Chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board: Who Is Steve Feinberg?

Sunday, May 27, 2018
Steve Feinberg (photo: Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associcated Press)

President Donald Trump tends to make two kinds of political appointments: military generals or billionaires. In Stephen Andrew Feinberg, who was appointed May 11, 2018, to lead the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, Trump has a billionaire who likes to play soldier.


The President’s Intelligence Advisory Board is a group of non-governmental appointees whose job is to evaluate the quality and adequacy of American foreign intelligence efforts and reports their findings to the President.


Feinberg was born in Bronx, New York, on March 29, 1960. His father, Martin, was a steel salesman. Feinberg grew up in the Bronx and later in Spring Valley, New York, where he was a nationally ranked chess player in high school and played bridge and tennis. He continued to play tennis at Princeton, where he graduated in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in politics. While in college, Feinberg was a member of Army ROTC and even did some parachute training, but he left ROTC before graduation.


Feinberg’s first job out of college was as a trader for Drexel Burnham Lambert, which in 1990 went bankrupt amid illegal junk bond trading. Feinberg had already left the firm in 1985 for a similar job at Gruntal & Co.


In 1992, Feinberg and partner William Richter founded Cerberus Capital Management. The firm, named for the mythological three-headed dog that guarded the gates of Hades, initially traded in distressed corporate debt. Cerberus began to buy up companies including National and Alamo car rental, the Albertson’s supermarket chain, Air Canada, Frederick’s of Hollywood, paper products companies and auto parts firms. In 2006, it bought 51% of GMAC, General Motors’ financing arm. Cerberus became well known in 2007 when it purchased a controlling stake in the Chrysler division of Daimler Chrysler.  Cerberus gave up its stake in Chrysler in the 2009 auto bailout, but retained its interest in Chrysler’s financial business, selling it later.


About the same time as Cerberus’ entry into the automotive business, Feinberg’s company began buying gun companies. It acquired assault rifle maker Bushmaster, maker of the AR-15, in 2006; Remington Arms the following year; and rifle maker Marlin Firearms in 2008. When an AR-15 was used in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, Cerberus made plans to sell its Remington unit, under which its gun manufacturing was consolidated. However, it was unable to do so and was eventually forced to spin off the unit so organizations such as the California state teachers’ pension plan, which owned shares in Cerberus, would not have a stake in gun companies. In 2018, Remington, still part of Feinberg’s portfolio, went bankrupt and was taken over by lenders.

Cerberus also owns DynCorp, a defense contractor that charges billions of dollars for overseas police and military training. It was reported by The New York Times in 2017 that DynCorp was urged to submit proposals to the Trump White House to field a private military force.


Feinberg has trained in marksmanship with former military snipers. He also set up a private “military base” outside Memphis. Tier 1 Group, owned by Cerberus, is an 800-acre facility complete with a mock Afghan village and a tactical driving course. U.S. forces have trained at Tier 1 since 2008.


Feinberg backed Jeb Bush early in the 2016 election cycle, but later gave almost $1.5 million to the pro-Trump Rebuild America political action committee. He gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican National Committee. However, in 2016, he also donated money to the campaign of Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.


Feinberg is an intensely private man who gives few interviews and who is rarely photographed. He and his wife, Gisela, have three daughters. Feinberg enjoys big game hunting.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Stephen Feinberg, the Private Military Contractor Who Has Trump’s Ear (by Stephen Witt, New Yorker)

The Wall Street Drama Behind Remington’s AR-15 (by Tim Fernholz, Quartz)

Big Gun’s Big Fail (by Stephen Witt, New York)

Trump Chooses Cerberus’s Stephen Feinberg to Lead Spy Advisory Panel (by Jennifer Epstein, Bloomberg)

The Most Dangerous Deal in America (by Daniel Roth, Upstart Business Journal)

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