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Op-Ed | The American Prospect | March 13, 2023

President Biden Should Get Rid of Trump Holdovers

De-TrumpificationEthics in GovernmentGovernance
<strong>President Biden Should Get Rid of Trump Holdovers</strong>

It’s been over 764 days since Donald Trump left the White House, yet his legacy still – even years into Biden’s own term – continues to pervade our highest echelons of government. 

Trump left behind dozens of high-level appointees who wield significant authority, shape policy and maintain the Trumpian status quo across the executive branch on issues ranging from federal financial policy to the criminal legal system to the activities of the national security apparatus. As we have long argued, any official who survived the Trump Administration’s ideological purity tests, wanton corruption, and unethical fealty practices that undermined our democratic institutions during the Trump era cannot be trusted to protect and uphold them now. 

This has never been clearer than in the last weeks and months, during which a slate of Trump holdovers either resigned or were fired for upholding the corruptive practices and legacies of their appointing officer.

Take, for example, the recently dismissed Architect of the Capitol J. Blake Blanton, who was found last fall to have grossly misused government vehicles, misrepresented himself as a police officer, and engaged in dereliction of duty as well as other misconduct. Biden finally fired Blanton this February, but he spent more than two years of Biden’s presidency on the public’s payroll while committing these malfeasances. 

Blanton is far from alone. Charles Rettig—Trump’s handpicked hack to head the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)—used the tax code to terrorize low-income earners with wildly disproportionate audits while shielding his friends from congressional oversight and his corporate allies from paying their fair share. His term expired in November of 2022, vesting him with the full authority of the tax code for nearly half of Biden’s first term. 

Or consider Dino Falaschetti, Trump’s appointee to direct the Office of Financial Research (OFR). There Falaschetti personally oversaw an utter decimation of that office’s functionality, including staffing cuts and a 73 percent decrease in productivity from 2016 – 2018 alone. While he resigned in February of 2022, he had more than a year of Biden’s term to continue to frustrate the functioning of an office created under 2010’s Dodd-Frank Act to help regulators understand looming financial crises (e.g., climate or crypto) before it is too late. 

One must wonder why Biden allowed these Trump stooges to stay for as long as they did while sabotaging Democratic priorities. Given Biden’s campaign promises to move the country away from the hyper-corrupt Trump era, he ought to have fired the lot on January 21, 2021. And even though the above officials have left, many still remain. They ought to be sacked forthwith.

The Remaining Trump Appointees

Sebastian Gorka is a Trump-era appointment to the National Security Education Board. He’s also affiliated with an anti-Semitic Hungarian nationalist organization with historical ties to Nazi Germany which maintains other associations with extremist anti-Muslim groups. While Gorka’s DNFSB holds little real power in matters of federal national security, no person with these credentials belongs on the public payroll or in any part of Biden’s federal government. 

Sticking on the theme of national security, FBI Director Chris Wray is another Trump holdover that has spent his time in office hyper-surveilling and targeting young Black activists and otherwise trying to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement. Wray has also overseen an uptick of the FBI’s targeting of abortion activists, reproductive rights organizers and animal rights activists. While apparently busy demonizing racial justice organizers and other left-leaning movements, Wray’s FBI utterly failed to take seriously the mountain of evidence warning of a far-right attack on the Capitol in 2021. Perhaps that’s in part the result of the extraordinary sympathy some FBI agents clearly have for white supremacists and far-right insurrectionists. Last but not least, under Wray’s leadership a counterintelligence chief took hundreds of thousands in cash, brazenly breaking the law to help a Russian oligarch evade sanctions. The January 6 failure alone proves he ought to be cashiered immediately.

Joseph Cuffari is yet another Trumpian nightmare in Biden’s national security sphere. Cuffari is the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) who has “at various times been accused of removing information from DHS OIG reports, failing to act on internal reports of widespread sexual harassment, and otherwise forcing Homeland’s internal watchdog into near dormancy.” Also during his time as Homeland’s head watchdog, Cuffari has essentially turned a blind eye to Secret Service agents’ destruction of documents related to January 6th, DHS officers’ kidnapping of a protester at a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers’ continuous violent abuse of migrants and DHS officers potentially illegal participation in Ron DeSantis’s cruel migrant trafficking schemes. Again, this kind of far-right ideologue should not be allowed anywhere near federal law enforcement authority.

Outside of national security, Louis DeJoy was Trump’s pick to head the United States Postal Service (USPS). While he’s unique on this list since President Biden cannot unilaterally remove him from his term prior to its expiration, the USPS board—which is now populated by Biden’s  nominees—could. Biden could have nominated officials to sit on this board who would replace DeJoy, given his active sabotage of the agency, destruction of USPS functionality, numerous conflicts of interest, suspicious donor history, and more. Thus far his nominees have done nothing, and DeJoy’s ruinous reign continues. To mitigate that series of bad choices, Biden could fire the entire Board for dereliction of duty, or he could fill upcoming vacancies with candidates who would actually serve the public’s best interest.

Replacements Should be Opposites

None of these figures should be in government at all, but they certainly should not be in Biden’s. Plain and simple, Biden should remove them. But, it doesn’t really matter if Biden replaces these people with nominees that, like their Trump-era predecessors, have corporate and corruptive self-interest littered across their resumes.

David Malpass, the famously errant chief economist at Bear Stearns up until its implosion in 2007, was Donald Trump’s pick to head the World Bank. He declared his resignation from that position last month following months of furor regarding his climate change denialism. It’s a positive development considering the World Bank boasts extraordinary resources that could “fight extreme poverty, [and] promote shared prosperity,” according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Yet, Biden didn’t use this opportunity to deliver on that promise. Instead, Biden nominated another financial sector hack—Ajay Banga—to the role. From private equity (General Atlantic and Temasek) to Mastercard to Citigroup to PepsiCo to Nestlé, Banga’s record is one of aiding the corporations (and their executives) that make their money through ruthless exploitation of the working class. He is utterly unfit to head such a powerful public institution, and Biden should retract his nomination immediately. 

Jerome Powell, similarly, was Trump’s pick to head the Federal Reserve. When his term was up in 2021, Biden inexplicably decided to renominate him. The public is paying the price for that renomination now. From the sweeping ethics scandals that happened under his tenure to his private equity background and ruthless attacks on labor, it was always clear that Powell was never going to be a champion of Biden’s economic agenda. Biden can’t remove Powell now, but he should never have nominated someone with such viscerally different values than his own – particularly given the years under Trump during which those divergences were very clear.

Any sensible president taking office after Donald Trump would clean the lingering rot and corruption out of the federal government. But even should Biden heed this wisdom, it will mean very little unless he commits himself to appointing genuine public servants to public positions of power. He’s the president. It’s up to him. 


De-TrumpificationEthics in GovernmentGovernance

More articles by Toni Aguilar Rosenthal

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