Did a 24-Year-Old Campaign Worker Help Lead Trump's Drug Policy Office?

Did a 24-Year-Old Campaign Worker Help Lead Trump's Drug Policy Office?

By Paul Gaita 01/17/18

A new report indicates that a seemingly inexperienced former campaign worker may have held the second-most important position in the ONDCP last year.

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Taylor Weyeneth
Taylor Weyeneth

The Washington Post has published a report about Taylor Weyeneth, a 24-year-old former campaign worker for Donald Trump's presidential campaign who, for a period of time in 2017, appears to have served as deputy chief of staff for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which oversees the administration's billion-dollar campaign to combat the opioid epidemic.

Weyeneth was appointed to the position after approximately two months of work at the Treasury Department and no apparent prior experience with policy, drug control or otherwise. Additionally, the Post reported several inconsistencies in resumes that Weyeneth submitted to the administration, including the status of a master's degree from Fordham University.

His appointment shines new light on the ongoing staffing issues plaguing the ONDCP, which lacks a permanent director, as well as the Trump administration's priorities regarding the national drug crisis.

According to the Post, Weyeneth allegedly stated that he began working at the ONDCP in March 2017, approximately two months after serving as an assistant at the Treasury Department and about a year after working on several positions for the Trump campaign in 2016. He was reportedly inspired to take a position as a White House liaison for the office due to the overdose death of a relative, and according to an anonymous official at the ONDCP, displayed "passion and commitment on the issue of opioids and drug addiction."

In July, Weyeneth's LinkedIn page showed that he had been named the office's deputy chief of staff.

Weyeneth's duties under his new title included significant decision-making functions previously handled by positions that had been vacated by individuals appointed by Trump after his inauguration.

The Post cited a January 3 memo by acting director Richard Baum to the ONDCP staff, which noted "leadership recognizes that we have lost a few talented staff members and that the organization would benefit from an infusion of new expert staff," and that the functions of the Chief of Staff would be divided between Baum and Weyeneth.

Previous appointees to the position of deputy chief of staff include experts in the fields of law enforcement, public health and the military; the Post feature names Regina LaBelle, a lawyer and former legal counsel to the mayor of Seattle prior to assuming the deputy chief of staff role during the Obama administration. However, Weyeneth's prior experience does not include work in any of these fields, and in some cases, appears to have contradictory information about the extent of his education and experience.

According to two resumes submitted by Weyeneth to the administration, and a third released to the Post by the White House, he served as director of production for Nature's Chemistry, a family firm in New York that processed chia seeds and other health-related projects. Weyeneth appeared to serve there from 2008 to 2013 or until 2011, based on information from the various resumes, but the firm itself ran into trouble in 2011 when it was alleged to have processed illegal steroids from China. Weyenth's stepfather, Matthew Greacen, pled guilty to a felony conspiracy charge in 2017 and received two years probation and a fine. Weyeneth was not charged with any wrongdoing, and according to his mother, was unaware of the alleged illegal activities happening at the company.

Weyeneth's resumes also appeared to highlight some inconsistencies regarding the extent of his higher education. All three stated that he held a master's degree in political science from Fordham University, though again, the dates of his graduate studies are different depending on the resume. But a spokesman for Fordham stated that a student named Taylor Weyeneth was currently enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in a master's program for electoral and campaign management, and at the time of the Post story, had not completed his degree.

The anonymous official at the ONDCP acknowledged to the Post that Weyenth's resume contained errors, and later resumes referenced projected dates for completion of a master's degree.

When asked about Weyeneth's current position at the ONDCP, the official told the Post that Weyeneth would resume work as a White House liaison, and added that he had been handling mostly administrative work and not policy decisions. Weyeneth himself did not respond to requests for an interview.

The ONDCP, which is responsible for establishing drug programs with other federal agencies and producing the National Drug Control Strategy, which outlines the administration's drug policy, has struggled to deliver its requirements during the first year of the Trump administration.

The Office of Management and Budget's fiscal proposal nearly eliminated the office altogether, and Trump's initial choice to lead the ONDCP, Tom Marino, a Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania, was revealed by media sources to have sponsored legislation that favored opioid makers. Marino withdrew from consideration in October, and the position remains unfilled.

The alleged news regarding Weyeneth only underscores a notion voiced by former ONDCP members that the office is plagued by turmoil at a time when the nation needs clearcut drug policy. "It sends a terrible message," said former director Gil Kerlikowske. "It's a message that we're not taking this drug issue seriously."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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