security nominee John Kelly and Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions.

On "Face the Nation" Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell downplayed the concerns of the OGE and his colleagues across the aisles. "Democrats are really frustrated that they lost the election. I was in Senator Schumer's position eight years ago. I know how it feels when you are coming into a new situation when the other guys won the election," McConnell said. "What did we do? We confirmed seven Cabinet appointments the day President Obama was sworn in. We didn't like most of them either."

While McConnell had ideological differences with President Obama's nominees, Democrats have mostly raised ethical questions with Trump's Cabinet picks, wary that their complex business dealings will make it impossible to vet conflict of interests. Democrats have demanded that full background checks be completed before proceeding with the hearings, but McConnell has challenged these requests, even though he himself asked for them in 2009 when he was in Senator Schumer's position.

As Democrats prepare for the confirmation hearings this week, Trump's nominees have reportedly undergone some grueling prep of their own, Politico reported on Sunday. Multiple "murder-board" sessions — which include hours-long mock interrogations under bright lights to simulate the environment in the Senate — have been conducted in the run up to the hearings. Trump's Cabinet hopefuls are bracing for questions that range from their personal wealth to their opinions of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Former staffers and officials within appropriate departments and agencies are assisting the Trump team's mock hearings. Rex Tillerson, for example, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, has no government experience; as a result, he has been exhaustively briefed by former State Department official Erin Walsh. The presence of so many billionaires in Trump's prospective Cabinet has not gone unnoticed, so the nominees have also reportedly been prepped on transactional costs of everyday items like milk and a gallon of gas.

Bunkered in a makeshift studio on the sixth floor of the Trump team's D.C. headquarters, the whole production smacks of a rehearsal for a reality TV show. Staffers are reportedly playing senators on relevant committees and maintaining a countdown clock to ensure the candidates do not drag on their answers. They have even brought in mock protestors to disrupt the sessions because preparing for the worse might be the only way they get out of these hearings with a job.

One Trump transition team official told Politico that they had done roughly 40 hearings, "enough to be perfect."

Taylor Link

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