Administration will "take appropriate action" when officials find workers not sufficiently loyal to Trump, spokesman says.
The White House this week confirmed it is combing through federal agencies to identify employees not sufficiently loyal to President Trump to facilitate their ouster, sparking concerns the administration could run afoul of long-established civil service laws.
The administration is examining employees throughout the government to find anyone taking action officials decide represents an effort to undermine Trump, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox News Monday. Gidley did not specifically mention career employees, who are statutorily protected against political retaliation, but did note the “millions” of individuals agencies employ. By contrast, there are only about 4,000 political appointees in government.
“It’s not a secret that we want people in positions that work with this president, not against him, and too often we have people in this government—I mean the federal government is massive, with millions of people—and there are a lot people out there taking action against this president and when we find them we will take appropriate action,” Gidley said.
His comments followed reports in Axios that the administration maintains “deep state” hit lists of employees to fire and the president has tasked the head of the Presidential Personnel Office, Johnny McEntee, to purge “bad people” who are not loyal to him. The latter report mentioned only political appointees, who serve at the pleasure of the president and can be dismissed at will, but Gidley’s comments this week appeared to go further.
“Time and time again we see in the media reports from people in the bowels of the federal government working against this president,” he said.
Gidley added that unelected federal workers were pushing “their own selfish political agenda” rather than advancing and executing Trump’s.
“The president's been pretty clear about the fact he wants people in this administration who want to forward his agenda,” Gidley said. “Donald Trump was the only one elected. He was the only one that the American people voted for. They didn't vote for someone at any of these other agencies, any of these other departments."
He added he had not seen specific lists of employees, but the White House knew there “are people actively working against this president.”
The latest comments do not mark the first time the Trump administration has stretched the limits of what is allowable under civil service protections. The number of federal employees proving their agencies took prohibited personnel practices against them reached an all-time high in Trump’s first year in office, according to the Office of Special Counsel. The State Department’s inspector general released two reports this year finding that the department illegally engaged in the political targeting of career employees. Federal law prohibits agencies from discriminating against any employee on the basis of political affiliation, or for any federal official to “coerce any applicant or employee to engage in political activity, or to retaliate against such individuals based on partisan politics.”
Trump has railed against the intelligence community whistleblower who brought a complaint about the president’s call with the president of Ukraine that ultimately led to his impeachment, as well as many of the career and political employees who testified in the ensuing hearings.
During a trip abroad to India on Tuesday, Trump acknowledged the hit lists but downplayed their significance.
“I don't think it's a big problem. I don't think it's very many people,” he said, adding he wants workers who are “loyal to our country.”
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