Inside Trump’s purge of his enemies

We’ve seen this sort of thing before

Published March 1, 2020 1:30PM (EST)

U.S. President Donald Trump (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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If you're a bruising president like Donald Trump or Richard Nixon you're bound to develop enemies easily with your sharp insults and political elbowing.

In fact, we had been expecting the boomerang of post-impeachment political vengeance. That's why it was totally predictable that Trump, like Nixon, would create an enemies list.

But now, Trump seems to be raising the ante: He's embarked on a specific campaign to denude the federal government of anyone who is disloyal or who might be disloyal.

According to The Washington Post, Johnny McEntee, Trump's former personal aide and director of presidential personnel (another appointment with no experience), has begun combing through various federal agencies to oust or sideline political appointees who have not proved their loyalty. To Trump.

Got it? Not just disloyal, but now people who have not proved their loyalty. You could put me high up on that list, though I don't work for the government.

You'd think that the president of the United States would want some countering opinions from which to choose, a process that acting Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney said actually still goes on. But then there are more and more reports from inside the White House saying the opposite.

New York Times story for example, said that National Security Adviser Robert C. O'Brien distributes Trump's latest tweets to his staff. He indicates that they should find ways of justifying, enacting or explaining Trump's policy, not to advise Trump on what policy should be or even might be.

Dangerous Stuff

Call me nuts, but that sounds pretty dangerous: Trump, who does not read Intelligence reports or backgrounders, who tweets on gut based on what he just saw on Fox News, is then listening to a group of advisers insistent on telling him what he wants to hear.

Trump loyalist Richard Grennell, the new acting director of American spy agencies, began his temporary tenure by firing his number two and replacing him with Kashyap Patel, former key aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), with an order to "clean house." Patel immediately has summoned whatever the government knows about governmental bad behavior against Trump in the 2016 elections. Grennell also asked to see the intelligence behind the classified briefing last week where lawmakers were told Russia was interfering in the 2020 election to aid Trump.

Remember, please, that we're facing Iran and North Korea in nuclear showdowns, electoral interference by Russia and maybe China, a tariff war with China and Europe, a fractured set of military allies, dispersed terrorism and a Mideast in disarray. But these guys are using intelligence agencies to pursue Trump's fixation on his four-year-old election.

Post-impeachment purge

The new Johnny McEntee disloyalty campaign follows the impeachment process in which several Trump administration figures provided testimony about Trump's bad behavior with regard to Ukraine. "We want bad people out of our government!" Trump tweeted last week, kicking off a stretch of firings, resignations, controversial appointments—and pardons.

Unlike the overall director of personnel in the White House, McEntee reports directly to Trump, and apparently to Jared Kushner.  McEntee lost his White House job in 2018 over concerns about his online gambling.

Naturally, the national security council and staff have been a particular target, but now this is moving well beyond that area. McEntee asked officials in various cabinet agencies to provide names of political appointees working in government who are not fully supportive of Trump's presidency, sources to Axios said.

Disloyalty undefined

Now the thing that makes all this tricky is that, of course, there are no rules.  Disloyalty is in the eye of the beholder.

The goal seems to be a complete federal government totally in sync with whatever Trump is thinking at any moment.

It is unclear whether civil servants will be targeted as well, but it would be harder to dislodge them than removing political appointees, but they could be moved or demoted.

In his recent remarks, Mike Mulvaney spoke against the "deep state" and lamented that the administration could not fire more agency employees who do not implement the president's orders.

Trump has also called for law enforcement officials who investigated his campaign to be investigated or prosecuted. Administration officials conducted a search for the "Anonymous" author of a tell-all book and apparently moved the employee believed responsible.

It is impossible to hope that a fully Trump-oriented government would be somehow better. Anytime loyalty tops talent and experience for hiring suggests a major problem at hand.


By Terry H. Schwadron

MORE FROM Terry H. Schwadron

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Dcreport Donald Trump Politics Richard Nixon Trump Administration