Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He denied that his administration was considering organizing a private army of spies to fight his political enemies... then began walking back the denial.

This morning, The Intercept reported a seemingly preposterous story: that Trump was entertaining a pitch by Erik Prince to develop a "global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies... as a means of countering 'deep state' enemies." The network would be paid for by private donors. Prince is the CEO of the mercenary outfit formerly known as Blackwater, and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. He is also the person who set up a secret backchannel between Trump and representatives of the Putin regime before Trump took office. And in a bizarre but poetic touch, the plans supposedly involved contributions from Oliver North, who certainly has experience operating outside the laws of the United States on the secret orders of a president.

Individual elements of the story made a kind of sense. Trump literally compared the US intelligence community to Nazis during his presidential transition, and the relationship hasn't gotten much better since. And during his days as a private citizen, Trump's fondness for hiring platoons of private investigators (and dabbling in amateur surveillance himself) was well established. But at bottom, the story as reported would have a public official being given a private army to deploy against his own government, something that would be cartoonish even by the standards of the Trump administration.

Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration categorically rejected it: "“The White House does not and would not support such a proposal,” said a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

But today, during a press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders dialed back the rejection to what amounts to a "no comment:"
MS. SANDERS: I'm not aware of any plans for something of that definition or anything similar to that at this time.

Q The President would be opposed to that?

MS. SANDERS: I haven’t had that conversation with him.
And shortly after that, a Trump administration official admitted on background that the plan existed and had been discussed.

Why is this a problem?

  • A president who doesn't have faith in his own government cannot fulfill the duties of his office.
  • It's bad if anyone, much less a president, tries to subvert the government of the United States.
  • Surrounding yourself with a personal guard loyal only to you is what authoritarians do.