The public face of the Trump administration's makeover of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been acting Director Mick Mulvaney. But he is by no means working alone.
Like a baseball manager who brings aboard his own coaching staff, Mulvaney has stocked the agency with a critical mass of political appointees, making good on his December promise to pair political staffers with senior career officials at the agency.
A number of the political appointees have close ties to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Tex., while others have represented banks in lawsuits filed by the bureau under former Director Richard Cordray.
These GOP leaders have been tasked with running the day-to-day operations of the CFPB. They shadow the associate directors of top divisions at the agency, many of whom had previously answered to Cordray.
The CFPB has never been through a political transition before, and the double layer of bureaucracy means the political appointees, rather than career CFPB staff, are the ones interacting directly with Mulvaney.
Mulvaney, who currently holds two jobs in the Trump administration — CFPB chief and White House budget director — immediately drew fire from critics for embedding political appointees at the agency. But the head of the bureau can effectively hire whomever he or she wants.
The appointees serve as liaisons to Mulvaney and are known inside the agency simply as "politicos," several sources said, but they do not appear on the CFPB's organizational chart. The CFPB declined to comment for this story.
As acting director, Mulvaney has just two months left that he can run the agency if the White House has not nominated a permanent director by that time. But the senior staffers he has hired for the agency can stay on after he has departed, several former CFPB officials said.
Here is a who's who of political appointees answering to Mulvaney and what they are doing at the agency:
Brian Johnson, senior adviser to the acting director
Johnson, a former senior counsel at the House Financial Services Committee, spent a dozen years at the committee, where he conducted oversight of the CFPB, subpoenaed documents and wrote reports critical of the agency.
More than any other political appointee, Johnson has been assigned to set the CFPB's policy.
"He's had a strong hand in resetting" the agency, said Travis Norton, of counsel at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and a former general counsel at the House Financial Services Committee. "Brian was very good at following the paper trail. He's exactly the kind of person you want in the role he's in now, which is to craft policy, to formulate policy and to rein in the bureau where it needs to be reined in."
Johnson had a hand in Mulvaney's decision to reopen the agency's payday lending rule to consider changes, Norton said.
"He believes there's a role for the bureau going forward, no one is over there trying to kill it," Norton said. "There's a faithfulness to data, evidence, and the statutory limitations to the bureau's jurisdiction."
Johnson was the House committee's policy director when Cordray was accused of violating the Hatch Act, which bars certain federal employees from taking actions to run for election. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel in October said there was no evidence of a violation; Cordray left the CFPB to run for governor of Ohio.
Before joining the House committee, Johnson spent just over a year as an Ohio assistant attorney general, as a law clerk and as a staff assistant in the George W. Bush administration. He spent two years as a legislative correspondent for Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., after graduating from law school at the University of Virginia.
Kirsten Sutton, chief of staff
Sutton, a former House Financial Services Committee staff director under Chairman Hensarling, runs the day-to-day operations of the CFPB, determining what issues need to be prioritized for Mulvaney.
She also is helping with a review of the roughly 100 outstanding investigations and enforcement actions that the CFPB is working to resolve. Both Sutton and Johnson have focused intensely on reviewing the Dodd-Frank Act to ensure that the agency's decisions under its new leadership are consistent with the law, Norton said.
"They have confidence that they are interpreting the law as it was intended to be interpreted," Norton said.
Sutton had previously managed roughly 60 staffers on the House committee, compared with the CFPB's roughly 1,600 employees.
Sutton worked on the House committee for five years and spent four years as Hensarling's legislative director. Before that, she worked for a year as a legislative assistant for then-Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.
The CFPB's previous chief of staff, under Cordray, was Leandra English. She briefly held the position before being abruptly promoted by Cordray as his successor when he resigned from the agency in November. English immediately sued the Trump administration to block Mulvaney's appointment. (She lost her case but an appeal is still pending.)
Eric Blankenstein, policy director for supervision, enforcement and fair lending
Blankenstein is spearheading the CFPB's review of outstanding enforcement actions and non-public investigations, which has stretched longer than many expected, according to some lawyers with pending matters before the CFPB. He is shadowing Chris D'Angelo, the CFPB's associate director of supervision, enforcement and fair lending.
Some observers say that review is not seeking to drop all enforcement actions and investigatory probes, despite Mulvaney's proclamations that Cordray "pushed the envelope" in investigating and punishing too many firms.
"There was this widespread view based on Mick Mulvaney's memos that the CFPB would not enforce UDAAP, but they absolutely are as far as their settlement posture," said Allen Denson, a partner at Hudson Cook, referring to the CFPB's authority to prosecute companies for "unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices."
"Settlement demands are unchanged and some cases have been reauthorized, meaning the bureau has the authority to seek a settlement and file a lawsuit if you don't settle," Denson said.
Blankenstein most recently spent six months at the Office of the United States Trade Representative. He previously worked for a decade at the law firm Williams & Connolly, where he briefly represented TCF Financial in its ongoing legal battle with the CFPB over sales of overdraft protection services.
The litigation has been a thorn in the side of the $22.1 billion-asset TCF, which has denied the CFPB's allegations that it tricked customers into signing up for costly overdraft protection services.
"We are aware of Eric’s move to the bureau some time ago," TCF spokesman Mark Goldman said, adding that "he was a small part of our litigation team and certainly was not driving our legal strategy."
Thomas Pahl, policy director for research, markets and regulations
Pahl, who worked for nearly four years under Cordray as managing counsel in the CFPB's office of regulations, was hired just two months ago by Mulvaney. He now shadows David Silberman, who for years was the acting No. 2 at the agency.
Some view Pahl's hiring as a further signal that the CFPB is gearing up to rewrite regulations, including the look-back reviews for mortgage rules, as it enters a new period of regulatory reform.
Pahl received high marks for his focus on consumer protection, and most recently served as the acting director of consumer protection at the Federal Trade Commission.
Pahl, a former attorney at Arnall Golden Gregory, also worked earlier in his career as an attorney-adviser to FTC commissioners.
"He's somebody who will take the goals of consumer protection seriously," said Richard Horn, founder of Garris Horn PLLC in Tucson, Ariz., and a former CFPB special counsel and special adviser.
John Czwartacki, chief communications officer and spokesperson
Czwartacki became the CFPB's official spokesman in April after serving in the same role at the Office of Management and Budget. He had been a senior adviser to Mulvaney, and most recently was on the presidential transition team leading media efforts for Senate confirmation's of Mulvaney at OMB, Linda McMahon at the Small Business Administration and Robert E. Lighthizer as the U.S. Trade Representative.
Czwartacki founded his own communications firm, Next Level Strategies in Minneapolis, and before that worked for nine years at Verizon, where he was an executive director of external communications.
He has spent a dozen years in various roles in government including as press secretary to former House Majority leader John Boehner; a spokesman for former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.; and communications director for former Rep. Bill Paxon, R-N.Y.
In an April press release, the CFPB described Czwartacki's role as being part of "an already successful team in their mission to prepare for the yet-unnamed permanent director and create a more effective, efficient, and accountable actor within the federal government and on behalf of the American people."
Sheila Greenwood, policy director for consumer education and engagement
Greenwood is a former lobbyist who worked in the George W. Bush administration and most recently was chief of staff to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson. Before joining HUD, she spent a year as a consultant to First Data Corp. and nearly four years as a lobbyist at Prudential Financial.
Greenwood has had various stints in government. She worked at HUD before as an assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental relations, and as a deputy chief of staff. She previously spent a year at the Department of Homeland Security as a director of legislative affairs and two years as a senior legislative officer at the Labor Department, where she helped rewrite overtime laws, according to media reports.
Greenwood has been a lobbyist for Citigroup, the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents, the American Wind Energy Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.