We Might Be About To Find Out Who Was On Trump’s Second-Term Purge List—Even If He Loses

FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee July 12, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. If confirmed, Wray will fill the position that has been left behind by former director James Comey who was fired by President Donald Trump about two months ago.
FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee July 12, 2017 on Capitol Hill. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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It now seems possible that, win or lose the election, President Trump is thinking about firing a number of top officials who have long been within his crosshairs. There have been murmuring for several weeks about who Trump might replace if he wins a second term. But as the odds that former Vice President Joe Biden will win the election steadily increase, some of that chatter has only gotten louder.

Earlier Thursday, NBC News reported that Secretary of Defense Mark Esper — a top name on the list of people Trump reportedly wants to ax — had already drafted a resignation letter. (The Pentagon denies the report.) Hours later, Politico followed up with a report that — in a bid to look as “presidential” while he tries to stave off defeat — Trump is plotting to fire some Cabinet officials, including potentially Esper or FBI Director Chris Wray.

Here are some of the people who were reportedly on Trump’s second term purge list:

FBI Director Chris Wray: Trump’s FBI Director, per the Daily Beast, is likely to be one of the first heads on the President’s chopping block. Among Wray’s sins against the President are his refusal to endorse Trump’s bogus claims about voter fraud as well as Wray’s willingness to acknowledge the reality that far-right white nationalist-motivated violence is a national security threat to the country. In some ways, it’s remarkable that Wray — who was named to the post in June 2017 as the permanent replacement to James Comey — has lasted this long. His FBI has not backed away from investigations into Trump allies and, from what we can tell publicly, he’s also mostly resisted pressure from Trump to go after his enemies. 

CIA Director Gina Haspel: Trump’s reported disdain for Haspel has percolated somewhat under the radar, but according to Axios, the President is fed up with the way Haspel has stood in the way of his plots to politicize U.S. intelligence. A longtime intelligence officer before her ascent up CIA hierarchy, Haspel’s controversial involvement with so-called black sites didn’t win her many supporters among Democrats, even as the career CIA rank and file breathed a sigh of relief when Trump named her to the current post. If she’s pushed out, expect Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe to up the ante on his game of declassifying sensitive documents to further the President’s crusade against the “Deep State.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alexander Azar: Azar had made powerful enemies within the administration even before the White House’s bungling of the COVID-19 response became a political thorn in Trump’s side. The way Azar has sought to shift away blame for mismanagement of the pandemic has made his tenuous position within the Cabinet even more so. His leadership atop HHS has been dogged by a longstanding rivalry with Seema Verma, the administrator of HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services who benefits from close ties with Vice President Pence.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper: Earlier this year, Esper did the unthinkable: he signaled some discomfort with the fact that he was used as a political prop for a disastrous Trump photo shoot in front of a church that had been violently cleared of peaceful protestors. That and the former Raytheon’s lobbyist’s public opposition to invoking the Insurrection Act to clamp down on civil unrest has made Esper — or Mr. Yesper, as Trump derisively called him — a dead man walking, the New York Times reported last month. A curious op-ed in a defense industry rag praising Esper’s tenure was widely seen as a job application for Esper’s next private sector gig once he’s inevitably ousted from the government.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos: A DeVos departure from the administration will likely lack the fireworks that would accompany the firing of any of the other top officials who have wound up in the President’s crosshairs. But privately, according to Politico, she and the President have never really clicked, so she might not last long if Trump goes on the warpath.

Attorney General Bill Barr: Sometimes too much is just not enough. From his preemptive spin of special counselor Robert Mueller’s report to how he’s allowed the Justice Department to carry out a political agenda designed to boost Trump’s reelection, it’s hard to imagine a more loyal warrior than the attorney general. But Barr’s failure to deliver before-the-election indictments of Trump’s political opponents, as well as to publicize findings from the Barr-ordered review of the Russia investigation, has put Trump’s third attorney general on thin ice. It’s never a good sign when the President is complaining about you to conservative media.

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