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Trump's long game: Discredit intelligence community to justify replacing them with "his own people"

In his continuing campaign of denialism about Russian interference in the election, Donald Trump again took to Twitter to mendaciously obfuscate, smearing U.S. intelligence officials while praising WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In the short-term, as my colleague Tommy Christopher detailed, Trump is laying the groundwork for “pushback against the inevitable revelation that the intelligence community’s […]

By Melissa McEwan - January 04, 2017
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Donald Trump

In his continuing campaign of denialism about Russian interference in the election, Donald Trump again took to Twitter to mendaciously obfuscate, smearing U.S. intelligence officials while praising WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

In the short-term, as my colleague Tommy Christopher detailed, Trump is laying the groundwork for “pushback against the inevitable revelation that the intelligence community’s conclusions about Russia’s role in securing Trump’s Electoral College victory still stand — at which point his only refuge will be continued denial, deployed into an environment where he has cast doubt on the assessments.”

It is also part and parcel of a long-term strategy, which was revealed by Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway in a casual aside during an interview in December: “He absolutely respects the intelligence community. He’s made very clear he’s going to put his own people in there as well.”

As I noted at the time: “Trump’s plan is simply to replace the intelligence community with yes-men. That is fundamentally incompatible with the role the intelligence community is meant to play.”

Trump has made it abundantly clear that he is not interested in what the U.S. intelligence community has to say, if they are not telling him what he wants to hear. It is an incredibly alarming position for a president to take — so radical in its departure from accepted norms that even Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham are pushing back.

Which means that even Trump, with his infamous disregard for the optics of his disruptive hostility for established democratic practices, cannot simply upend the intelligence community in one fell swoop.

So he is carefully, diligently laying the groundwork for the upheaval Conway promised, by trying to discredit the intelligence community at every opportunity — whether by publicly disbelieving their assessments, recounting old failures, intimating chronic unprofessionalism, or signaling deeper trust in a character like Assange.

Case in point:

This does not start and end with Russian interference in the election: It is one play in a long game that ends with Trump turning the intelligence community into an extension of the White House — which itself is part of a comprehensive strategy to erode public trust in every institution, to wholly eradicate checks and balances on his power.

He has waged similar discrediting campaigns against military leadership, against career bureaucrats, against the press, and against the integrity of our elections. The objective is clear: The decimation of public trust.

That is a strategy of authoritarian leaders throughout history, who then proffer themselves as saviors from the very chaos they created.

We cannot allow this to happen. It is neither hyperbole nor overstatement to say that our very democracy is at stake.


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