This morning, NBC News was one of several outlets reporting a “near meltdown” in the intelligence community after the news was released that acting direct of national intelligence Joseph Maguire was to be replaced by xenophobic hate-bomb specialist Richard Grenell. Much of what’s happening inside the ODNI hasn’t become public, but there has apparently been enough pushback that Trump has already announced that Grenell will be a short-term appointment until he picks someone else.
Then, last night, Trump offered the role to Doug Collins—an offer that still seems to be open. But Collins has already declared that he doesn’t want the job, because he’s still intent on running for a Senate slot in Georgia, a task that’s been complicated by Trump’s praise for the recently appointed Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
As of this morning, Trump has announced that he will be appointing someone other than Grenell, but who that someone will be is still up in the air. In the meantime, the intelligence community has joined the Judiciary Community at full boil. It’s become absolutely clear that Trump is purging intelligence officials whose only crime is that they provided accurate intelligence to a committee that is not just cleared, but required to receive that information.
When word came that Maguire was being swapped out for Grenell, the initial reaction was a mixture of two parts disgust and one part puzzlement. Grenell has absolutely no experience in intelligence, and he’s never run so much as a shoe store. What he has done in his short time as U.S. ambassador to Germany is offend American allies and widen the fractures in the NATO alliance as he praised neo-fascist leaders, attacked his host country for admitting refugees, and defended Russian leader Vladimir Putin. But of course, Republican leaders in Congress rushed to applaud this appointment, even as everyone else scratched their heads.
It didn’t take long before the reasons behind the intelligence makeover became clear. At a closed-door briefing for the House Intelligence Committee last Thursday, intelligence official Shelby Pierson provided a required update on what the intelligence community knew about the security of the 2020 election. Pierson revealed that Russia was already actively engaged in interfering in the upcoming election, and that it was interfering for the purpose of supporting Donald Trump.
Republicans present at that meeting—who included Devin Nunes, Mike Conaway, and John Ratcliffe—rushed to the White House in concern. But they were not concerned about the Russian interference. They were concerned that Democrats knew about the interference. Trump shared that concern and seemed to be convinced that Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff had been given some special information, though there seems to be no indication that this is true.
Trump then called in acting DNI Joseph Maguire and reamed him out for allowing Pierson to give a long-scheduled and congressionally mandated briefing. Even though Maguire had been instrumental in trying to block the intelligence community whistleblower report that started off the impeachment investigation of Trump from ever seeing the light of day, that little favor did not seem to cool Trump’s fire. At the end of the day, he canned Maguire and went looking for someone who would be loyal to Trump rather than to the nation.
What’s happening at both the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence at this moment is a last stand by those who have some concern other than protecting Trump’s political interests. What’s most frightening is just how small that group of fighters appears to be.
It is part of a larger effort to purge the government of Never-Trumpers.
Take the news of Johnny McEntee, a 29-year-old former body man to Trump who was fired in 2018 by then-Chief of Staff John Kelly but recently rehired — and promoted to head the presidential personnel office.
Johnny McEntee called in White House liaisons from cabinet agencies for an introductory Yesterday, in which he asked them to identify political appointees across the U.S. government who are believed to be anti-Trump, according to three sources.
But McEntee suggested the most dramatic changes may have to wait until after the November election.
Trump has empowered McEntee — whom he considers an absolute loyalist — to purge the “bad people” and “Deep State.”
U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who also testified in the impeachment investigations, was fired the same afternoon.
Trump has also promoted or brought back several people he considers core loyalists — including McEntee, former White House communications director Hope Hicks, and U.S. Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell.
Dear Intelligence community,— Don Winslow (@donwinslow) February 21, 2020
You know what Trump's doing.
You know what Russia's doing.
The country that you took an oath to protect needs you.
Be brave. Become a whistleblower.Tell the world the truth.
The oath you swore includes protecting this nation from the President.
I asked a senior White House official if Trump really removed Maguire over the Russia briefing. Official didn’t mince words.— Alex Ward (@AlexWardVox) February 21, 2020
“That’s absolutely why. Anyone from here on out that opposed POTUS will get fired.”
That bad, I asked?
“Yup,” official said. “He’s not f***ing around.”
President Trump on Friday dismissed the assessment of a senior U.S. intelligence official that Russia wants to see him reelected as a “misinformation campaign” being driven by Democrats, as fallout continued from a classified congressional briefing last week.
“Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa,” Trump tweeted, referencing the delays this month in tabulating the results of the nation’s first presidential nominating contest.
“Hoax number 7!” Trump added, suggesting that reports about the congressional briefing were akin to investigations of his campaign’s possible coordination with Russia in the 2016 election and his conduct toward Ukraine that led to his impeachment by the House and ultimate acquittal by the Senate.
Former GOP Congressman:
Trump's danger to America has reached the point where Presidents Carter, Clinton, Bush, and Obama must issue a joint statement and hold a joint press conference to call for the removal from office of the President. They owe it to the nation.https://t.co/99p55pZevH— Tom Coleman (@RepTomColeman) February 21, 2020