Vetting the veep: Will conventional wisdom Trump an unconventional campaign?

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With the Republican Convention less than two weeks away, speculation continues to build over whom Donald Trump will choose as his running mate. An underlying question is whether Mr. Trump, who has run an unconventional campaign, has employed a traditional vetting operation as he promised to in March. Mr. Trump has already been mired in controversies that have overshadowed his message. There are three crucial steps to the vetting process that if not implemented correctly, could damage Mr. Trump’s campaign post VP announcement. A properly vetted VP candidate has the opportunity to provide a campaign a much-needed boost into the general election.
1. Create a Structure to Properly Vet Candidates
{mosads}A successful vetting operation begins with establishing a tight structure to guide personnel and process. A vetting team should be supervised by attorneys who have the authority and ability to dive deeply into a candidate’s professional and personal histories – the operation should not be run by the candidate’s family or political operatives. This structure creates a helpful separation between the individuals recruiting the candidates and the vetting team assessing their potential liabilities.  In addition, high-profile potential candidates will feel more comfortable providing sensitive information to a vetting operation with an infrastructure designed to properly handle confidential health and financial records.
Mr. Trump, who is known to rely heavily on instincts and surround himself with loyalists, must avoid interfering with the process before it is complete. With news stories about his family’s leadership in the campaign, and Mr. Trump announcing meetings with potential running mates on Twitter, he risks the perception that the vetting of candidates has not been a thoughtful and deliberate process.
2. Thoroughly Scrutinize the Candidate’s Background

A vetting operation must be permitted to aggressively scrutinize a candidate’s personal life, not only to anticipate attacks but also to ensure that the potential vice president is not susceptible to coercion or blackmail. This concern is not farfetched: just this year former Speaker Dennis Hastert, who stood third in the line to the presidency, pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from paying hush money to a former student he had abused; and Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned from office after federal prosecutors uncovered bribes that he had previously received as the Governor of Maryland.
Setting aside Mr. Trump’s own aversion to releasing his taxes, his campaign should analyze the federal and state tax returns of potential running mates. Even minor errors in tax filings can be problematic, as seen with Zoe Baird and Senator Tom Daschle. The potential vice president must also disclose assets and relationships to help identify and eliminate potential conflicts of interest.  And this inquiry into potential conflicts should extend to the candidate’s family and senior advisers.
3.  Anticipate Inconsistencies and Ensure Political Compatibility

Anticipating potential inconsistencies between running mates is fundamental to a vetting operation. Shortly after Mitt Romney selected now Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in 2012, the national media jumped on Ryan’s vote in support of the auto bailout that Governor Romney had previously opposed.  Prior to announcing their VP selection, the Trump campaign should catalogue the running mate’s policy positions and anticipate publicly documented differences. Mr. Trump has been known to have evolving positions on policy issues, which could create distractions for the campaign as it unveils the running mate, whose own positions will be scrutinized by the media and opposition. A thorough vetting process can help effectively mitigate these distractions.
Though Mr. Trump’s campaign thus far has been unconventional, when it comes to the vetting process, conventional wisdom reigns: the selection of the next potential vice president is the voters’ first opportunity to see up close the nominee’s decision making process. A rigorous and professional vetting operation is key to selecting a running mate with minimal liabilities.  How Mr. Trump makes this decision may be nearly as important as whom he chooses. 

Jonathan Lenzner is a practicing attorney and the CEO of IGI, a firm that conducts vetting for corporations, universities and political campaigns. Douglas Graham, Managing Director at IGI, has vetted political candidates and presidential appointments as Vetting Advisor in The White House.

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