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Conservative Group Probes Federal Workers Opposing Trump

Monday, 24 June 2024 07:59 AM EDT

From his home office in small-town Kentucky, a seasoned political operative is quietly investigating scores of federal employees suspected of being hostile to the policies of Republican Donald Trump, an effort that dovetails with broader conservative preparations for a new White House.

Tom Jones and his American Accountability Foundation are digging into the backgrounds, social media posts and commentary of key high-ranking government employees, starting with the Department of Homeland Security. They are relying in part on tips from his network of conservative contacts, including even workers themselves. In a move that alarms some, they are preparing to publish the findings online.

With a $100,000 grant from the influential Heritage Foundation, the goal is to post 100 names of government workers to a website this summer to show a potential new administration who might be standing in the way of a second-term Trump agenda — and ripe for scrutiny, reclassifications, reassignments or firings.

“We need to understand who these people are and what they do,” said Jones, a former Capitol Hill aide to Republican senators.

Jones' Project Sovereignty 2025 comes as Heritage's own Project 2025 is laying the groundwork, with policies, proposals and personnel ready day one of a possible new White House.

The effort, which is focused on top career government officials who are not appointees within the political structure, has stunned democracy experts and shocked the civil service community in what they compare to the “red scare” of midcentury McCarthyism.

Jacqueline Simon, policy director at the American Federation of Government Employees, said the language being thrown around — the Heritage Foundation’s announcement praised the group for ferreting out “anti-American bad actors” — is “so shocking.”

Civil servants are often former military personnel and all are required to take an oath to the Constitution to work for the federal government, not a loyalty test to any one president in the White House, she and others said.

“It just seems as though their goal is to try to menace federal employees and sow fear,” said Simon, whose union is backing President Joe Biden for re-election.

As Trump, who has been convicted of felony charges for falsifying business records during his first presidential campaign in 2016 to conceal allegations of affairs and is under a four-count federal indictment accusing him of working to overturn the 2020 election, faces a likely rematch with Biden this fall, far-right conservatives have vowed to take a wrecking ball to what they call the deep-state bureaucracy.

The Trump campaign has said repeatedly that outside groups do not speak for the former president who alone is setting his policy priorities.

Conservatives view the federal workforce as overstepping its role to become a power center that can drive or thwart a president’s agenda. Particularly during the Trump administration, government officials came under attack from both the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill, as his own Cabinet often raised objections to some of the former president's more singular proposals.

While Jones' group won't necessarily be recommending whether to fire or reassign any of the federal workers it lists, the work aligns with Heritage’s far-reaching Project 2025 blueprint for a conservative administration.

Heritage's Project 2025 proposes reviving the Trump “Schedule F” policy that would try to reclassify tens of thousands of federal workers as political appointees, which could enable mass dismissals - although a new Biden administration rule seeks to make that more difficult. The Heritage project is working to recruit and train a new generation to come to Washington to fill government jobs.

In announcing the $100,000 “Innovation Award” last month, Heritage said it would support American Accountability Foundation's "investigative researchers, in-depth reports, and educational efforts to alert Congress, a conservative administration, and the American people to the presence of anti-American bad actors burrowed into the administrative state and ensure appropriate action is taken.”

Heritage President Kevin Roberts said in a statement the “weaponization of the federal government” has been possible only because of the “deep state of entrenched Leftist bureaucrats.” He said he was proud to support the work of American Accountability Foundation workers "in their fight to hold our government accountable and drain it of bad actors.”

The federal government employs about 2.2 million people. That includes those in the Washington, D.C. area but also workers who the unions say many Americans know as friends or neighbors in communities across the country.

About 4,000 positions in the government are considered political appointees who routinely change from one presidential administration to the next, but most are career professionals — from landscapers at Veterans Administration cemeteries to economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The public list-making conjures for some the era of Joseph McCarthy, the former senator who conducted grueling hearings into suspected communist sympathizers during the Cold War. They were orchestrated by a top staffer, Roy Cohn, who went on to become a confidant of a younger Trump.

Skye Perryman, CEO of the advocacy group Democracy Forward, said it's all deeply disturbing and reminiscent of “the darker parts of American history.”

“This is part of the overall, highly concerning and alarming trend,” she said.

Publicly naming government workers is an “intimidation tactic to try to chill the work of these civil servants," she said, and part of a broader “retribution agenda” under way this election.

“They're seeking to undermine our democracy, they're seeking to undermine the way that our government works for people," she said.

Jones, from his desk overlooking rickhouses storing barrels in the “Bourbon Capitol” of Bardstown, scoffed at comparisons to McCarthyism as “nonsense.”

He's a former staffer to former Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina conservative Republican who went on to lead Heritage and now helms the Conservative Policy Institute, where American Accountability Foundation has a mailing address. Jones also worked for Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and provided opposition research for Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential bid.

With six researchers, Jones’ team is operating remotely across the country, poring over the information about federal workers within Homeland Security, State Department and other agencies that deal with immigration and border issues.

Their focus is on the highest ranks of the civil servants — so-called GS-13, GS-14, and GS-15 employees and those in senior executive positions who could put up roadblocks to Trump's plans for tighter borders and more deportations.

“I think it’s important to the next administration to understand who those people are,” he said.

He dismissed the risks that could be involved in publicly posting the names, salary information and other details of federal workers who have some level of privacy, or the idea that his group's work could be putting employees' livelihoods in jeopardy.

“You don’t get to make policy and then say, ‘Hey don’t scrutinize me,”’ he said.

He acknowledges some of the work is often a “gut check” or “instinct” about which federal employees would be suspected of trying to block a conservative agenda.

“We’re looking at, ‘Are there wrong people on the bus right now that are, you know, openly hostile to efforts to secure the southern border?”’

His own group came under scrutiny as it first probed Biden nominees.

Biden had repealed Trump’s Schedule F executive order in January 2021, but a Government Accountability Office report in 2022 found that agencies believed it could be reinstated by a future administration.

Since then, the Biden administration issued a new rule that would make it harder to fire workers. A new administration could direct the Office of Personnel Management to undo the new regulation, but the process would take time and be open to legal challenges.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


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From his home office in small-town Kentucky, a seasoned political operative is quietly investigating scores of federal employees suspected of being hostile to the policies of Republican Donald Trump, an effort that dovetails with broader conservative preparations for a new...
trump, biden, president
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Monday, 24 June 2024 07:59 AM
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