Trump's purge begins — with the Federalist Society

The Heritage Foundation has been tasked with finding an army of MAGA lawyers

By Heather Digby Parton


Published November 3, 2023 9:15AM (EDT)

Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a campaign event at the Orpheum Theater on October 29, 2023 in Sioux City, Iowa. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a campaign event at the Orpheum Theater on October 29, 2023 in Sioux City, Iowa. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

We here at Salon have been documenting Donald Trump's plans for his restoration ever since he was exiled to his Palm Beach social club on January 20, 2021. It was clear from that moment on that he was plotting his comeback and the people around him weren't just licking their wounds and preparing to move on, they were readying plans to ensure that Trump's second term permanently solidified their power. They've been hard at work ever since.

Their project began the previous fall, with a plan called "Schedule F" which was implemented just 13 days before the election. The presidential edict called for the stripping of all the executive branch departments, from the FBI to intelligence agencies to the Pentagon and, of course, the usual suspects at the EPA and the IRS. Biden reversed this upon taking office and Congress passed some roadblocks to trying it in the future but nobody believes they will be effective if Trump, or frankly, any Republican, once again assumes the presidency. (Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has endorsed this concept promising to "slit the throats" of government bureaucrats if he were to take office.)

A new Trump administration will not be unduly constrained by musty old traditions like "the rule of law" or "the Constitution."

Trump has continued giving speeches on the subject although they don't get much coverage in the mainstream media. In the summer of 2022, before he had announced his run, he addressed his own vanity "think tank," the America First Policy Institute:

“We need to make it much easier to fire rogue bureaucrats who are deliberately undermining democracy or, at a minimum, just want to keep their jobs. They want to hold onto their jobs. Congress should pass historic reforms empowering the president to ensure that any bureaucrat who is corrupt, incompetent or unnecessary for the job can be told—did you ever hear this—‘You’re fired, get out, you’re fired.’ [You] have to do it. Deep state. Washington will be an entirely different place.”

Needless to say, Trump's notion of who is corrupt, incompetent or necessary is purely dictated by their loyalty to him personally.

There is also Trump's Agenda 47, a laundry list of extremist right-wing "policies" described by Salon's Chauncy DeVega this way:

Agenda 47 would consist of an end to birthright citizenship, further criminalizing transgender people and the LGBTQI community more broadly, expanding the thought crime and other censorship laws to end the teaching of "critical race theory" and to defeat "Woke" and Black Lives Matter, attacking academic freedom and replacing it with "patriot education," implementing a national stop and frisk law, pardoning the Jan. 6 terrorists, putting homeless people in camps or some other designated area under threat of arrest, building high tech "freedom cities," ending the professional civil service and replacing it with right-wing political appointees and other such partisan agents, gutting the Department of Justice and other parts of the government that opposed Trump's attacks on democracy and the rule of law, executing drug dealers, starting a trade war with China, and making "peace" with Vladimir Putin by withdrawing support for the Ukrainian people and their freedom struggle. In many ways, Agenda 47 is a continuation of the fascist and other authoritarian policies Trump put in place during his first regime but now made even more extreme and cruel.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

And let's not forget Project 2025, a very special plan by the Heritage Foundation to be ready on Day One with a full roster of MAGA replacements for all those Deep State bureaucrats Trump and his minions will be firing. Peter Dans, the director of the 2025 Presidential Transition Project said, "We need to flood the zone with conservatives. This is a clarion call to come to Washington. People need to lay down their tools, and step aside from their professional life and say, ‘This is my lifetime moment to serve.’”

The Heritage Foundation has experience with this sort of thing. They were tasked with staffing the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, another daft Republican experiment to rebuild a fantasy government based entirely on their conservative ideology. You may remember how that turned out:

Andrew Burns, 23, a Red Cross volunteer who had taught English in rural China, felt going to Iraq would help him pursue a career in humanitarian aid. Todd Baldwin, 28, a legislative aide for Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), thought the opportunity was too good to pass up. John Hanley, 24, a Web site editor, wanted to break into the world of international relations. Anita Greco, 25, a former teacher, and Casey Wasson, 23, a recent college graduate in government, just needed jobs.

For months they wondered what they had in common, how their names had come to the attention of the Pentagon, until one day they figured it out: They had all posted their resumes at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank.

They didn't have any experience doing things like building a stock market from scratch or running massive infrastructure reconstruction projects in a country that had been razed by "shock and awe," but the Heritage Foundation did make sure they were all staunchly pro-life, so there was that. The CPA was an utter disaster, of course. I think we can be sure that the same level of expertise will be tapped if Schedule F, Agenda 47 and Project 2025 are implemented.

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This week the New York Times reported on yet another project in the works, this one spearheaded by the odious Stephen Miller and Trump's former bodyman turned hatchet man, John McEntee. Under the auspices of yet another Trump-affiliated institution, the "MAGA ACLU" called American First Legal, these two have been tasked with finding legal advisers for a new Trump administration who will not be unduly constrained by musty old traditions like "the rule of law" or "the Constitution." Think John Eastman or Jeffrey Clark, although those two will likely no longer have law licenses by that time and may even be in jail. (It's unclear if that would be an impediment to serving in a new Trump administration,  however.)

What's most interesting about this new project is that they have decided that they no longer want the input or participation from the Federalist Society which is now considered a bunch of RINOs who can't be trusted:

“The Federalist Society doesn’t know what time it is,” said Russell T. Vought, a former senior Trump administration official who runs a think tank with close ties to the former president. He argued that many elite conservative lawyers had proved to be too timid when, in his view, the survival of the nation is at stake.

Such comments may surprise those who view the Federalist Society as hard-line conservatives. But the move away from the group reflects the continuing evolution of the Republican Party in the Trump era and an effort among those now in his inner circle to prepare to take control of the government in a way unseen in modern presidential history.

The purges have begun, I guess. It was only a matter of time.

All of these various agendas and projects are designed for one purpose only, to "deconstruct the administrative state" as former Trump adviser and podcaster Steve Bannon has called for. And considering the Republican Party track record, not to mention Donald Trump's, the prospects of it being successful are very dim. They aren't competent at much of anything when it comes to governing anymore but they are very good at tearing things down and causing chaos, destabilizing everything they touch. Unfortunately, I don't think there's been a worse time in our history for such a stress test on the US government and our democracy. It's important to make sure they don't get the chance to transform any of these plans into action.

By 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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Agenda 47 Commentary Heritage Foundation Maga Aclu Project 2025 The Federalist Society Trump