How many different ways will Trump poison the ground on his way out the door?

Trump is "burrowing" right-wing loyalists into government positions. And what the hell's his plan at the Pentagon?

By Heather Digby Parton
November 11, 2020 1:00PM (UTC)
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Donald Trump (Getty Images/Salon)

I don't think anyone who has been following Donald Trump's administration for the past four years can say they're surprised that he is refusing to concede defeat after the election, or that nearly all Republican elected officials are either backing him to the hilt or quivering in the corner like a bunch of cold chihuahuas. I predicted this puerile reaction some time ago, which wasn't exactly a great feat of prognostication since Trump was doing everything but running full-page ads in every newspaper in the country announcing his intentions.

Two days before the election, he said on camera, "As soon as that election is over, we're going in with our lawyers." This was after months of nonstop attacks on mail-in voting, accusations of cheating in states run by Democrats and declarations that the only way he could lose the election is if it were rigged. How could anyone be surprised that he is doing exactly what he told us he would do?

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There's a lot of speculation about what Republicans have to gain by doing this. As I've hypothesized earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has good reasons to keep Trump voters engaged in the state of Georgia, so keeping all this going for a while may be useful there. It's certainly possible that Republicans are afraid if they buck Trump publicly he will turn on the party, calling them traitors to the cause, and his fervent followers will stay home for the two Georgia Senate runoff elections in January. And there's always the financial incentive — the cash Trump is raking in for his "legal defense fund" can be spent to retire some of his campaign debt.

And, needless to say, Trump has his own incentives. He needs to be able to say that he isn't a loser which, to his mind, is the worst thing you can say about anyone. But in the end, unless the courts throw out entire state elections and disenfranchise 75 million people on his behalf, he will have no choice.

Since he loves campaigning more than anything, I have long assumed that Trump would be happy to start a new campaign revenge tour, and at least tease his ecstatic followers with the idea that he'll be back in four years. (He can certainly drive all other potential GOP contenders nuts for a while anyway.) He's already considered how to make money while doing that. The Washington Post reported last summer that the Trump Organization had applied to trademark the word "telerally" for "organizing events in the field of politics and political campaigning" — the first time Trump's business operation has explicitly tied itself to political activity. This suggests they've been thinking about how to monetize a political campaign for a while.

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Anyway, this whole chaotic post-election mess was long anticipated, and Trump has more than fulfilled everyone's expectations. It's a clown show of epic proportions that will only be exceeded if he starts taking the advice of the hardcore right-wingers who are agitating for him to burn the place down on his way out the door. The Federalist, for instance, suggests that Trump should lay metaphorical landmines throughout the government, set to explode on the Biden administration should America be so craven as to actually allow him to become president.

Among other helpful ideas, that article suggests that that Trump should release all "Spygate" documents immediately, fire FBI Sirector Christopher Wray and Dr. Anthony Fauci, have every political appointee start taking the names of disloyal and "corrupt" federal employees, publicly release all government documents regarding potential Biden appointees and staff, along with all alleged information about "Planned Parenthood trafficking in human body parts," and "accelerate the wall and prepare for caravans." Oh, and bring all overseas troops home by Christmas, which would be nice.

As absurd as nearly all of that is, there actually is some activity taking place, a bit more under the radar, whose purpose is not clear. We know the administration is withholding all money and cooperation from the Biden transition and that Trump has ordered his budget staff to keep working on next year's budget, even though it will be thrown in the trash as soon as the new president is sworn in. That sort of thing can probably be chalked up to Trump wanting to maintain the illusion that he has won, and also to fulfill his vengeful promise not to have what he calls "a friendly transition" because, as he claims, the Obama administration spied on his campaign "and got caught."

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But what's he doing with the Intelligence services and the Pentagon? The Washington Post reported on Monday that the administration had installed Michael Ellis, a hardcore right-wing operative best known as one of California Rep. Devin Nunes' top henchmen, as head lawyer at the NSA. (You may remember Ellis as one of those involved in the infamous "midnight run.") This job is not a political appointment, which means Ellis will now have career government employee protections and be more difficult to move out.

This is a practice known as "burrowing," in which an outgoing administration moves some of their cronies into permanent jobs. In Trump's case this is particularly concerning because his cronies are such overwhelmingly unethical loyalists and partisan hacks. Considering their characters and vocation, it's hard to believe they don't have a hidden agenda. And we have no idea how many of these people are being placed within the government at lower levels.

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Even more concerning than Ellis at NSA is what Trump is doing at the Pentagon. We knew he had a short list of people he wanted to fire after the election and Defense Secretary Mark Esper was at the top of this list. They had apparently clashed repeatedly and Trump couldn't stand him, even giving him a nickname of "Yesper," which is somewhat baffling since Trump's principal complaint was that Esper didn't lick his boots with quite the enthusiasm required. He's been replaced with Christopher Miller, a counterterrorism specialist who Trump likes for whatever reason.

But Esper wasn't the only one canned. Trump also fired three other highly regarded civilian leaders and replaced them with notorious Trump loyalists, two of whom were also Nunes acolytes. The third is this fine fellow:

That nut is now in a high-level position at the Pentagon.

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CNN reports that the Pentagon in turmoil over the loss of steady hands. Esper delivered a scathing parting interview, denying that he's a yes man and warning against what might happen if Trump got a defense secretary who would actually carry out his wishes. His last words were, "And then God help us," no doubt prompting many, especially in the rest of the world, to wonder what exactly he meant.

If you saw all this happening during a fierce election dispute in another country, one run by a man who had repeatedly said the should be allowed to remain in office for many years beyond his legal term, what would you think was likely to happen? 


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Commentary Donald Trump Editor's Picks Elections Joe Biden Mark Esper Pentagon Republicans Trump Supporters