Billionaire iconoclast Peter Thiel's fingerprints are all over the administration.
By Eliana Johnson
“Once Election Day came and went, Peter Thiel was a major force in the transition,” said a senior Trump campaign aide.
In early December, the name of a candidate to be the science adviser to the president began percolating in Trump Tower: David Gelernter, the reclusive Yale University computer scientist known for his dripping disdain for the liberal intellectual elite and for surviving an attack by the Unabomber.
Gelernter had no connection to Trump or his top political aides. And he would be an unconventional choice for the post: The 61-year-old professor is neither a physicist nor biologist, as is typical for the post, but a pioneering technologist credited with predicting the rise of the Internet.
But Gelernter has long been friendly with Peter Thiel. He regularly attends an annual conference of iconoclastic thinkers that the Silicon Valley billionaire hosts on the French Riviera. So it was on Thiel’s recommendation that Gelernter sat down at Trump Tower with the president-elect, his chief strategist Steve Bannon, and Thiel himself four days before the inauguration. The meeting followed a prior discussion between Gelernter and senior transition officials.
Gelernter’s potential elevation is just one small sign of Thiel’s growing stature in Trump world. He was a near-constant presence throughout the transition: Working with a staff of four to six aides from an office in Trump Tower, Thiel dispatched associates from his investment firms to help staff agencies across the government. Their reach extended from the Department of Commerce to the Pentagon and eventually to the White House, where one of his closest aides, Kevin Harrington, was recently elevated to the National Security Council.
“Once Election Day came and went, Peter Thiel was a major force in the transition,” said a senior Trump campaign aide. “When you have offices and you bring staff with you and you attend all the meetings, then you have a lot of power.” At the Presidio, the old Army fort in San Francisco where Thiel’s investment firms are housed, many of his employees have taken to calling him “the shadow president.”