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Donald Trump Is Still a Danger to Our National Security

John Bellinger
Sunday, January 10, 2021, 1:04 PM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
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In December 2015, I wrote a post for Lawfare entitled “Donald Trump Is a Danger to Our National Security,” in which I argued that Trump not only lacked “the qualifications to be president, he is actually endangering our national security right now by his hate-filled and divisive rhetoric.” I concluded “Donald Trump not only would be a dangerous president, he is making us less safe as a candidate.” At the time, I may have been the first national security official to write publicly that Trump was and would be a threat to the United States. Tragically, more than five years later, Trump is still a danger to our national security.

Eight months after my Lawfare post, in August 2016, I joined with 49 other former Republican administration national security officials to issue a statement arguing that “Trump would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” We said: “Mr. Trump lacks the character, values, and experience to be President.  He weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world.  He appears to lack basic knowledge about and belief in the U.S. Constitution, U.S. laws, and U.S. institutions, including religious tolerance, freedom of the press, and an independent judiciary.” We concluded that if Trump were elected, “he would be the most reckless President in American history.”  My former colleague Bob Blackwill persuaded me to add the statement that Trump’s erratic behavior, impetuousness and lack of self-control were “dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander-in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.” At the time, I resisted this statement, which I thought was melodramatic. I could not imagine that any president would brag about the size of his “nuclear button.”

In fact, Trump’s presidency was even worse than many of us had feared, both  from a domestic and national security perspective. To the delight of his authoritarian soul mate Vladimir Putin, Trump devoted four years to destroying the social fabric of the United States, fomenting division along political, religious, and geographic lines, and undermining trust in governmental institutions and the press. It should have been abundantly clear from early in his presidency that he would incite his supporters to riot and mayhem.  At a discussion sponsored by the Atlantic magazine and the French Embassy in May 2017 on the rise of populism, I publicly expressed grave concern that Trump would encourage his supporters to come to Washington and engage in violent acts against the government if he were required to leave office.  I am sure that the other participants thought I was suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome at the time. In a subsequent exchange with Steve Clemons, who had moderated the discussion, in which I apologized if I sounded alarmist, Clemons responded, “What you sketched out is not fearmongering but rather what I fear will really happen.  I think there is a thuggishness brewing in America that Trump is calling forward.  These are very bad times, and I do fear that violence could be part of the equation.” 

Concerned that our democracy could not withstand four more years of a Trump presidency, in August 2020, an even larger group of former national security officials who had served in Republican administrations paid for full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal and numerous regional newspapers arguing that Trump should not be reelected and that we would vote for Joe Biden. Listing 10 reasons how Trump had failed as president, we said that he had “demonstrated that he lacks the character and competence to lead this nation and has engaged in corrupt behavior that renders him unfit to serve as President.” Ken Wainstein (who organized the statement with me) and I were heartened that so many former senior officials joined the statement condemning Trump’s actions and were willing to place country over party.  I was especially pleased that two of my own former bosses—former Senator and Secretary of the Navy John Warner and former FBI and CIA Director Bill Webster—both of whom I admire greatly, joined the statement, as did Chuck Hagel, Mike Hayden, John Negroponte, Rich Armitage and many others. All of us were dismayed, however, that the vast majority of elected Republican members of Congress remained silent in the face of Trump’s assault on the federal government and our democracy.

With 10 more days left in his presidency, Donald Trump remains a clear and very present danger to our national security.  It’s regrettable that the vice president and the Cabinet will apparently refuse to act under the 25th Amendment to remove him from office, although I acknowledge that the issue is legally complicated. It would certainly be appropriate for the House of Representatives to impeach him for high crimes and misdemeanors, although this step would unfortunately saddle the incoming Senate with a trial of a departed president. The Senate’s time would be better spent confirming President-elect Biden’s national security team. Although it would be a much lesser punishment than Trump deserves, the House should also pass a strong resolution of censure, which the Senate should be asked to endorse before Trump leaves office. All Republicans in the House and the Senate should be required to vote for or against a censure of the president for his role in inciting a violent assault on our government. In the meantime, senior White House and senior agency officials have a responsibility to ensure that Trump takes no further executive actions to endanger our national security.

John B. Bellinger III is a partner in the international and national security law practices at Arnold & Porter in Washington, DC. He is also Adjunct Senior Fellow in International and National Security Law at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as The Legal Adviser for the Department of State from 2005–2009, as Senior Associate Counsel to the President and Legal Adviser to the National Security Council at the White House from 2001–2005, and as Counsel for National Security Matters in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice from 1997–2001.

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