Donald Trump believes that the government can closely monitor every individual entering the country to determine their likelihood of participating in a terrorist attack. He calls it “extreme vetting.” So surely his handpicked choices for the cabinet were vetted with that level of deep scrutiny, so no surprises would ensue after the selection.
Yet Trump’s choice for defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis (chosen, one assumes, for the nickname), has a very damaging association hiding in plain sight in his record—his current position on the board of directors of quack medical company Theranos.
That’s right, current. It’s been more than a year since The Wall Street Journal raised questions about the celebrated biotech startup, which led to the company’s downfall. Yet there Mattis is, still listed on the board of directors. Former secretaries of state George Schultz and Henry Kissinger, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, former defense secretary William Perry, and former Senate Armed Services Committee chair Sam Nunn have all backed away from the board. Another, construction company chairman and top investor Riley Bechtel, just stepped down today. But Mattis, given every opportunity to end his relationship with Theranos and its dodgy activities, is hanging in there.
Mattis’s relationship with Theranos and its “next Steve Jobs” CEO Elizabeth Holmes dates back to 2011, when the general remained on active duty, in charge of Central Command and the war in Afghanistan. Theranos claimed to have invented a blood-testing device that would only require a few drops of blood. Mattis took an interest. In fact, he worked to get the US Army to procure Theranos lab equipment for field use, before it had completed the FDA approval process. E-mails from 2012 show Mattis’s personal involvement in the project, with him telling Holmes, “We’re kicking this into overdrive to try to field your lab in the near term.”
Despite several personal interventions from Mattis, including meeting directly with the regulatory official in charge, the procurement fell apart as parts of Theranos’ lab-testing equipment never passed FDA inspection. Mattis’s insistence led one colonel to say that Central Command’s medical teams “feel caught in the middle of something that feels quite political.”