Among today's continuing IV drip of awful or disconcerting news to come out of the incoming Donald Trump presidency is this bizarre little item: Trump has ordered the head of the Washington, DC National Guard to step down in the middle of the inauguration ceremony next Friday. Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz will be removed from his post as of 12:01pm on January 20th, just seconds after Trump takes the oath of office but before his duties end with respect to security for the event. In other words, he'll see to it that Guard troops are placed where they need to be in the morning but he'll be gone before the parade and long gone by the time those troops return to the armory.
None of this makes a lick of sense, but it fits neatly into what appears to be a prompt purge of anyone the president has power to appoint, meaning that Trump is ridding himself of Obama appointees wherever he can so that he can put in people he chooses. This is standard operating procedure to some extent, given that most incoming presidents clean house, but they don't tend to do it the second they get into office. They don't do it while those people are still attending to their immediate duties. There's usually respect and courtesy involved, which is why it's also somewhat unprecedented that Trump has ordered all politically appointed diplomats to leave their posts worldwide by Inauguration Day. Their kids can't finish out the school year. They can't finish up whatever open business may still be on their desks. Just -- get out.
What's ominous about all of this is that from everything we know about Trump, and certainly about his chief of staff and most powerful adviser, Steve Bannon -- publisher of the white nationalist fanzine Breitbart -- the replacements for all of these positions will be chosen not based on their abilities but largely on their loyalty to Trump. This is how an authoritarian governs: he surrounds himself with those who'll buttress his regime and who either agrees with his viewpoint outright or at the very least won't give him any problems. With that in mind, there's a pretty good chance that in the coming weeks we'll see the upper echelons of America's intelligence community gutted, with any "troublemakers" -- anyone likely to further investigate Trump's Russian ties, conflicts of interest, etc. -- purged in favor of friendlier faces. This matters hugely because not only is Trump relentlessly corrupt but he enters office with several scandals -- including one major one -- already swirling around him.
Our publisher here at the Banter, Ben Cohen, posted a piece not long ago touching on why there's far more meat to the story of the intel dossier on Donald Trump, presented to him last week and which went public in spectacular fashion earlier this week, than he'd like you to believe. When the details of the file went public thanks to Buzzfeed's admittedly questionable decision to dump the entire thing online, it of course spurred Trump to immediately scream about "fake news" and call the website a "failing pile of garbage." That was his only response because, as his former opponent knows so well, it's incredibly hard to prove that an outrageous allegation isn't true and theoretically the burden of proof is supposed to be firmly on the person making the allegation anyway (despite what a million idiots on the internet seem to think). But Trump wasn't able to easily swat away the accusations contained in the dossier and there's a good reason for that: the information contained within it is credible, at least that's what our intelligence services seem to think.
What Trump and his mouthpieces have been trying to do since the release of the intel report is use both its explosive nature and Buzzfeed's controversial choice to publish it as a means of distraction and a way to dismiss it outright. The details of it are so salacious that journalists almost feel as if they're debasing themselves by chasing it down and the furor over the ethics of the document dump allows for Trump to use his own indignation against any potential investigation by a mainstream outlet. He knows how to scare off journalists and that's exactly what he's trying to do. But here's the thing: It can't be allowed to work. Regardless of whether Buzzfeed was right or wrong or the nature of one small angle of this story -- "Golden Shower-gate" -- every major mainstream news outlet in this country should be throwing time, manpower and resources at trying to prove or disprove the dossier. Period. End of story.
Trump hopes that by waving his arms wide at his sides and threatening lawsuits that he'll keep responsible news operations from looking into this file. But if you're one of those responsible news operations, know that Donald Trump isn't your goddamn managing editor or news director and the mere fact that he's as angry about this as he is should let you know that there's probably something more to this thing than he wants you to think. The BBC, an outstanding news outlet by any measure, is already claiming that a second source backs up the contents of the dossier and the man who put it together, MI6 agent Christopher Steele, is apparently a real-life James Bond. He's someone U.S. intelligence has worked with before, someone with deep contacts within Russia, and someone highly trusted within the intel community. He's reportedly not the kind of person to go off half-cocked and begin making wild accusations.
Now, is it possible the information contained in the dossier is nonsense? Sure. Which is exactly why news organizations shouldn't be waiting around for new details on it to trickle out and should instead be investigating on their own. It's almost a guarantee that Trump will, again, at least try to stack our intelligence services with friendlies once he takes office, so it's up to independent outlets to work the story and try to get to the bottom of what Russia has -- or doesn't have -- on Trump that it can use to compromise him. Trump has been traveling to Russia for years and it's admittedly hard to imagine that a man of his depravity and lack of discretion in pursuing various indulgences hasn't given Vladimir Putin reams of kompromat. And that's exactly what this story is about. It's not about Trump liking it when prostitutes piss for him. It's about Putin potentially having proof of this that he can use to make Trump do what he wants.
The dossier needs to be proved or disproved. The future of the country depends on it.
Certainly, after everything we've seen over the past several months, after so many examples of Trump's suspiciously ingratiating behavior toward Russia and Putin, there would be at least some cause for taking this intel seriously. That's even if it wasn't compiled by a trustworthy source. But again, Trump wants journalists to dismiss the whole thing out of hand. They shouldn't. The potential story here is too important to be spineless about.