WASHINGTON – President Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien has hit the road in recent weeks – not touring war zones, but promoting Mr. Trump’s record in the Swing states.
Mr O’Brien bragged about Mr Trump’s job-creating push at a shipyard in Kittery, Maine. He spoke at Drake University in Iowa, calling the world a more peaceful and prosperous “because of the president’s policies.” And he visited a manufacturing plant and shipyard in Wisconsin, telling a local radio host that Mr. Trump is a “peacemaker” but reporters “won’t give him much credit.”
In the days and weeks leading up to Election Day, Mr. Trump used every tool at his disposal to win another four years in the Oval Office in a back-to-back election that is likely to help determine the boundaries of a president’s ability to bend the government. to his whims.
While the National Security Advisor is a traditionally non-partisan job, Mr. O’Brien has been part of a sustained effort by the President, members of his cabinet and key aides to use the incumbent’s powers in a manner which goes far beyond its predecessors, harnessing the levers of governmental power and the authority of Mr. Trump’s office to help him stay there.
Department of Homeland Security officials last month gathered reporters, cameramen and photographers in Pennsylvania and Minnesota to highlight the president’s immigration policies, even though the routine arrests they announced took place in various states. The agency paid for disturbing billboards in Pennsylvania, a state crucial to Mr. Trump’s re-election, depicting wanted immigrants charged with violent crimes.
On October 15, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participated in five telephone interviews with broadcasters, including four in the swing states of Florida, Georgia, Arizona and Michigan.
The Office of Special Counsel has opened two investigations into whether Mr. Pompeo campaigned illegally for Mr. Trump. One centers on a speech Mr. Pompeo made at the Republican National Convention on a diplomatic trip to Jerusalem, and another on his statement that the State Department may issue new emails from the old one. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ahead of the election.
“We have the emails,” Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News, a day after Mr. Trump expressed his impatience with the secretary’s inaction. “We take them out. We are going to release all of this information so that the Americans can see it.
The use of government resources to aid the president’s political fortunes is taking place in a bitterly polarized country, and Mr. Trump and his aides’ assertion of raw political power has drawn sharp criticism from Democrats and politicians alike. ethics experts.
“There’s a reason Secretaries of State and National Security Advisers don’t campaign,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. “It’s really important for a handful of national security figures to stay above the partisan melee, and when they become just another partisan actor, it robs them of some of their credibility.
Other presidents have embraced the benefits of office to their advantage. But no other modern president of either party has so brazenly directed government action to its own benefit through so many agencies and departments.
In the months leading up to election day, the Justice Department represented Mr. Trump in a libel suit brought by a woman who accused him of rape. Its intelligence chiefs declassified documents essential to the president’s campaign rhetoric. The Treasury Department’s coronavirus assistance checks to taxpayers were prominently featured on Mr. Trump’s signature, and boxes of food for the poor included a letter from the president. Mr Trump has offered, though never delivered, a $ 200 discounted drug prescription card for the elderly – a gift programmed to arrive in the middle of the vote.
Mr Trump and his aides have urged scientists to approve treatments and vaccines ahead of the election. Attorney General William P. Barr has attacked Democrat-run towns and intervened in voting cases to benefit Mr. Trump’s campaign. The president has practically turned the Department of Homeland Security into an engine of his campaign, confronting protesters in cities even against the wishes of governors and mayors.
And members of the president’s cabinet have scattered across the country, seemingly conducting official business, but doing so in places undeniably critical to the president’s personal political fortunes. In late September, Mr. Pompeo gave an official speech in – of all places – the Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin, a critical state Mr. Trump narrowly won in 2016.
“The presence of Robert O’Brien on the electoral track, or pseudo electoral track, is further proof of the irregularity of the Trump administration and of the president’s bad situation in Washington and in the countryside,” said John Gans , the author of “White House Warriors: How the National Security Council Transformed the American Way of War.”
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump’s White House rival, bluntly condemned the president’s use of government for political purposes, and described the Department of Justice under the leadership of Mr. Barr, a fierce ally of Trump, as essentially corrupt.
“Trump’s department,” Biden said.
This name could also apply to the Department of Homeland Security.
On the final night of the Republican convention, it was hard to miss the display of the Trump-Pence campaign logo on the Jumbotron screens flanking both sides of the White House. But inside, the president and his acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf held an official naturalization ceremony for half a dozen new Americans – a solemn occasion turned into a campaign stunt and broadcast to millions. people under Mr. Trump’s policy. convention.
After Mr. Wolf and Mark Morgan, the acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, hosted an event in the shadow of Mr. Trump’s border wall last week to celebrate the near completion of 400 miles of the project and criticizing the policies adopted by the Democrats, the American Oversight, the nonprofit government watchdog, asked the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security to investigate whether senior management had violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity on the job.
Last summer, when Mr. Trump focused his re-election campaign on protesters damaging statues and monuments during a speech at Mount Rushmore, the Department of Homeland Security was also there to help.
That same weekend, Mr. Wolf announced a new task force to protect “historic monuments, memorials, statues and federal facilities” which used tactical agents from various agencies. Some of those officers, particularly from Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs, were later deployed to Portland, Oregon, and suddenly became the focus of the president’s re-election campaign.
Following the deployment of the Department of Homeland Security’s tactical teams, the Trump campaign highlighted images of camouflaged agents clashing with protesters as they portrayed Democrat-ruled cities as places of crime and chaos.
Mr Wolf also delayed the release of an intelligence bulletin warning that the Russians were specifically targeting Mr Trump’s adversary Mr Biden by denigrating his sanity.
Mr Wolf said the quality of the product needs to be improved.
But in a whistleblower complaint filed with the House Intelligence Committee, Brian Murphy, the former head of the Homeland Security Intelligence branch, said Mr. Wolf blocked the newsletter from being released because the briefing “gave a bad image. Of the president”.
Within DHS, some career leaders have tried to slow down or stop what they call overly political efforts by the president and his allies. In April 2019, when key Trump aides pressured immigration agencies to release migrants arrested in so-called sanctuary towns represented by Democratic lawmakers, homeland security lawyers and even a senior ICE official Matthew T. Abence objected, saying there would be liability issues if a migrant was injured during transport.
Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the department’s acting deputy secretary, dismissed concerns about the agency during a press briefing on Monday.
“We don’t stop doing our job because there are upcoming or ongoing elections,” Cuccinelli said. “I don’t apologize for being here. It’s part of my job.
While Mr. Trump has been accused of politicizing Mr. Cuccinelli’s department from the early days of the administration, intelligence agencies have mostly been spared. But this year, the president installed a pair of political allies as director of national intelligence, who quickly moved to declassify and release information to benefit Mr. Trump.
The president first made Richard Grenell, then Ambassador to Germany, the acting director of national intelligence. He was then replaced by John Ratcliffe, a Republican congressman who was confirmed by the Senate to take the post permanently.
Mr Ratcliffe continued Mr Grenell’s efforts to declassify documents that raised questions about the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Republicans had claimed that the documents supported Mr. Trump during the election campaign that his predecessor had spied on him.
Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, condemned the actions of the administration’s national security team to revive Mr. Trump’s campaign.
He said the White House “has bent the national security adviser to mislead the country, appointed a director of national intelligence who is willing to do the same and installed an attorney general who has no qualms about deceive the public in any way the president. wishes.”
But as the elections approach, the president’s main aides show no sign of slacking off. Last week, Mr. O’Brien attended a roundtable discussion on the mining industry in Hermantown, Minnesota, hosted by a Republican congressman.
In a statement, John Ullyot, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said Mr. O’Brien had visited Minnesota to focus on “protecting the mining industry and supply chains for for national security reasons ”and traveled to Wisconsin to highlight the role of defense manufacturers.
“The important work of protecting our national security continues regardless of national political events,” he added.
Mr. Ullyot did not identify any non-swing states that Mr. O’Brien had visited in recent weeks.
Julian Barnes contributed reporting.