December 4, 2020
While coronavirus continues to burn across the country, Trump is focusing instead on continuing to contest the election results and on the Pentagon.
The main story in the country continues to be the coronavirus. As of tonight, according to the New York Times, more than 14,441,700 people in the U.S. have been infected with the virus and at least 278,900 have died. Official daily death counts are well over 2000.
As several states continue to count votes from the November election, President-Elect Joe Biden’s popular vote margin over Trump is now more than 7 million. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, and Michigan, all states in which Trump contested the vote, have already certified their election results for Biden. In all six of those states, judges have ruled that Trump’s lawyers have provided no evidence of fraud. They have used words like “baseless,” “flimsy,” “obviously lacking,” “dangerous,” and “not credible.”
Trump’s obsession with winning an election he has clearly lost has brought into relief the struggle for control over the Republican Party. Trump is clearly trying to turn the party into a vehicle for loyalty to him and him alone. He has always turned on those who no longer serve his interests: Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was one of the first elected Republicans to support Trump’s 2016 presidential candidacy, giving it an air of legitimacy. He left the Senate to become Trump’s first Attorney General, only to have Trump turn against him when he recused himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, because he had lied about his own contacts with Russians. Trump forced Sessions to resign, and when Sessions ran again for the Senate, endorsed his rival and attacked Sessions on Twitter. Sessions lost his primary.
Now Trump has turned on men who similarly sacrificed their careers for his. Three days ago, Trump’s loyalist Attorney General, William Barr, undercut Trump’s election fraud arguments when he said that he had not seen such fraud. This apparently so infuriated Trump that he is considering firing Barr. Then, this morning, Trump turned on loyalist Louis DeJoy at the head of the United States Postal Service, who removed mail sorting machines and changed USPS rules to slow mail-in ballots expected to be for Biden. Trump tweeted that the USPS “is responsible for tampering with hundreds of thousands of ballots” and thus stole the election from him. He called the USPS a “long time Democrat stronghold,” although DeJoy is a major Trump supporter and donor.
While Trump is talking about running again in 2024, his turning against his most loyal supporters in the Republican Party will not inspire others to rally to his banner. Instead, it may simply be that he’s keeping the idea of his candidacy alive because it keeps money flowing in. Since the election, he has raised more than $200 million in donations.
While he is fighting over the election results, Trump has done very little else except to replace civilian employees at the Pentagon with his own hand-picked loyalists. This is unusual in a lame duck period, when presidents usually try to smooth the transition to the next administration.
Far from trying to smooth that transition, Trump is making it as bumpy as possible. His appointee at the General Services Administration delayed the start of the transition for weeks. Now that Biden’s team finally has access to Trump’s people to learn about their planning for the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, it turns out there hasn’t been much planning. Biden today noted that “There is no detailed plan that we’ve seen, anyway, as to how you get the vaccine out of a container, into an injection syringe, into somebody’s arm…. It's going to be very difficult for that to be done and it’s a very expensive proposition…. There’s a lot more that has to be done.”
Also disturbing is that the Trump administration has denied the Biden team access to U.S. intelligence agencies that are controlled by the Defense Department, including the National Security Agency (which is the nation’s largest U.S. intelligence service), the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other intelligence services with a global reach. The Biden folks have, though, been able to meet with their counterparts at the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The refusal of the Pentagon to meet with Biden’s people comes at a time when Trump has been shaking up personnel there. Immediately after the election, Trump fired his fourth Defense Secretary, Mark T. Esper, and replaced him with an acting secretary of defense, Christopher C. Miller. Miller, in turn, has presided over the installation of a number of Trump loyalists both in the Pentagon leadership and on the Defense Policy Board, a group of advisors who consult with the Defense Secretary on specific issues when asked. Pushed out were about a dozen advisers, including former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger, as well as former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Today, there was another major purge at Defense, this time from the Defense Business Board, a nonpartisan group of about 20 volunteers from the business sector who are appointed to give business advice to Pentagon leaders. The White House threw nine people off the board—informing them with a terse email—including its chair, Michael Bayer. Trump replaced them with his former 2016 campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and that year’s deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, among other loyalists. Both Lewandowski and Bossie are outspoken Trump supporters who have led the fight to contest the election.
So has another Trump nominee for a Pentagon post, Scott O’Grady, who has endorsed the idea that Trump won by a landslide and that Trump should declare martial law. Trump has nominated him to become an assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, overseeing operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Exactly what Trump is doing with this packing of the Defense Department is unclear. There are, though, three major issues on the table right now that may or may not be involved, but are worth keeping in mind.
The first is that Trump is trying to remove many U.S. troops from around the world before he leaves office, and had gotten serious pushback on that from the people he has now purged from the Defense Department. Today, he ordered nearly all of about 700 U.S. troops out of Somalia, where they have been training local soldiers to hold ground against terrorists. They will not come home, though; they are being sent elsewhere in Africa.
There is also still hanging out there the administration’s sudden announcement of a $23 billion sale of arms to the United Arab Emirates, including a number of advanced F-35 fighter jets and Reaper drones. Lawmakers of both parties object to this sale, concerned about risks to Israel and that the UAE could transfer the technology to China and Russia. The Senate will vote next week on banning the sale.
There is also the effort by the White House to force the Pentagon to lease its airwave spectrum to a private company, Rivada Networks, to create a nationwide 5G network. Rivada is backed by major Republican figures, including operative Karl Rove, but established Pentagon officials have little interest in the project, pointing out that there is no proof that Rivada knows what it’s doing or that the plan would be legal. It’s also not clear that the use of this spectrum for private carriers wouldn’t impact its use for national security. The Defense Department spectrum the White House would like to lease to private investors is worth between $50 and $75 billion.
I always believe in following the money, and that’s especially true now as Trump’s years in the White House, which have given him access to huge sums, are drawing to a close.