Donald Trump now has an Attorney-General he is thrilled with – especially in comparison to previous officeholder Jeff Sessions. William Barr appears prepared to do the President’s bidding, no matter how unsavoury. He’s even ready to go after those who investigated the President on Russian collusion. A retaliatory witch hunt, you might call it.
Mr. Trump also fired Kirstjen Nielsen, the head of Homeland Security, this week. He found her too soft on immigration issues. He’s undertaken a purge of top officials at the department, and is replacing them with those who favour crueller and more inhumane border policies.
Mr. Trump named Mick Mulvaney, a former Tea Party trench warrior, as his acting chief of staff in January. He’s more comfortable with Mr. Mulvaney than his predecessor in the role, John Kelly, who occasionally challenged him. Mr. Mulvaney doesn’t do that.
Mr. Trump also now has a hardliner in John Bolton as national security adviser, who replaced the moderate H.R. McMaster; a hardliner leading the State Department in Mike Pompeo, who replaced softie Rex Tillerson; and a right-sider in Larry Kudlow as his top economic adviser, who replaced moderate Gary Cohn.
The new team of red-meat eaters, loyalists all, are not ones to put the brakes on this President. If Mr. Trump was headstrong and rash before, be prepared for worse to come. There will only be a tightening of the screws from here to election day.
For evidence, we need only look to the government’s actions of this past week.
At the behest of Mr. Barr’s department, WikiLeaks maestro Julian Assange was arrested in London on a charge of conspiring to hack into a computer in 2010. More charges, according to CNN, could involve Mr. Assange’s role in the 2016 election. In the days before, came Mr. Barr’s explosive testimony on Capitol Hill. He went so far as to allege – without offering evidence – that U.S. intelligence agents spied on the Trump campaign, and said he is launching a review of the whole matter. It’s what Mr. Trump has wanted all along. In addition to the security apparatus, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are also in the sights of Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Mr. Barr of “going off the rails.” His moves are intriguingly timed, too, coming before the release of the Mueller report, expected next week. Mr. Barr has already given the President a boost by framing the findings in a mild manner in a four-page summary, the tone of which reportedly angered Mueller probers.
As for the Assange arrest, how that fits into what Mr. Trump is doing has everyone scratching their heads. Mr. Assange’s defenders say it was an attack on press freedom. That would certainly align with Mr. Trump’s purposes, but after the arrest, the President said “I know nothing about WikiLeaks.” It’s an odd statement to make, since during the 2016 campaign, in which WikiLeaks published hacked e-mails damaging to Ms. Clinton, Mr. Trump praised the organization dozens of times.
He’s increasingly focused on national-security issues even though politically he’d have a much easier time of it if he kept the focus on his high-performance economy.
In dealing with the immigration crisis, which saw about 100,000 unauthorized immigrants reach the border in the past month alone − twice the number of the previous March − the President appears to be increasingly under the influence of cold-blooded adviser Stephen Miller, who has been accused of being a white supremacist, and has certainly come across as something close to it. Democrats − who have been inept themselves at coming up with an effective immigration policy − have looked askance at the fact that Ms. Nielsen lost her job for not being tough enough. She was, after all, the one who implemented the family separation policies.
With Mr. Miller pushing him, there’s no telling what extremes Mr. Trump will now go to in order to get his way at the border.
A milder step this week – but one that said a lot – saw the White House extending its nationalist impulses all the way to the realm of sports. It terminated an Obama-era deal allowing Cuban baseball players to sign contracts directly with Major League Baseball organizations, a decision that will result in Cuban players having to illicitly find their way to play in the United States.
Mr. Pompeo framed the decision as a way of playing hardball with Cuba for its support of Venezuela.
It’s hardball, all right. But like so many of the actions and plans of this revamped Trump team, it’s narrow-minded. It’s hardball that appeals only to the hardheaded.