Then there are those who mess up so badly they become political liabilities for Trump. This is a long list, but certainly includes acting Navy secretary Thomas Modly (who traveled to Guam to berate and insult Navy Capt. Brett Crozier for pleading for the safety of his sailors stricken by covid-19); former Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt; former interior secretary Ryan Zinke; former health and human services secretary Tom Price; former labor secretary Alexander Acosta (partially responsible for the slap on the wrist for the late child sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein); and a whole bunch of press secretaries and chiefs of staff. When their failures or ethics violations become too distracting, Trump eventually dumps them — but only after he and his sycophants in the media and Congress embarrass themselves by defending the malefactor.
Next come those who speak up and who defy (or threaten to defy) Trump’s reign of terror: former intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson (whose firing was “a decision that Trump acknowledged was in response to Atkinson’s having alerted lawmakers to the existence of a whistleblower complaint about the president’s dealings with Ukraine”); former national security staffer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman; and, most recently, inspector general Glenn Fine, who had been charged with oversight of the $2 trillion stimulus package. (This comes as a New York Times report finds that Trump “has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine,” the unproven treatment for covid-19 that Trump incessantly hawked.)
Fine was a respected career official, presently serving as acting inspector general for the Pentagon. Democrats and good government groups were livid. House Justice Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) released a blistering statement, which read in part: “This is unacceptable. Our system of government depends on the hard work of independent inspectors general who root out and expose waste, fraud, and abuse where they find it. President Trump may think he can use a national emergency as a pretext to line his own pockets or settle petty, personal scores. He is wrong.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also blasted the action and vowed to continue congressional oversight:
The sudden removal and replacement of Acting Inspector General Fine is part of a disturbing pattern of retaliation by the President against independent overseers fulfilling their statutory and patriotic duties to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people.Since Day One, the President has tried to marginalize and exercise ultimate control over independent Inspectors General. Yet again, he is doubling down on his signing statement promise to disregard critical oversight provisions that hold the Administration accountable to the law. . . . We will continue to exercise our oversight to ensure that this historic investment of taxpayer dollars is being used wisely and efficiently to help workers and families.
Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics (another good performer who quit rather than serve a corrupt president), reacted on Twitter: “Trump preemptively removing an Inspector General is as clear an admission as you could hope to find that corruption will be the default setting for the $2 trillion bailout, just like it has been for everything else in this administration.”
Trump’s vow to “drain the swamp” was laughable. In his and his family’s self-dealing and conflicts of interest, in the hiring of supplicants, and in the ongoing search-and-destroy mission that removes truth-tellers, this president has attained another historic distinction: the most corrupt president with the most mediocre, sycophantic administration. Ever.