Trump’s Post-Impeachment Authoritarian Purges

Emboldened by his acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, President Trump and his team of loyalists have launched one of their most aggressive attacks yet on democracy and the rule of law — to purge the administration and the intelligence community of those perceived to be insufficiently devoted to the president.

It took less than a week after his acquittal in the Senate for President Donald Trump to unleash his revenge on those who testified in the House impeachment inquiry and to ramp up what appears to be 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 are 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 Ledeen reportedly wrote a memo on former U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu, whose Treasury nomination was withdrawn after Trump reviewed that memo.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 have also left, and multiple experts on the National Security Council have been swept out.

More recently, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Dale Cabaniss abruptly resigned due to, as Politico reported, “poor treatment” by McEntee, and the administration was also criticized for hiring Trump supporters in their early twenties, including one who is still a college senior, for top positions at the White House.

American Oversight is investigating the network of activists and advisers working 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.

OUR REQUESTS

  • Communications between Ginni Thomas and current and former officials at the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, State, Defense, as well as the Office of Management and Budget;
  • All unclassified email communications sent by former acting DNI Joseph Maguire regarding Russia or election security, including Russian interference in the 2020 election or briefings for Congress or the White House, and email communications sent by former DNI Dan Coats regarding Ukraine, Giuliani, or Biden;
  • Any resignation letters, farewell messages or formal memoranda related to the departures of Maguire or Coats from the ODNI, as well as the departures of Jason Klitenic, Andrew Hallman, or Sue Gordon;
  • All decision memoranda or other guidance signed by acting DNI Ric Grenell;
  • Ethics documents, recusal determinations and resumes for Grenell and adviser Kash Patel;
  • The external email communications from Jan. 1, 2019, onward of White House liaisons or White House advisers in multiple agencies across the federal government;
  • Any communications between White House liaisons or advisers of multiple federal agencies and the following people: Ginni Thomas, Barbara Ledeen, and Becky Norton Dunlop;
  • Any communications between John McEntee and political appointees in high-level offices of multiple federal agencies, as well as any records of meetings between McEntee and White House liaisons or advisers;
  • Office of Personnel Management records of former Director Dale Cabaniss’s resignation letter and emails leading up to his departure;
  • Communications from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concerning dismissals and reassignments of senior agency officials, including former Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who had briefed Congress on Russian interference in U.S. elections; and
  • DOJ analyses regarding the legal authority of the President to dismiss inspectors general in light of the replacements of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson and Acting Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine in April 2020.

Related Documents

May 15, 2020

American Oversight v. State — Grenell’s Security Clearance

Department of State
Litigation
May 1, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Analyses Regarding the Dismissals of Independent Inspectors General

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
April 29, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Resignation Letters, Formal Memoranda Regarding Departures of Senior Leadership

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
April 29, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Grenell’s Communications Regarding Dismissals of Senior Leadership

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
April 29, 2020

FOIA Seeking PPO Director McEntee’s Communications with Treasury

Department of the Treasury
FOIA Request
April 15, 2020

No Records Response from DOD Regarding Alex and Yevgeny Vindman and Jennifer Williams’s Reassignments

Department of Defense
Agency Reply
March 24, 2020

FOIA to OPM Seeking the Resignation Letter or Farewell Email of Former Director Cabaniss

Office of Personnel Management
FOIA Request
March 24, 2020

FOIA to OPM Seeking the Email Communications of Former Director Cabaniss Before Her Resignation

Office of Personnel Management
FOIA Request
February 25, 2020

FOIAs to Multiple Agencies Seeking Communications Regarding White House Efforts to Retaliate Against Officials Based on Political Loyalty

Agency for International Development, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Information Policy, Office of Personnel Management, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Small Business Administration, United States Secret Service
FOIA Request
February 21, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Resignation Letters, Formal Memoranda Regarding Departures of Senior Leadership

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
February 21, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Ethics Documents and Resumes of Acting DNI Richard Grenell and Senior Adviser Kash Patel

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
February 21, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Decision Memos of Acting DNI Richard Grenell and Senior Adviser Kash Patel

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
February 21, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Sent Emails of former DNI Coats Regarding Ukraine

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
February 21, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Sent Emails of Acting DNI Maguire Regarding Russia or Election Interference

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
May 15, 2019

No Records Response form DHS Regarding Communications with Ginni Thomas

Department of Homeland Security
Agency Reply
March 13, 2019

FOIA to DOJ OAG and OLP Requesting Agency Communications with Ginni Thomas

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 13, 2019

FOIA to DHS Requesting Agency Communications with Ginni Thomas

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
March 13, 2019

FOIA to State Department Requesting Agency Communications with Ginni Thomas

Department of State
FOIA Request
March 13, 2019

FOIA to HUD Requesting Agency Communications with Ginni Thomas

Department of Housing and Urban Development
FOIA Request
March 13, 2019

FOIA to OMB Requesting Agency Communications with Ginni Thomas

Office of Management and Budget
FOIA Request
March 13, 2019

FOIA to DOD Requesting Agency Communications with Ginni Thomas

Department of Defense
FOIA Request
March 13, 2019

FOIA to DOJ OSG Requesting Agency Communications with Ginni Thomas

Department of Justice
FOIA Request