Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) may have met with Donald Trump during the presidential transition and Trump’s transition team may have put together a vetting document on the Hawaii Democrat as part of considering her for the post of Secretary of Veterans Affairs. But a spokesperson for Gabbard now insists to The Daily Beast that she didn’t know she was considered for the position and was never asked about it.
“Tulsi had no idea that she was being vetted for any post,” Cullen Tiernan, a spokesperson for Gabbard’s 2020 presidential campaign told The Daily Beast. “No one reached out to her in regards to being vetted for any position.”
Questions over how close Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, was to becoming a member of the Trump administration have persisted since she met with the then-president elect in November 2016 to talk about—what she later said was—U.S. policy in Syria. But the matter resurfaced this week after Axios reported on a trove of vetting documents that the president’s aides had put together as he prepared to assume the presidency. Among the files was one on Gabbard for the post atop the VA.
A senior member of the Trump presidential transition said that 2016 talk with Trump did, indeed, touch on the possibility of “a potential position” with the administration, though the congresswoman made it “clear at the meeting she wasn’t seriously pursuing it.”
Trump’s team may have found the fit untenable too. The vetting for Gabbard listed a number of “political vulnerabilities” including the fact that she was an early supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) 2016 presidential campaign. Additionally the transition team cited a 2014 instance in which Gabbard missed a Veterans Affairs hearing in order to shoot a surfing video interview for Yahoo News.
“Are you prepared to apologize for the incident in which you were doing a media interview and surfing during a VA hearing and pledge not to allow something similar to occur as Secretary?” one of the questions reads.
Gabbard has always cast herself as an unorthodox Democrat on matters of foreign policy, having a more sympathetic-than-common take on Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and being more unapologetically open about her aversion to military campaigns than many other lawmakers. To a degree, her worldview has aligned with Trump’s, which made her, at the time of his transition, one of the few Democrats rumored to be a potential fit for a cabinet post. Multiple reports from the time of their meeting alleged that Gabbard was being considered for roles at the Department of Defense, the State Department, and the United Nations. Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist for Trump, was the one who reportedly reached out to Gabbard to set up the meeting at Trump Tower.
Gabbard’s campaign did not respond to a follow up question about the discrepancies between their understanding of a vetting process and the transition official’s recollections. But the official conceded that each party might feel as if they’re telling the truth, since the disorganization surrounding the transition was so profound.
“It was such an organizational disaster,” the official said. “We’d frequently learn about candidates by watching TV along with everyone else.”
“Total shitshow,” this person bluntly assessed.
With reporting by Asawin Suebsaeng