- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2020

President Trump carried out his campaign against his opponents in government on two fronts Tuesday, acknowledging that his new White House personnel director is systematically ferreting out disloyal administration officials and calling on two liberal Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from cases involving him.

The president said Johnny McEntee, a trusted former aide who was rehired shortly after Mr. Trump’s impeachment acquittal in the Senate, is looking at various agencies to identify government employees who oppose him. High on the list are the Justice and State departments.

“I don’t think it’s a big problem. I don’t think it’s very many people,” Mr. Trump said. “We want to have people that are good for the country, that are loyal to our country.”

The president also targeted Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He said Justice Sotomayor recently tried to “shame” conservative justices into voting against the administration and that Justice Ginsburg “went wild” with criticism of him during the 2016 campaign.

“I just don’t know how they cannot recuse themselves from anything having to do with Trump,” the president said at a press conference in India, where he was wrapping up a two-day visit. He also tweeted that the two justices were unfair to him.

Critics call the president’s post-impeachment personnel moves a purge, but his allies say it is a housecleaning that should have started sooner.

“I think this is a great and refreshing change in strategy from the president’s team,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union. “It’s long overdue and, by the way, it’s consistent with the will of the American people, who have never given the president higher approval ratings than right now.”

Former Trump White House aide Sebastian Gorka called the hiring of Mr. McEntee “a clear sign to those around him in the White House and in the agencies of the U.S. government that the president is reasserting control over the government he was elected to head.”

Since the start of his presidency, Mr. Trump has railed against the “deep state” officials and entrenched bureaucrats who have at a minimum tried to block his agenda. At worst, he blames them for instigating the “witch hunt” investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller and by House Democrats leading up to an impeachment inquiry last year.

In his comments Tuesday, the president singled out the “fake” anonymous government whistleblower who initiated the impeachment complaint against him, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a former National Security Council aide who testified against him in the impeachment inquiry.

“That was a disgraceful situation,” the president said.

The NSC has moved out Col. Vindman in the midst of a major reorganization; he has returned to a job at the Pentagon. The whistleblower is believed to be still working at the CIA after a temporary stint at the White House.

Among those who have been ousted or transferred in recent weeks is Jessie K. Liu, the former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia whose nomination for a Treasury Department post was withdrawn after renewed criticism of her handling of cases involving Mr. Mueller’s investigation.

John Rood, a Pentagon official who certified that Ukraine met anti-corruption criteria, was let go. Victoria Coates was transferred from her post at the NSC to the Energy Department amid speculation that she could have been “Anonymous,” an unidentified staffer who wrote a book and op-ed critical of the president. Ms. Coates and her boss denied the rumor.

Adding to the administration’s internal search for disloyal officials is a reported parallel effort organized by Ginni Thomas, wife of conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Some have called for Justice Thomas to recuse himself from cases involving the administration, but a Republican source said Mrs. Thomas “has a long history of Republican activism” apart from her status as the wife of a high court justice.

Longtime conservative figure Richard Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, said such an effort is needed.

“Every conservative I know wishes it happened three years ago,” he said in an interview. “This is way overdue, and I’m thrilled.”

He is a friend of Mrs. Thomas but said he doesn’t know whether she is leading the effort called “Groundswell,” but he believes she is well-suited for the role.

“Ginni’s got a huge following out there. She’s a very, very important conservative leader with great energy,” he said.

Mr. Schlapp, who dealt with similar personnel issues in the George W. Bush administration, said all Republican presidents encounter a predominantly liberal federal workforce in Washington, Maryland and Northern Virginia.

“The problem for Republican presidents is the civil service is populated with people who are 80% opposed to the president’s policies,” he said in an interview. “If they’re honorable people who keep their politics in check, it’s not a large issue, just a small issue.”

But, he added, “when they become radicalized and they get told by the national media that you’re saving America by joining ‘#resistance,’ you have a constitutional crisis on your hands, which is what we’ve had for the last 3½ years. When they become politicized as they have under President Trump, it’s a nightmare for that president. And it was a nightmare for President Bush over time,” Mr. Schlapp said.

He said he believes employees in the intelligence community, in particular, “felt even more muscular to do flagrantly felonious activities, assuming that their allies at the Justice Department would look the other way.”

“And I think there’s a recompense coming, and it’s been needing to happen for a long time,” Mr. Schlapp said.

Ms. Liu was a political appointee, but the White House apparently is also willing to confront civil service employees deemed problematic. Mr. Schlapp said of his experience in the Bush administration that “you do everything you can legally.”

“You look to reassign people. You work with the general counsel in the agency,” he said. “There has to be … transgressions by the civil service in the swamp, when they are literally opposing the president’s policies that the American people voted in. They’re not somehow above the law. They just have a sweetheart deal on making it nearly impossible to fire them.”

Democrats accuse Mr. Trump of carrying out a purge of enemies since he was acquitted in his impeachment trial this month. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said Col. Vindman “was only the start of the ‘loyalty’ purge.”

“The rule of law can’t tolerate 4 more yrs of a president who thinks he’s above it,” she tweeted. “Our democracy can’t tolerate 4 more yrs of a president who thinks he can bulldoze through it.”

Critics primarily on the left have accused Mr. Trump of something more sinister. They say he is trying to clear out any opposition against illegal acts he is planning.

Mr. Schlapp called the suggestion “paranoid.”

“The fact is the president has a very good track record of winning all these legal challenges” to his policies, Mr. Schlapp said. “What you find is these individual Obama or Clinton judges acting unilaterally to set the policy on things like immigration when it’s constitutionally not their role. They have joined this ‘#resistance’ movement. We even have a justice on the Supreme Court raising this question, that somehow it’s unpatriotic to follow the law when the law’s on Donald Trump’s side.”

Justice Sotomayor, an Obama appointee, wrote a dissenting opinion last week in a 5-4 ruling that cleared the way for the administration’s “public charge” rule to go into effect.

She bemoaned a “now familiar pattern” in which the administration “seeks emergency relief from this court, asking it to grant a stay where two lower courts have not.”

“The government insists — even though review in a court of appeals is imminent — that it will suffer irreparable harm if this court does not grant a stay. And the court yields,” she wrote.

She appeared to target her conservative colleagues when she wrote that “the court’s recent behavior” has benefited “one litigant over all others.”

The president tweeted in reply, “This is a terrible thing to say.”

“While ‘elections have consequences’, I only ask for fairness, especially when it comes to decisions made by the United States Supreme Court!” Mr. Trump said.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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