Some of the names Biden is floating right now are merely trial balloons, meant to gauge how much fire he can expect from Republicans and from the ranks of his fellow Democrats. Fundraisers and key supporters will have their say in the decisions, too. And government bureaucrats, however qualified, are a political constituency Biden and the Democrats have courted.
Yet there’s also a clear preference among Biden’s advisers for career professionals either alienated or drummed out during the Trump administration. Some left or got the axe due to a lack of loyalty to Trump — “patriots,” one senior Biden adviser called them.
Senior Biden advisers aren’t talking about any particular individuals yet as likely candidates for open jobs, but they do point to his promise to respect the experience and expertise of the civil service and diplomatic corps.
“There is a need for a certain number of very experienced senior people where there’s a shortage,” Ronald Neumann, the President of the American Academy of Diplomacy and a former career ambassador, told CNN regarding the State Department. “And they’re likely to pull some of those back and, since most of those are pretty respected people, it’s likely to go smoothly. But it also depends on what people have established in the meantime, and if they have good jobs that are very well-paying. Some will come back, some will have moved on.”
And there are plenty of Trump administration refugees — particularly in the areas of national security, law enforcement, and diplomacy — who fit the description. For examples, Biden need look no further than news reports of the past four years.
One of Trump’s first purge victims, at the top of the Justice Department hierarchy, was Sally Yates — and now she’s considered a top contender for attorney general under Biden.
As the deputy attorney general from the Obama administration, Yates became acting attorney general following Trump’s inauguration and was expected to serve in that role until Jeff Sessions was confirmed by the Senate to lead the Justice Department.
While Yates is a Democrat, she had not been known in Washington legal circles as particularly partisan prior to her firing. But the Georgia native made an appearance at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, accusing the President who had fired her of “trampl[ing] the rule of law.”
Plenty of career foreign service officers were caught in the middle of the events leading to Trump’s impeachment. None was more prominent than Marie Yovanovtich, whose removal as ambassador to Ukraine in May 2019 was a central fact of the investigation into wrongdoing by the President.
Like Thomas-Greenfield, Yovanovitch spent her career in the foreign service, including appointments in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. The credibility of her damning testimony during the impeachment hearings rested on her decades of diplomatic experience and expertise. Her work in anti-corruption was what prompted allies of Trump to encourage Yovanovitch’s ouster through a smear campaign against her.
After a fellowship at Georgetown University, Yovanovitch retired from the State Department last January. But she delivered a harsh assessment of the administration in remarks weeks after her retirement that might be considered a manifesto for the foreign service in the Trump era.
Another central figure of the impeachment saga, Alexander Vindman was a career Army officer with a decade of experience as a foreign area officer. Before that, Vindman had served in combat in Iraq, receiving a Purple Heart after being injured by a roadside bomb in 2005. In 2018, he was detailed to the National Security Council at the White House (along with his twin brother, Yevgeny).
Vindman’s own testimony before Congress provided details about the July 2019 phone call with new Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky when Trump asked Zelensky to help investigate Biden. He had also reported to an…