President Trump’s dismissal of Defense Department officials raises concerns

President Trump’s dismissal of Defense Department officials raises concerns
Source: Yuri Gripas, Reuters
Rumors that Trump may be seeking to fire other high-level government officials, including the current FBI director, have raised concerns that he is attempting a coup or cover-up.

Until President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office on January 20, President Donald Trump remains in office, serving out his “lame duck” term. While past presidents have used their final months in office to solidify their legacy or push through some final legislation, Trump appears to be focusing on expunging the government of officials who have not been loyal to him.

Trump began with the removal of Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, as well as other Department of Defense staff. Rumors that Trump may be seeking to fire other high-level government officials, including the current FBI director, have raised concerns that he is attempting a coup. Others, however, have alleged the president’s motive is covering up crimes.

Trump fires Defense Secretary Mark Esper

Though a new report by The New York Times finds no evidence of widespread election fraud, President Donald Trump has shown no signs that he will concede. One indicator that the sitting president believes he will be remaining in office is his decision on Monday, November 9 to fire Defense Secretary Esper and other members of the Department of Defense.

In the two-tweet thread in which Trump announced Esper’s ouster, he also said Christopher C. Miller would be taking over as acting defense secretary. Miller was previously the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. One possible reason for Esper’s firing was his public opposition this summer to sending troops to respond to civil unrest in American cities, as Trump had wanted.

The selection of Miller as Esper’s replacement has raised concerns among legal experts. By law, a secretary of defense must have been retired from the military for at least seven years before taking the position. Miller only retired from the Army Special Forces in 2014 and therefore could not legally be confirmed as the secretary of defense by Congress, though he can serve in an acting capacity.

In the wake of Esper being fired, three other senior officials at the Defense Department either stepped down or were also let go.

With just two months until he leaves office, rumors indicate Trump may be planning to fire even more officials. That includes the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, and the director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, both Trump appointees. As president, Trump has never shied away from firing high-level officials, including ambassadors, national security officials and members of the Department of Justice.

Trump fired his original FBI director, James Comey, just four months into his presidency. Trump has given dueling reasons for firing Comey, initially claiming it was because of the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s connections to the Trump campaign. Later, he denied the firing had anything to do with Russia and said it was because Comey mishandled the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails.

A coup or a cover-up?

Some have begun to express concern that these latest firings and the future expulsions rumored to be coming are an attempt by Trump to enact a coup so he can hold on to power. The fear is that Trump will remove anyone who might stand in the way of him refusing to leave office and replace them with loyalists.

Others have suggested that the end goal is not a coup, but rather a cover-up of potential crimes.

Current Newsweek editor and former Navy Intelligence officer Naveed Jamali tweeted on November 10 that a former Trump senior administration official told him, “This isn’t a coup, its [sic] an attempt to hide whatever criminality was going on over there.”

In a Twitter thread on November 10, this scenario was explored by Asha Rangappa, a CNN analyst who formerly served as an FBI special agent. After noting that Trump has in recent days appointed multiple Trump loyalists to high positions at the Pentagon and the National Security Agency, she said she expects firings at the CIA and FBI soon.

Two of the new appointees are associates of Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican who won reelection to the House on November 3. Nunes was involved in the Ukraine scandal that resulted in Trump’s impeachment.

Nunes has been accused of intentionally sowing distrust in the intelligence community. In the four-page “Nunes Memo,” released in February 2018, he falsely accused the FBI of malfeasance in their surveillance of Trump associates with suspected ties to Russia.

In the immediate aftermath of Comey’s firing back in May 2017, Trump took heat for what some saw as an attempt to cover up possible collusion with Russia.

The Trump campaign’s alleged “collusion” with Russia to win the 2016 election was later investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller could not confirm there was cooperation between the two sides, but he also did not exonerate the president of wrongdoing.

President-elect Biden is not receiving intelligence reports

In the midst of these controversial reorganizations at key government agencies, it has been reported that President-elect Joe Biden is not currently receiving intelligence reports, as is the normal process during a presidential transition period.

The decision to not give Biden the reports has been made by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence because the election results have not been certified by the General Services Administration. The GSA is currently led by Emily Murphy, who was appointed to the position by Trump in December 2017.

Trump has simultaneously declined to authorize Biden to receive the president’s daily briefings, high-level intelligence reports that are only seen by senior government officials. While it is not required that Biden receive these briefings, for years it has been standard practice that the president-elect be given the intelligence reports.When Trump was president-elect in 2016, it was reported that he frequently ignored the daily briefings, only reviewing them on occasion.

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