WASHINGTON ― On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted that Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) had decided to remove himself from consideration as the administration’s next drug czar. Two days earlier, The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” published an investigation reporting how Marino led a successful effort to pass legislation that made it harder for law enforcement to go after opioid manufacturers.
“A handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills,” the Post wrote on Sunday.
Trump campaigned on halting the opioid epidemic by empowering law enforcement efforts. Sunday’s story undermined those promises. When asked about the article during a news conference on Monday, Trump declined to fully support Marino.
“As far as Tom Marino, so he was a very early supporter of mine, the great state of Pennsylvania. He’s a great guy,” Trump said. “I did see the report. We’re going to look into the report. We’re going to take it very seriously because we’re going to have a major announcement probably next week on the drug crisis and on the opioid massive problem, and I want to get that absolutely right … We’re going to be looking into Tom.”
Trump has struggled to install a new director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, a position commonly known as drug czar. The job requires Senate confirmation. President Barack Obama’s nominee, Michael Botticelli, was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2015. The Trump administration has spent much of its time in office floating possible contenders.
Marino’s downfall had as much to do with the Trump administration’s poor vetting as it had to do with investigative journalism’s impact. When the White House first leaked Marino’s name in April as a possible nominee to lead the Drug Enforcement Administration, his involvement in the controversial legislation was already well known.
CBS News mentioned it when Marino’s name arose, reporting that his bill “effectively curbs the DEA’s ability to prosecute corporate drug distributors who have profited from the opioid epidemic.” This issue was mentioned in several other news stories, including one in The Washington Post.
A few weeks later, Marino, citing an illness in his family, took himself out of the running for the DEA job. When Trump officially nominated him for the drug czar post on Sept. 1, news stories at the time also mentioned Marino’s DEA issue.
So where was the White House vetting of Marino?
“I was shocked when his name came up,” one former Office of Drug Control Policy official emailed HuffPost, “all public record.”