Report: Trump planning to fire Chris Wray, Mark Esper, Gina Haspel if he wins

I don’t understand why there’s a caveat, “if he wins.” Why wouldn’t he also fire them if he loses?

For a normal politician, the answer would be, “Because he’ll be out of office in less than three months. Why decapitate important agencies — law enforcement, the military, intelligence — when you won’t get to fill those vacancies?”

But Trump isn’t a normal politician. The moment he’s no longer accountable to voters, he’ll be free to indulge his petulance by punishing deputies whom he believes contributed to his defeat because they refused to weaponize their official powers against his political enemies. Wray’s sin is not announcing an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden in the closing days of the campaign. Haspel’s sin was opposing declassification of Russian intelligence on Hillary Clinton for fear that it was unreliable and might reveal sources and methods. Esper’s sin was regretting Trump’s Lafayette Park stunt and resisting his attempts to send regular troops into the streets against rioters under the Insurrection Act.

That’s what’s on tap for a Trump second term if he wins: Everyone with any sort of scruples is out, soon to be replaced by cronies who *will* use government power against Trump’s enemies on the president’s command. Even Bill Barr might not be enough of a lackey to make the cut.

If President Trump wins re-election, he’ll move to immediately fire FBI Director Christopher Wray and also expects to replace CIA Director Gina Haspel and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, two people who’ve discussed these officials’ fates with the president tell Axios…

While Trump has also privately vented about Attorney General Bill Barr, he hasn’t made any formal plans to replace him, an official said…

As for Wray, whose expected firing was first reported by The Daily Beast, Trump is angry his second FBI chief didn’t launch a formal investigation into Hunter Biden’s foreign business connections — and didn’t purge more officials Trump believes abused power to investigate his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia.

Trump also grew incensed when Wray testified in September that the FBI has not seen widespread election fraud, including with mail-in ballots.

There’s no mention in the report of Anthony Fauci, who’s a career civil servant rather than a political appointee and therefore would enjoy certain legal protections that the likes of Esper wouldn’t. But lo and behold, just last week Trump issued an order weakening those protections so that they those deputies too can be fired with impunity. Under a president whose motives could be trusted, I’d celebrate that as a step towards good government and accountability. Why should civil servants who are bad at their jobs enjoy a special legal shield that private-sector employees don’t get? If you want government to run better, make sure the careerists know that performance matters.

But under Trump, you can see why those protections exist: In a political institution like government, the risk of partisan retaliation in employment is higher than it is in the private sector. Trump’s even taken to referring to Fauci as a “Democrat” in public comments even though Fauci isn’t registered as a member of either party. He’s going to can this guy (or try to, at least) for no better reason than that Fauci’s admissions that the pandemic forecast this winter is gloomy and that Trump shouldn’t be holding mass gatherings are inconvenient to the president’s happy-talk messaging about the virus. And then, if he’s reelected, he’ll do the same for any other careerist who’s done their job well but who happened to criticize him at one point or another. In a few years the executive branch bureaucracy will be littered with Scott Atlases tweeting discouragement about masks, all the way down.

If we give Trump four more years knowing that that’s what we should expect, we deserve what we get.

Fauci will get his job back under Biden even if Trump ousts him. Esper and Haspel obviously won’t if they’re canned, since new presidents typically fill those vacancies with their own appointees. Wray is an interesting case, though: Under federal law, an FBI chief serves a 10-year term unless the president moves to replace him. That law is there to add a degree of political independence to federal law enforcement, so that the head of the FBI isn’t a normal partisan political appointee. If Trump doesn’t terminate Wray, he’d be on tap to serve until 2027. And because Biden’s message is all about restoring “norms,” he’d be reluctant to fire Wray and replace him with his own guy — particularly after Wray showed some spine by resisting Trump on making any Biden-related announcements under political pressure.

Wray could be the lone long-term survivor of top Trump officials in government, in other words, unless the president fires him. So Trump’s going to fire him. And since Wray knows it’s coming, you wonder why he doesn’t just quit now and speak publicly about the pressure brought on him. Presumably he thinks it’d be bad form to have an FBI director (or former FBI director, in this scenario) once again springing an election-influencing surprise in the final days of a campaign, which is a noble impulse. But let’s check in with him next Wednesday evening, after a Trump victory and his immediate termination, to see if he has any regrets about that.

It’s not just government officials who’ll be ruthlessly scapegoated if Trump loses next week, by the way. Trump campaign officials know what’s coming.

[S]enior Republicans say a culture of paranoia has developed in the waning days of the race, with fears mounting that they will be the targets of post-election attacks if Trump loses, which could damage their careers going forward…

Much of the blame is being directed at [Brad] Parscale, who was ousted as campaign manager in July amid mounting questions over his stewardship of the reelection effort. Campaign aides say Parscale miscalculated by raising questions about Biden’s mental acuity, which hurt the president among seniors…

Some Republican officials are also angry at [Mark] Meadows for how he managed Trump’s hospitalization. The chief of staff undercut the White House messaging when he told reporters early on that Trump was “still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”…

Others expressed frustration over [Trump’s] decision to skip the second debate, which would have been an opportunity for him to gain on Biden, and over his erratic behavior in the closing days of the race. Meanwhile, reelection officials were taken by surprise when on the Monday call he delivered a 30-minute expletive-filled tirade against myriad targets, including Anthony Fauci.

I’m curious to see what Trump does with Meadows during the lame-duck. If he wins reelection, presumably he’ll move quickly to replace him as chief of staff. It’s not just that he contradicted the White House’s cheery prognosis for Trump when he got COVID, it’s that he failed to stop the FDA from implementing new rules to slow down vaccine approval and just yesterday hurt Trump with a terrible soundbite on national television about the pandemic. He’ll get a new chief for a second term — or maybe no chief at all, since we’ve now had four of them and Trump can’t seem to work happily with any of them.

Would Trump dump Meadows if he loses, though? Meadows has been a political crony of his for several years; he’s not a civil servant like Wray, Esper, or Haspel, with whom Trump might dispense without a second thought. But the search for scapegoats will be intense and to some extent I think Trump’s rage over defeat will simply have to be sated in the form of scalps. The easy thing to do would be to just let Meadows stay on until January 20, but I think he’ll fire him. Just to cheer himself up.