White House targeting of truth tellers is turning the intelligence community into a crowd of cowards
Donald Trump’s removal of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, his brother Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was not a “massacre” in the spirit of what happened with Richard Nixon’s dismissal of special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Because what raised the body count in Nixon’s case was that his own people resigned rather than carry out clearly immoral orders. That’s not a problem for Trump.
The whole story of Donald Trump’s occupation of the White House has been one in which every unit of the government—from the EPA to the DOJ to the State Department—has been systematically cleansed of competency in favor of reflexive obedience. So naturally no one at the White House had a second thought about escorting out a decorated veteran for the crime of speaking the truth, or another veteran for the crime of being related to someone Trump doesn’t like. And just as naturally, Trump had no hesitation in owning these actions.
But what Trump has done so far, may be just a hint of the destruction to come, and what he’s already done to the intelligence agencies represents a looming threat from both inside and outside the nation.
Every time Trump plumbs new depths of odiousness, his staff makes a scramble to create an excuse. On Friday, that excuse was that Vindman wasn’t being let go because he obeyed a congressional subpoena; it was all just part of a “shrinking” of Trump’s already wildly reduced White House staff.
And every time Trump’s staff constructs one of these pretexts for why he’s not as awful as he seems, Trump rushes forward to make it clear that he so, so is. Just as he continuously blew up the various reasons that Republicans concocted as excuses for Trump’s actions in Ukraine, he couldn’t allow the public to think that he was anything less than a monster in sending away Vindman.
That’s why Trump was on Twitter Saturday morning to make it clear he was sacking the Ukraine expert for being “very insubordinate.” Why Yevgeny Vindman was also shipped off wasn’t clear. Apparently he was insubordinate adjacent. Trump’s advisers surely have an excuse for that one, too.
Of course, both Vindmans are just immigrants in the armed services. As The Washington Post reported last November, Trump’s attitude in that area was godawful on multiple fronts.
“The Trump administration has reversed almost all progress, out loud and with purpose. Their message to immigrant service members is the same as that to Vindman: You are foreign, you are suspect, you cannot belong.”
But if what Trump has done so far seems egregious (because it is), it’s barely a patch on things to come. As The Washington Post reports, Trump has his staff working up the removal of intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson. Atkinson’s involvement was simply that he notified Congress of the existence of a whistleblower complain as required by law.
Who watches the watchmen? Not a damned soul, apparently. Or at least no one who is allowed to do anything about it. Like speak.
At the State Department, at the National Security Council, at the CIA, the FBI, the DOJ … everywhere in the government the actions have been the same. Long term non-partisan employees have been forced from their positions and roles that have never in the past been political have been made over in the service of Trump. By long tradition, the CIA director does not attend the State of the Union address to avoid even a symbolic suggestion that the agency acts out of anything but its best interpretation of the information. But Gina Haspel was there on Tuesday night, bouncing up with the best Republican jack-in-the-boxes to applaud every moment of Trump’s partisan attacks and game show stunts.
Even before Trump gets around to sacking Atkinson, the conversion of the intelligence community into another aspect of his campaign machinery is already clear. As Politico reports, the regular briefing of Congress on threats to the nation has been delayed. The reason for that delay: “fears of provoking Trump's ire.”
Even though the purpose of this annual appearance is to outline the biggest threats to the nation in front of the nation, intelligence agencies are now arguing to move the whole hearing behind closed doors. More than that, they want the whole threat overview classified. After all, people don’t need to know what the dangers are; not when the biggest is sitting on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Intelligence agencies don’t want to tell Congress the truth about what is happening in public, because they’re afraid they might say something Trump doesn’t like. Because saying something that Trump doesn’t like can be punished. Even if it’s true.
Especially if it’s true.