WASHINGTON — During its search for a new postmaster general, the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors was presented with 53 candidates screened by an outside company. Not on the list: Louis DeJoy, who ultimately got the job.

Instead, in what Democrats call a breach of protocol and blatant cronyism, DeJoy’s name was added as a contender by the board member leading the search, John Barger. He was acting on behalf of the board’s chairman, Robert “Mike” Duncan, a former Republican National Committee chairman who knew DeJoy and his wife through work on a White House advisory group. DeJoy, Barger and Duncan were prominent donors to President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

How exactly DeJoy was hired is among the questions Congress is trying to unravel as lawmakers scrutinize a series of operational changes at the Postal Service that have resulted in widespread mail delays and fears that the agency will not be able to handle an expected surge in mail-in ballots this fall as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats say they also want to learn more about the role of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who met with Duncan and other Republicans on the agency’s board while the selection of the new postmaster general was underway.

The Trump administration denies any impropriety in the selection of DeJoy, a former supply chain CEO who is the first postmaster general in nearly two decades not to be a career postal employee. Mnuchin has said he had no involvement, though his heightened interest in the Postal Service has raised questions given Trump’s focus on mail-in voting.

The Associated Press reviewed hundreds of pages of records related to DeJoy, revealing a driven businessman who turned his father’s trucking company into a national logistics operator, clashed with labor unions and forged political connections that eased his path into lucrative government contracting.

His prolific giving to organizations and GOP candidates, including $1.2 million to Trump, has also drawn a spotlight to the transactional appearance of some of his contributions. His wife, Aldona Wos, is a prominent donor as well, and has been nominated by Trump to serve as ambassador to Canada; her nomination is pending.

The records reviewed by the AP reveal a pattern of DeJoy’s family winning coveted opportunities after making generous contributions.

In one instance, DeJoy’s son, Andrew, secured a slot on Duke University’s tennis team in 2014 while his parents wrote a series of large checks to the school’s athletic department. The team was ranked 14th in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and drew a host of top national and international prospects. But Andrew DeJoy was not one of them when he joined as a walk-on freshman months after the season started.

Duke athletic department spokesman Art Chase declined to comment. A representative of the family’s foundation did not respond to a request for comment.

Wos, DeJoy’s wife and a physician who immigrated to the United States from Poland, was appointed President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Estonia after she helped raise over $200,000 for his 2004 campaign. Granting ambassadorships is a common way presidents reward their top donors. She donated more than $35,000 to Trump’s reelection before he announced that he would nominate her to be his next ambassador to Canada.

Louis DeJoy also saw his federal work pick up while his wife served as Bush’s envoy to Estonia. Between 2003 and 2009, his company New Breed Logistics was awarded contracts worth $59 million, according to federal spending data

During the 2012 governor’s election in North Carolina, DeJoy, Wos and more than 60 employees of New Breed from eight different states routed more than $165,000 to the campaign of Republican Pat McCrory.

“They’ve never asked for anything for their involvement,” said McCrory, adding that DeJoy and Wos are also generous philanthropists and “don’t just write checks” and “put their sweat equity behind everything they do.”

Wos was selected in 2013 to serve as the head of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services under McCrory, where she had a rocky tenure until stepping down in 2015.

There are also questions about DeJoy’s relationship with labor while in the private sector, given that he now oversees an agency where many of his 650,000 workers are unionized. New Breed, the company he founded, was sanctioned multiple times by federal regulators for violating labor laws.

In this Aug. 24, 2020, file photo Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on the Postal Service on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Though DeJoy was a Trump donor, it remains unclear exactly how he emerged as the top contender to lead the Postal Service. Mnuchin has denied that he or other Treasury Department officials played a role in recruiting or suggesting DeJoy to the Postal Service board of governors, which is comprised of Trump appointees. In an Aug. 21 letter to Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Mnuchin that he was “surprised” to learn DeJoy was a finalist.

Still, Mnuchin has been keenly interested in postal operations since at least 2018, when Trump named him to lead a task force to evaluate ways to stem billions of dollars in losses at the agency.

David C. Williams, a former Postal Service inspector general who said he resigned as vice chairman of the board of governors in April after it became clear DeJoy would be hired, said Mnuchin was using a multibillion-dollar line of credit with the Postal Service as leverage to take effective control over labor agreements, prices and contracts with Amazon and other large shippers.

In a “fact sheet” issued in response to Williams’s claims, the Treasury said it plays an important role overseeing federal loans to the Postal Service. Outstanding loans to the agency stand at $14.4 billion, with $10 billion more in lending authority included in an economic rescue law approved by Congress in March. That loan should be finalized in coming weeks.

DeJoy won unanimous, bipartisan support from the board of governors when he was hired in May.

DeJoy “should never been hired,” Connolly said. “We don’t need a Trump donor at the Postal Service,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va. “We don’t need a Trump donor at the Postal Service.’'

The Associated Press produced this coverage with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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