At a time when the United States is facing an international crisis that demands cooperation, coordination, and above all the best possible information, Donald Trump is continuing to gut America’s intelligence agencies of experience and skill. Since his impeachment, Trump has accelerated his purge of the judiciary and intelligence to sweep them clear of anyone who isn’t found sufficiently loyal to Trump, meaning willing to ignore the truth and dismiss national interest to support Trump’s personal goals.
Replacing the acting director of national intelligence with Richard Grenell—a man whose entire skill set consists of joining Trump to tweet his disdain for allied nations and democratic leaders while praising authoritarian dictators and encouraging racism—is far from the final step. Trump is determined to make the intelligence services his personal tool, and if that means destroying their value to the nation … he’s more than okay with that.
According to Politico, Grenell is only the start, as Trump “tightens his grip” on the intelligence community. The idea that a phrase like “purge of career officials and political appointees deemed insufficiently loyal” is now used not as a dig, but as a factual description of exactly what is happening in the U.S. government, should be shocking.
Before his election, and even after it, many pundits looked on the way Trump was insulting the FBI, the CIA, and other agencies and confidently smirked that he was making very dangerous enemies. “You don’t want to pick a fight with those guys,” was an oft-repeated refrain. After all, the intelligence community has the intelligence, along with the tools to gather more. They know where all the skeletons are buried.
What no one seems to have accounted for is that the intelligence community could come forth with armloads of moldy bones and dump them on the table of a Justice Department that was actively engaged in a cover-up on behalf of Trump. And behind them was a Republican Senate that had already abandoned every principle except support of Trump. And behind them was a MAGA crowd that genuinely liked the idea that its champion bully-boy could tell law enforcement where to stick it.
And so he is. Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Magquire was fired because someone two tiers down the totem pole dared to give the House Intelligence Committee an accurate briefing on election interference. Republicans protested, because accurate information is so 2016. Someone in intelligence hadn’t gotten the word that everyone from the EPA to the Treasury Department was only there to provide information that boosted Trump, whether it was real or not. Now Maguire is out, and everyone else has definitely gotten the message.
As he has against the media, Trump has waged a constant war against the intelligence community, demeaning their value, diminishing their credibility, and insulting their … well, intelligence, even when he was theoretically responsible for their work. The Republican vote in the Senate to dismiss clear charges of abuse and obstruction against Trump in his impeachment trial was the final signal that anything the intelligence communities might surface against Trump from now until doomsday would have all the impact of hurling feathers against a stone. For Trump and his supporters, the idea that the intelligence community is a threat is laughable … because that assumes that facts matter. They clearly don’t.
Trump’s intelligence community remake isn’t an effort to prevent the agencies from surfacing any information that might be inconvenient to Trump. That threat is over. Instead, the purpose of Trump’s remake is to genuinely boost the agencies’ value—as weapons against Trump’s enemies.
Just as Attorney General William Barr is all-in on using the Justice Department to assist Trump’s friends and assault his political opponents, a revised intelligence community provides ample opportunity to turn what were conspiracy theories lurking at the end of Breitbart and Q-ville into charges that are levied by men in appropriately dark suits against those on the enemies list.
The cost to the nation is just scenes like acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf bumbling through a briefing on coronavirus in which Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy kept showing that he knew the facts infinitely better than the supposed expert in charge of keeping the nation safe. Look back on that last sentence in wonder … and fear. Wolf wasn’t hired for his knowledge. He was hired for his demonstrated skill in lying, even when his lying was obvious.
Trump already has his Cheka. Now he needs his KGB. Only even the KGB had some respect for competence.