By Bruce Thornton
Donald Trump campaigned on the promise to “drain the swamp” ––the D.C. establishment made up of most Congressmen from both parties, employees of executive agencies and bureaus, the political appointees who head up those agencies, and the hordes of lobbyists, fundraisers, Congressional staffers, “consultants,” “journalists,” and pundits. These are the “Beltway insiders” or the “political establishment” whose natural habitat is the swamp. These are the alligators Trump needs to get rid of.
Of course, many of these D.C. denizens of the establishment are permanent dwellers in the swamp, beyond the reach of the president or even Congress. Besides, monitoring Congressmen should be the business of their constituents, who should hold them accountable. But too often voters like the pork their alligators bring back to their states or districts. As for pundits, consultants, lobbyists, fundraisers, and journos, they are employees of private businesses, with the right of political free speech and association. Keeping them in line is the responsibility of citizens trading in the market-place of ideas, and imposing ballot-box accountability to punish the office-holders corrupted by these parasites.
Then there are 2.1 million federal employees. They manage the federal government’s agencies, execute the laws that they, not Congressmen, actually write, and judge whether the rest of us comply––collapsing together and usurping the separation of powers central to our Constitutional order. And they do so without any accountability to the voters who pay their handsome salaries and Cadillac benefits (85% higher in value than private employees’). They are, no surprise, stalwart supporters of big-government Democrats, to whom this last election they gave 95% of their political donations. And don’t forget the 3.7 million federal contract-workers who also do the federal Leviathan’s bidding.
Something could be done about reducing the size and intrusive scope of this bureaucratic behemoth. Trump has made a good start. He has left many vacancies open with a hiring freeze, and has proposed reducing some agency budgets in order to starve the beast and prune the regulations that empower it. In his 2018 budget proposal he also called for eliminating cost of living raises for employees in the Federal Employee Retirement System, cutting the Civil Service Retirement System’s COLAs by 0.5%, and making employees contribute more to their retirement annuities. If Congress approves, of course. Good luck with that. But he has not yet tackled reducing the more shadowy contract workers, although some are a legitimate resource for the military. When it comes to domestic affairs, however, they carry out the bidding of the federal agencies while most of us citizens have no clue who they are or what they’re up to.
As for Congress, it could pass legislation changing the laws that make federal employees almost untouchable. Like unionized teachers and professors, federal employees benefit from both union protections and virtual tenure––the civil service regulations that make disciplining or firing federal workers time-consuming and costly. There’s nothing to keep Congress from abolishing unions for federal employees, which were created 55 years ago by John Kennedy through an executive order. One of Ronald Reagan’s boldest and most consequential domestic actions came in 1981 when he fired nearly 12,000 air traffic controllers and decertified their union. A Republican Congress should likewise defang this reliably Democrat voting bloc.
Political appointees are another matter, since they’re easier to get rid of. They serve at the pleasure of the Chief Executive. There is no law that keeps the president from firing political appointees. There may be political costs, as Richard Nixon found out, but there are no Constitutional limits, outside of criminal behavior, on the reasons why he fires a political appointee. This is where Trump has been remiss.
Start with former FBI director James Comey, who immediately after the inauguration should have heard Trump’s trademark “You’re fired!” Comey’s careerism and arrogance made him mishandle the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s patent violations of the laws governing classified material, and her probable obstructions of justice. An indictment could have been justified based simply on the information already made public. Indeed, Comey himself laid out the predicates for indictment in his infamous July 2016 announcement. Then he rewrote the relevant statute to let Clinton off the hook, simply to spare AG Loretta Lynch, who had met with Bill Clinton in a private confab in an airplane, the pretext Comey used for usurping the prosecutor’s role. Along the way he violated the foundation of any free government––equality before the law.
Next, as soon as Jeff Sessions was confirmed as AG, Trump should have cleaned out every Democrat appointee left in the DOJ, starting with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. If he had, the whole “Russia collusion” and “hacking the election” fictions, which have led to an investigative slow death from a thousand leaks, would not now be assailing the Trump administration. The messy firing of Comey in May, which created the perception that Trump was trying to stop the Russia probe because he had something to hide, wouldn’t have happened. With Rosenstein replaced by a Trump appointee, Sessions could have recused himself more easily, knowing a politically reliable deputy would be making the decisions.
And that means Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller as special prosecutor, wouldn’t have been around to turn a counter-intelligence investigation into a criminal one. Comey couldn’t have engineered his close friend Robert Mueller’s appointment by using illegal leaks to the media. There would be no investigative team stocked with Democrat donors and wannabe Javerts like Andrew Weismann. And Mueller would not now be running a partisan investigation in search of a crime, and providing endless leaked chum to the Trump-hating media sharks circling the president.
Instead, perhaps Sessions would have ordered a special prosecutor to investigate the real crimes that endangered national security, like Hillary’s illegal email server and pay-for-play State Department. Maybe then the real Russia “collusion” story could have been exposed––from the allegations that Hillary facilitated the Russian takeover of American uranium mines in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation, to the FBI’s buying a Russian-produced vulgar fake “dossier” about Trump from a “researcher” at GPS Fusion, a firm also patronized by Democrats, who are now helping the outfit’s chief stonewall Congress.
And let’s not forget the Obama administration’s partisan “unmasking” scandal, the leaking nearly 100 citizens’ identities that appeared “incidentally” in the course of surveilling foreign nationals. Or the Democrats’ IT scandal, in which a crooked, overpaid IT tech had access to the computer data of over 24 Democrat Congressmen as well as the Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees. Or Loretta Lynch’s meeting with the politically powerful husband of a person under investigation by Lynch’s FBI, or her browbeating the “Boy Scout” James Comey into spinning the Clinton investigation into a mere “matter.” Of course, nothing is stopping Sessions now from naming a special prosecutor to investigate any of these likely felonies, but he has been publicly battered by his boss and seems demoralized by this whole chain of events.
And that’s on Trump. His browbeating and humiliation of Sessions is unseemly because it was Trump who didn’t clean house on day one, and so created the circumstances that now distract him. And it’s not just the DOJ or FBI. Why is well-connected, long-time D.C. alligator John Koskinen still running the IRS? The same guy who was less than helpful (remember those “missing” emails?) in getting to the bottom of one of the worst scandals in IRS history? Even though the IRS, with the active, nay eager participation of Director of Exempt Organizations Lois “Toby Miles” Lerner, had been weaponized against conservative advocacy groups? That was one of the most despicable official acts against the Constitution and the citizenry in recent memory, a gross violation of equal protection under the law, the rules protecting citizens’ privacy, and the First Amendment, all to serve naked partisan interests.
Talk about “interfering in an election” with impunity. Nothing the Russians have done with their “hacking” of the DNC’s amateurishly secured computers, or their preposterous fabricated “dossier” on Trump, comes even close to what Lerner pulled off. Yet Koskinen, whom the House failed to impeach, let Lerner retire with a full pension and a $129K bonus. That was after she got away with providing misleading testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee, being found in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena, and then pleading the 5th Amendment, a de facto admission of guilt. But AG Loretta “Tarmac” Lynch’s DOJ just shrugged away this gross undermining of the integrity of a presidential election.
I’m not sure Trump really gets the depths to which Democrats and establishment Republicans despise and resent him for trashing their Kabuki theater of “decorum” and “acting presidential” and “bipartisan” comity, the whole hypocritical camouflage of “traditional protocols” and “selfless public servants” that hides the brutal, bare-knuckle politics, rank partisanship, featherbedding, and logrolling that has defined democracy ever since the ancient Athenian orators and comic playwrights accused their political rivals of being treasonous homosexual prostitutes spawned by barbarian whores.
If Trump did get it, he would realize it’s not enough to Tweet late-night insults and bluster. Such outbursts can never counter the Democrats’ willingness to lie shamelessly, and their advantage in having the deep-state 5th columnists, hysterical Republican NeverTrumpers, and squadrons of flying media monkeys eager to attack Republicans 24/7. Deeds, not words, are the best defense. And the most important action of a new administration is to clean out the partisan alligators who make the swamp so deadly.