The video of Senator Elizabeth Warren questioning Ms. DeVos has made its way around the Internet as an example.
During that exchange, for example, Ms. DeVos appeared to know almost nothing about the Department of Education’s methods of combating fraud, waste, and abuse for federal grants to for-profit providers of higher education like, as Senator Warren pointed out, the now notorious Trump University.
During questioning by other Democrats, Ms. DeVos also seemed to have little, if any, knowledge of federal laws providing free and appropriate education to students with disabilities and to have no idea about the important debate over how the federal government can require schools who receive federal funding to show that they are making measurable progress. She also said that guns in schools are needed to protect students from grizzly bears.
Could Good Trial Could Have Saved Her Embarrassment?
This raises the question: Did anyone try to prepare her for her confirmation hearings? In an interview with a renowned trial lawyer, I interviewed John Helmes.
Helms stated “When I prepare witnesses for trial, I work with the person on both appearance and substance. As far as appearance, a witness needs to look calm and unfazed, even if they are not. They also need to avoid looking defensive or evasive. To help witnesses, I practice cross-examining them on videotape. Then, we watch the video together and pick apart the answers to see how the witness looks. Does the witness seem angry? Flustered? The video shows it, and it allows the witness to see it in order to correct it.
As far as substance, a trial witness needs to know the things that a jury would expect the witness to know. Few people can remember exact dates and numbers, but a jury wants to see that a witness is prepared to testify and can back up what they are saying. To help witnesses with substance, I give the witness any important documents that I think will come up for review, I go over expected subject areas, and I ask the witness the ten hardest questions I can.”
Helms also commented, “Ms. DeVos’ appearance was fine. She did not become flustered or argumentative. She stayed calm. I bet she was coached on how to present a good appearance. Her testimony was poor on substance, though. She seemed poorly prepared on some basic and important issues facing the Department of Education. I doubt that she got much preparation on substance, or if she did, it was not enough to make a good impression about her knowledge.”
Why would this happen? Why would a nominee for an important government position go into a confirmation hearing without enough preparation on substance, especially since sound bites from the hearing can be broadcast all over the world in minutes? I think there are two answers.
First, I think the Trump administration has a philosophy that a person does not need subject-matter expertise to lead a government agency. This is part of the so-called “drain the swamp” mentality—that it is better to have a smart outsider who knows nothing about an agency to lead it than someone who has been involved in the area for a long time.
Second, I think the Trump administration knows that it has the votes from Republicans to confirm its nominees unless the nominee says something really stupid. So, they figure that a nominee will probably be confirmed if they make a good appearance and stick to the script, even if this means that they show how little they know about the subject of the agency they may lead.
Based on my interview from John Helms, what looks like a failure to prepare Ms. DeVos on substance indicated by John Helms a Dallas defense lawyer, that the Trump Administration is not concerned about substance at this point and believes they have the jury already fairly well locked up.