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Here’s the Trudeau government’s secret guide to Trump’s cabinet

Multiple divorces, ties to Russia, and campaign support from the oil industry are all part of the biographies obtained by VICE News.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes the rounds in Washington, D.C. Wednesday, he’ll be thrown straight into the confusing mire of President Donald Trump’s White House.

While the president has proven himself exactly as unpredictable as many expected — whether it’s slapping extraordinary trade penalties on Quebec manufacturer Bombardier or musing about cancelling the North American Free Trade Agreement even as talks continue — Trudeau and his team have increasingly looked beyond the president, to his cabinet.


“[He] has unsettled many in Washington security, defence and intelligence circles.”

VICE News obtained the secret briefing book that was prepared to prep Trudeau and his government on the marriages, personal wealth, and political views of President Donald Trump’s cabinet.

The briefing book, obtained through an access to information request, was prepared in January of 2017 to help the Canadian government navigate palace politics of Trump’s government.

Personal profiles of foreign officials are commonplace in the world of international relations but the circumstances of Trump’s cabinet are unique — this book was sent directly to a special Canadian task force, struck to manage the unconventional administration. The briefing book is all the more relevant, given the lack of experience of his team, the constant allegations of ties to Russia, and the hardened ideologies of some in Trump’s inner circle.

“The vast majority of his contributions came from the oil & gas industry (triple that of any other industry.)”

The biographies were listed in the report “in the order of succession to the presidency.”

The Trudeau government has been quietly setting up a strategy to win friends and influence people in Trump’s Washington. In May, VICE News reported on Ottawa’s state-by-state strategy on undercutting Trump’s economic nationalist agenda and on how Trudeau’s team had begun reading Trump’s books and sizing up his cabinet for leverage on high-level negotiations.


Huge parts of these biographies were withheld by Canada’s foreign affairs ministry, who contended that releasing the information could be “injurious to the conduct of international affairs.”

But the language included in the briefing books is nevertheless telling for Trudeau’s lobbying strategy in D.C. and instructive in figuring out Ottawa’s perspective on the unconventional administration.

Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State)

The briefing book details Tillerson’s long career at oil giant ExxonMobil, making specific mention that Tillerson’s upcoming retirement from the company had him in line for a “$160 million payout.”

The briefing also mentions his frequent contacts with foreign leaders, and specifically how the oil company he led “has considerably expanded its operations in Russia, which now surpasses the U.S. as the largest theatre for the company’s operations.”

Indeed, the Treasury Department alleged in July that ExxonMobil broke U.S. sanctions against Russia in 2014 by doing deals with a Russian oil giant. That, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ties between the Trump administration and Moscow.

Tillerson has had a rough couple of weeks, as his negotiating positions with North Korea and Iran have frequently been undercut by the president’s public remarks and tweets. He reportedly called Trump a “moron” and rumours of his firing are flying.

James Mattis (Secretary of Defence)

The glowing briefing document on Trump’s pick for defence secretary seems to reflect Ottawa’s general attitude towards Mattis.

The document reads that the general “is noted for his intellectualism and interest in the study of military history and world history,” noting the expanse of his personal library. It includes details of how Mattis required his marines to be “well read regarding the culture and history in regions of the world where they are deployed.” That included requiring sensitivity training before his marines deployed to Iraq.


Trudeau’s inner circle has always touted Mattis as one of the most approachable and reasonable members of Trump’s team. Indeed, Trudeau’s team — which features two Canadian Armed Forces veterans — has made a particular effort to forge personal ties with the general, according to senior Canadian officials who spoke to VICE News.

Jeff Sessions (Attorney General)

When it comes to Canada’s access to information regime, sometimes the redactions speak louder than the documents themselves.

For Sessions’ briefing material, less than half of the page is legible. The other half is hidden behind gray bars.

Sessions faced stiff opposition to his appointment, with critics accusing him of having a history of racial prejudice. He also landed directly in the middle of allegations that Trump’s campaign was aided — knowing or unknowingly — by the Russian government to influence the presidential election.

None of those details appear in the Canadian briefing note. The only details that remain un-redacted are a brief summary of Sessions’ involvement in the Trump campaign and a list of his Senate committee assignments.

Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce)

Ross has been a target of Canadian interest ever since Trump announced his cabinet.

As commerce secretary, Ross has been at the forefront of conversations on the North American Free Trade Agreement and challenges on Canadian softwood lumber and other goods.


The briefing note goes into his Ross’ business experience, and his past endorsement of (relative moderate) Marco Rubio.

“He has been married three times.”

Interestingly, the briefing note also delves into securities violations levied against Ross’ investment firm, which cost his company $2.3 million in fines, and how a coal mine he owned had been cited with 208 safety violations prior to an explosion which killed a dozen miners.

The document notes that Ross’ current wife has also advised Trump, and that “he has been married three times.”

Rick Perry (Secretary of Energy)

A two-time primary candidate for the Republican Party, Perry appears to be of particular focus to Ottawa due to his close ties with the energy industry — an obvious roadblock for Trudeau’s hopes of convinocing Trump to stay in the Paris climate agreement.

During Perry’s 2016 campaign, the backgrounder notes, “the vast majority of his contributions came from the oil & gas industry (triple that of any other industry.)”

It also picked up on the fact that “during the 2011 primaries, Mr. Perry pledged to eliminate the Department of Energy — the very agency he is now tapped to lead.” During that campaign, he also referred to climate changes as a “scientific theory that’s not settled yet.”

Perry’s climate skepticism is of obvious concern for the Trudeau government, who has made it a priority to advance international climate agreements, like the Paris Accord. While Trudeau lobbied Trump to keep the deal in place, Trump announced his intention to pull America out of the agreement in August.


Mike Flynn (ex-National Security Advisor)

Flynn’s 24-day tenure as Trump’s national security advisor was the shortest tenure for someone in the job in more than 60 years. The briefing note, prepared a month before his ouster, does pick up on the fact that Flynn “runs a small consulting firm and registered lobby group, Flynn Intel Group.” The next paragraph is entirely redacted.

Flynn was mired in controversy, both prior to and after his departure from the cabinet, for being registered to lobby on behalf of the Turkish government.

The note mentions that Flynn was present for “many seminal events during the campaign, including the Republican National Convention.” But the next sentence is redacted. Flynn, of course, stood on stage at that convention and chanted “lock her up!” in regards to Hillary Clinton.

While the majority of the briefing note is redacted, the language that remains is blunt.

“Mr. Flynn’s campaign involvement — and in particular his strident views on domestic and international affairs — has unsettled many in Washington security, defence and intelligence circles.”

Betsy Devos (Secretary of Education)

Devos’ biography notes her fervent support of voucher schools and her ties to the Reformer Christian church (a generally moderate branch of Calvinism.)

The briefing note specifically mentions that Devos’ brother is Erik Prince, founder of the private security giant Blackwater — a company awarded billions in U.S. military contracts but which faced numerous investigations for the actions of its contractors, including the massacre of 14 Iraqi civilians.


John Kelly (Chief of Staff)

While Kelly now serves as Trump’s right-hand-man, he was — when the briefing book was prepared — tapped to be the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Kelly has, since his name was first touted by the Trump administration, been a target for Trudeau’s office. He, like Mattis, is a former general.

“In contrast to the other nominees, Gen. Kelly refused to endorse either presidential candidate,” the note reads. It adds that he has legislative experience from a former job in Congress, and that he has been a “vocal critic of attempts to downplay the U.S.’ role in international combat.”

Read the full briefing book: