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Trump right to ax staffers who don’t back agenda, activist says

WASHINGTON — A conservative activist who works outside the White House said President Donald Trump is right to get rid of staffers who do not support his agenda and his presidency.

It’s not a “purge” of disloyal staffers, as news reports have suggested, so much as a cleaning house to make sure that Trump can advance his agenda without being undermined, an individual outside the administration who has been advising Trump told the Review-Journal.

When Trump won election in 2016, said the individual, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal, beltway conservatives submitted names for suitable candidates to serve in three key positions — chief of staff and head of personnel and communications operations. But “he never got the lists,” the source said.

“He would not have been impeached if he had done this,” said the individual.

Because those three gatekeepers were not installed, the administration did not follow “normal politics” by dismissing or moving key staff not on board with the president’s agenda early on, the source said.

“If you can’t stand what’s happening in the administration, then you resign,” said the individual.

Since Trump’s acquittal in the Senate, the White House has recalled U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, and had Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council staffer, and his twin brother and fellow NSC staffer Yevgeny Vindman, escorted out of the building. Both Sondland and Alexander Vindman provided testimony that preceded Trump’s impeachment.

“He thinks he has some right to be there,” said the source of Vindman. “He doesn’t.”

In a sign that Trump is putting an added premium on loyalty, the president also reassigned deputy National Security Adviser Victoria Coates to the Department of Energy, withdrew his nomination of former Department of Justice official Jessie Liu to a Treasury position and replaced his personnel chief Sean Doocey with former body man Johnny McEntee.

On Thursday, Axios reported that McEntee, 29, told Cabinet liaisons to identify and not promote political appointees who are anti-Trump. McEntee, a former assistant to Trump who was fired by the president’s second chief of staff, John Kelly, returned to the administration apparently to fight against leaks and negatives stories.

“These people serve at the pleasure of the president, plain and simple,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, nonresident senior fellow of the Brookings Institution. That said, she noted that all administrations conduct background checks and vet the political leanings of potential appointees, but “that should have been sorted out” before hiring, not years into staffers serving on the job.

Tenpas has tracked turnover in the Trump White House for Brookings and has documented a turnover rate of 82 percent on Trump’s “A team” as of last week — and 38 percent of those positions have experienced “serial turnover.”

Given Trump’s experience in the private sector, Tenpas would have expected him to follow the practice of major corporations that “go to great lengths to retain their talent.” To her surprise, Trump’s White House churn seems to have passed under his radar.

Earlier this month, Trump also announced that he would replace his acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, with a new acting DNI, Ambassador to Germany and fierce Trump defender Ric Grenell, who has not worked in intelligence.

Tenpas wondered whether intelligence professionals would respect someone who hasn’t served in the intelligence community. And she likened Trump’s decision to rely on acting directors for this and other agencies with a corporation staffing an office with “temps” or schools using substitute teachers.

In New Delhi on Tuesday, Trump said he had five possible candidates to fill Maguire’s job.

Trump also said Maguire was not pushed out because he was insufficiently loyal to him.

“No. Not at all. Not at all. He was pushed out because, frankly — he wasn’t pushed out. He would have had to get out. On March 11th, he would have had to leave,” Trump said in a reference to time limits placed on an acting DNI.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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