Bill Knight | Trump’s lame-duck tantrums



With 31 days in December and 20 days in January before the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States, many of us are holding our breath. It’s unclear how outgoing President Trump will react.

He could sigh with relief and retreat to his golf courses and wealth, or anticipate his lingering influence with the GOP and consider running in 2024, or embrace some sore-loser strategy.

As this is written, Trump has fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the White House is blocking Biden’s transition team access to designated offices and briefing books, and intelligence officials are concerned the outgoing Commander-in-Chief will reveal classified information.

“Anyone who is disgruntled, dissatisfied or aggrieved is a risk of disclosing classified information,” according to David Priess, former CIA officer and author of “The President’s Book of Secrets,” speaking to the Washington Post. “Trump certainly fits that profile.”

If recent weeks are any indication, Trump could purge the government of others he deems “disloyal,” and damage the structure of the federal government, breaking faith with decades of peaceful transfers of leaderships.

He could fire high-profile and lesser-known officials, as he’s hinted; he’s already paved the way to eliminate tens of thousands of federal employees.

Meanwhile, of course, Trump dispatched attorneys to file lawsuits in Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and he seeks recounts and threatens not just challenges in court but disorder in the streets – never mind that Biden’s popular vote was 4.2 million more than Trump’s.

As for those people Trump regards as insufficiently loyal to him personally and at risk of discharge – throwing a wrench into a smooth transition, at least temporarily – are Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert for 36 years, plus FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and others. (Technically, Fauci can’t be fired without the approval of National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, who’s said he wouldn’t fire him, so Collins may be targeted, too.)

Politically motivated purges could affect more than 100,000 federal workers, too.

Two weeks before Election Day, Trump signed an Executive Order creating a new classification within the Civil Service that gives him the power to fire anyone – scientists and economists, medical experts and lawyers, policymakers and regulators working in all areas of government from foreign policy to infrastructure.

Since 1883, the competitive Civil Service has been a protection against blatant patronage, political rewards to those willing to fall in line. Trump’s directive – which sounds like something out of a totalitarian regime or tinpot dictatorship – unilaterally changes the law and opens the possibility of mass firings without cause.

Of course, the real cause would be competent and independent-minded professionals who report that climate change is real, that mask-wearing is an effective way to protect people from the pandemic, and that some White House claims are hogwash, whether it’s Trump taking credit for an economy that he inherited or his insistence that hurricane Dorian threatened Alabama.

It would be more bullying and bluster over ethics and evidence.

But if Trump does decide to try to cripple a new Biden administration in its early going, it will mostly be another example of his petty vindictiveness, if not instability.

Further, Biden can deal with it. The week of the election Biden was finalizing a transition team and meeting with experts to set up a new pandemic task force, so though the new administration may not get cooperation, they probably won’t expect it anyway.

Within days of Biden’s inauguration, it’s anticipated he’ll issue his own Executive Orders overriding Trump’s attacks on Muslims, immigrants and other missteps, rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and the World Health Organization – and rehire any casualties of any purge.

A little sanity would let many people breathe easier.

Libel suit against LaHood, Schock and Peoria GOP unresolved

The saga of Dick Burns’ six-year-old libel suit against U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood and former Congressman Aaron Schock may be headed back to court.

Burns and his attorney, Christopher Ryan, on Nov. 17 filed a motion to rescind a preliminary settlement reached in mid-September and schedule a trial “at the earliest date convenient.”

The parties had verbally agreed to an unspecified settlement, to negotiate its terms, and to cancelling a bench trial scheduled Sept. 21.

“Since that time, although there has been progress towards finalizing the terms of the settlement between the parties, the defendants have failed to complete the terms in a timely fashion and have repeatedly ignored deadlines agreed to between the parties as to when final settlement language would be agreed to,” Ryan said in the motion.
“Repeated messages have either gone unanswered or resulted in promises to finalize the settlement –– to no avail,” he added.

The lawsuit alleges that a letter signed by LaHood and Schock and sent to households in Peoria County Board District 16 the week before the 2014 election defamed Burns’ reputation and business by accusing him of wrongdoing. Burns, a Democrat, was then running against Republican Brad Harding.


The November print edition of Bill Knight’s column had a subhead stating “Court orders retraction letter and possible cash settlement in libel suit against GOP” in the case filed by Dick Burns against Darin LaHood and Aaron Schock. The court ordered a settlement but did not specify the terms. The column stated “The parties are still negotiating the language of the retraction letter which is expected to be mailed to the recipients who got the original letter, and a cash settlement may be part of the resolution.”

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