It looks like Biden has finally figured out how to get rid of evil post office underminer Louis DeJoy-- something he should have walked into the White House with and done it in his first few days. But, truth be told, the entire federal bureaucracy is filled with ticking time bombs, courtesy of Trump and his evil elves. Since Trump was always carrying on about a "deep state" working to undermine him, he set out to create some version of that to undermine Biden.
NBC New reported today that "before he left office, he quietly embedded dozens of his own political appointees in career government positions and appointed other loyalists to influential boards and groups-- one of the final, but possibly most enduring, ways he attempted to remake Washington in his own image. Now, President Joe Biden's administration trying to root out some of those government employees, seeking to rid the broader federal bureaucracy of Trump loyalists who could hinder his agenda.
There was nothing new about Trump’s attempts to convert political appointees to civil service employees, a process called “burrowing” by some government watchers; outgoing presidents have done it for years. (Civil service workers have protections that political appointees do not, and are harder for new administrations to fire.)
But good-government advocates, government watchdogs and experts on the federal bureaucracy, including one member of Congress, said that Trump’s "burrowers" were both more plentiful, and more dangerous, than usual.
Further, these experts pointed to moves by Trump, in the final days of his presidency, to place allies in unusual positions like little-known advisory boards with close ties to decision-makers at key agencies, and low-level unpaid jobs on prestigious boards. Those allies retain access to lawmakers, decision-making processes and information that could ultimately make its way back to the former president.
“Under the guise of stopping a 'deep state' coup that never existed, Trump appears to have tried to create a deep state of his own,” said David Rohde, the author of the 2020 book “In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth about America's 'Deep State'” and the executive editor of NewYorker.com. Rohde called that effort, if it had proceeded unfettered, “an existential threat to democracy.”
Seeking to cut off any potential such damage, the Biden administration has in recent weeks terminated or placed on leave several government employees placed into their jobs by Trump in the waning days of his presidency, including the top lawyer at the National Security Agency and several members on Pentagon advisory boards.
...The Trump administration conversion that caused the most concern, the congressional aide and numerous experts said, was Michael Ellis, a Trump loyalist who, one day before Biden took office last month, was sworn in as the top lawyer for the National Security Agency.
On Jan. 20, Biden's first day in office, his administration placed Ellis on administrative leave while his transfer to the agency from his previous role at the Trump White House was reviewed by an inspector general for the Department of Defense.
Ellis, a former staffer for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who went on to work in the Trump White House, was involved in the placement of a reconstructed transcript of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy into a classified computer system, The Associated Press reported. That July 2019 call-- on which Trump asked his counterpart to investigate Biden and his son Hunter-- became the basis of Trump’s first impeachment trial. A National Security Council spokesman speaking on Ellis' behalf at the time declined to comment to the AP.
Two years earlier, the NY Times reported that Ellis, then a lawyer working on national security issues at the White House Counsel’s Office, was involved in giving Nunes, then the House Intelligence Committee chair, access to intelligence reports that seemed to show Trump and his associates were incidentally included in surveillance efforts during the Obama administration.
Ellis, who later worked as a White House senior director of intelligence, a political job, was tapped to be the general counsel of the NSA, a civil service position that would extend beyond Trump’s time in office, in the weeks after he lost the election.
Experts on burrowing told NBC News that based on Ellis' reported past actions, they were concerned that as NSA general counsel, he would have the opportunity to continue to evaluate intelligence in a way that would have benefited Trump or his allies.
“If there is a track record of mishandling classified information, that should disqualify him from this role,” said Nick Schwellenbach, a senior investigator at the Project on Government Oversight. “It definitely looked like an attempt to embed a political operative inside one of the most powerful spy agencies.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) who as the chair of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations had pushed the Trump administration to be more transparent with the number of conversions it requested, added that Ellis is just one prominent example of why civil service jobs must not go to partisans.
“Many of former President Trump’s ardent political appointees were openly and unapologetically committed to tearing down those institutions. To allow them to continue in the federal government will hurt all Americans,” Connolly told NBC News.
...Another name that experts frequently mentioned in interviews was Brandon Middleton, a Trump loyalist who is now a top Energy Department lawyer. Middleton had earlier worked in the environmental and natural resources division under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He later took a job as a political appointee in Trump's Interior Department before applying for and receiving a permanent civil service job as chief counsel in an Energy Department office dealing with toxic waste cleanup.
“He has a demonstrable track record of taking a pro-corporation view of environmental law. He doesn’t look like someone who will call balls and strikes in a straight way,” said Schwellenbach. Middleton did not respond to phone calls and messages from NBC News.
Other approved requests through the first nine months of 2020 for conversion of former political appointees to career civil service jobs included Prerak Shah, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Trump Justice Department who had served as Sen. Ted Cruz’s chief of staff, to an assistant U.S. attorney job for the Northern District of Texas. Shah was named acting U.S. attorney for that district last month.Tracy Short was granted a petition to be the chief immigration judge at the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, a civil service job, after he’d worked as a senior adviser at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a political job.
Other criminal types Trump put into positions include worthless Trumpist characters like Ezra Cohen-Watnick, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks, David Bossie, Pam Bondi, Richard Grenell and Giuliani's mentally-challenged son, Andrew.
I'm not a big fan of NY Times in-house conservative Ross Douthat but his Saturday column, The Twilight of the Anti-Trump Idols is a kind of appendage to this in some ways. Along with the Trump garbage from the last paragraph, there was all sorts of garbage who made a career for themselves as anti-Trump. Hopefully their time on the national stage will be up soon as well. "Throughout the Trump presidency and especially in the Covid era," wrote Douthat, "there was a quest for figures that could be held up as embodiments of everything that Trump’s opposition wanted to restore: reason, technical competence, idealism. Over time these figures took on the character of familiar dramatic archetypes-- the Good Republican, the Heroic Whistleblower, the Beleaguered Expert, the Tough Blue State Governor, the Wise and Sophisticated Europeans. The first month of the Biden era has been a hard time for these characters. A few have come through more burnished than before: If Mitt Romney was a Good Republican before, now he’s pretty much the Best. But elsewhere we’re seeing archetypes of anti-Trumpism exposed as idols, not just fallible but failing, not just imperfect but corrupt."
Douthat celebrates the fall of Andrew Cuomo and I'm with him on that for sure and he also talks about the "deglamorization... for the Good Republicans at the Lincoln Project, the collection of Republican strategists dedicated to using their skills to bring down Donald Trump. They started with a sermon about saving the Republic, lapped up Resistance lucre for their ad campaigns, and now-- well, it now turns out they had an accused sexual harasser among their founders, a toxic workplace culture and a mission that sought 'generational wealth' for its leaders as assiduously as it sought Trump’s defeat."
This twilight for the anti-Trump idols should be a teachable moment in two ways. First, it’s a reminder that the problem of media failure in the Trump era does not begin and end with the conservative bubble. As my colleague Frank Bruni wrote last month, Trump’s outsize awfulness often worked as a “concealer” over sins and follies not his own. But there should have been more scrutiny for what lay underneath: The issues with Cuomo were always apparent, the issues with the Lincoln Project somewhat so, and the fact that America and Europe were never so very far apart in their Covid response was discernible as well. Yet anti-Trumpism frequently produced narrative conformity in media outlets that congratulated themselves on not being like those sycophants at Fox.
...Our society’s sickness may be particularly acute in Trump worship, but the affliction is more general. The stink of failure hangs over the liberal and cosmopolitan as well the populist and provincial, the “cuomosexual” parts of the media as well the conservative. And as we hopefully approach the end of this particular emergency, it’s not only Trump’s enablers but a much wider range of leaders and authorities who should feel shame at the stark and shocking number of the dead.
Today while the nuts like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Mad Cawthorn were cheering Trump on, normal people were horrified by a preposterous speech filled with all the usual lies, an insane, delusional fantasy, projections, innuendo and pandering. Very sick... see how far you can get before vomiting. (Also... boring as hell.)