It took less than a week after his acquittal in the Senate in 2020 for then President Donald Trump to unleash his revenge on those who testified in the House impeachment inquiry and to ramp up a full-scale expulsion of supposedly disloyal political appointees and career officials from the U.S. government. For a year and a half, White House officials and allies had been assembling lists of “bad people,” and now they were finally acting on it.
It began with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council staffer who was ousted — along with his brother, Yevgeny, a White House official — on Jan. 7, 2020, apparently in retaliation for appearing as an impeachment witness. Then Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, who also testified, was dismissed. By the middle of February, the scale of the effort to rid the government of officials who, in the authoritarian mind of the president, were not “pro-Trump” enough was finally becoming known.
On Feb. 23, 2020, Axios reported that a “well-connected network of conservative activists with close ties to Trump and top administration officials” had been helping develop lists of “Never Trump” officials to kick out and of “pro-Trump” loyalists to replace them. According to Axios, members of this “network” include Ginni Thomas, who is married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Barbara Ledeen, a Republican Senate staffer. Ledeen reportedly wrote a memo on former U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu, whose Treasury nomination was withdrawn after Trump reviewed that memo. And Thomas, who receives names from conservative activists who attend meetings of the right-wing strategy group Groundswell, reportedly handed a memo of names directly to Trump in 2019. Groundswell was also potentially involved in another memo regarding officials in the State Department from January 2019.
Trump also rehired John McEntee, a former personal aide and body man fired in 2018 over financial crime allegations, and promoted him to head the White House’s personnel office. During a Feb. 20 meeting, McEntee reportedly asked White House liaisons from cabinet agencies to identify political appointees believed to be anti-Trump. Around that same time, Trump replaced acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire with vocal supporter Ric Grenell, who has no background in intelligence, reportedly after becoming angry over an intelligence briefing about Russia’s efforts to help Trump in the 2020 election. Others in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence also left, and multiple experts on the National Security Council were swept out.
Then, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Dale Cabaniss abruptly resigned due to, as Politico reported, “poor treatment” by McEntee. The administration was also criticized for hiring Trump supporters in their early twenties, including one who was still a college senior, for top positions at the White House.
American Oversight is investigating the network of activists and advisers who worked with Trump on his dictatorial ambitions to shed light on the alarming purges of government officials that threaten not only the civil service system, but our national security.