If there's one word to describe the post-impeachment chapter of Donald Trump's presidency, it's purge. Just two days removed from his acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate, Trump retaliated against those he has determined were disloyal to him because they complied with legal subpoenas related to the House's impeachment investigation.
On Friday, Trump recalled Gordon Sondland, his ambassador to the European Union, and removed Amry Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from his post on the National Security Council staff. Adding insult to injury, the commander in chief also ousted Vindman's twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, an Army officer who also worked on the NSC staff who was not a part of the impeachment proceedings.
The Friday night massacre could be just the opening act of Trump's revenge quest. The Washington Post, citing unnamed administration officials, reports that Trump may also remove Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, who shared the whistleblower report with Congress as required by law.
Enabling Trump's tyranny
As Republicans in Congress continue to enable Trump's tyrannical impulses, I'm reminded of how they once cast themselves as the defenders of whistleblowers and inspectors general.
In 2009, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, now the Senate Finance Committee chairman, teamed up with House Republicans to investigate the removal of an inspector general. Former Rep. Darrell Issa, then my boss, feared the action would have "a chilling effect on the efforts of inspectors general to investigate waste and wrongdoing by those politically connected to this president." He warned: "The appearance of cronyism stopping a serious investigation is deeply disturbing and will have significant consequences on future investigations."
In 2011, Republicans in the House introduced the bipartisan Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. "Whistleblowers play critical roles in exposing wrongdoing in government," Issa said back then. "Federal employees who discover waste, abuse and mismanagement in their agency need to be able to alert agency leaders and Congress without fear of reprisal from supervisors, and within the confines of the law." Interestingly enough, the bill specifically called to "increase avenues for intelligence community whistleblowers to safely and legally expose waste, fraud and abuse at intelligence agencies."
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Yet as Trump attempted his best "Saturday Night Massacre" reprise, Republicans adopted a very different tone than what we had heard from them during the Obama years.
Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York tweeted, "Vindman should not be inside the National Security Council any longer. It's not about retaliation. It's because he cannot be trusted." Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida said, "The president has the authority to remove these folks if he chooses to." Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky declared Vindman "a leaker, not a whistleblower." Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted that Sondland was a political appointee and added, "No point in having a political appointee who no longer has the president's confidence."
Republicans now fine with revenge
Let me be clear here. What Republicans are effectively saying is that it is OK to retaliate against career officials who respond to a lawful and legitimate congressional subpoena. That decisions about our national security should be rooted in settling political scores rather than what is in the best interests of our foreign policy and homeland security. That those within our federal bureaucracy who want to report waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement and outright wrongdoing will do so knowing that they will be punished for coming forward and will likely lose their jobs.
This is a complete betrayal of everything Republicans in Congress professed to stand for in the pre-Trump era. It is hypocrisy at its worst. Their collective effort to orphan oversight of the executive branch is an invitation to corruption and cronyism.
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As the GOP continues to try to use the levers of power to keep things hidden from the American people, House Democrats should unleash an oversight tsunami on the Trump administration that scrutinizes every decision and every action it has taken.
From how the president continues to profit from his office to sexual assault at Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention camps at the border, there is no shortage of areas ripe for congressional oversight. If we've learned anything from observing the Trump administration, it's that if there is a choice between doing the right thing or the wrong thing, it will almost certainly choose to do the wrong thing. Now, more than ever, we need the House of Representatives to function as guardians of our democracy: as a vehicle for transparency and government accountability.
In the weeks ahead, the president will continue his crusade to purge the federal government of truth tellers. The House Democratic majority could be the last, best hope of protecting our system of checks and balances.
Kurt Bardella, a former spokesperson and senior adviser for Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors and a "Morning Joe" contributor. He became a Democrat in 2017. Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump impeachment retaliation: House Democrats are last watchdog left