But President-elect Joe Biden’s early picks for top positions are giving hope to career professionals throughout government — and maybe also to some who left in scorn.
Some of the names Biden is floating right now are merely trial balloons, meant to gauge how much fire he can expect from Republicans and from the ranks of his fellow Democrats. Fundraisers and key supporters will have their say in the decisions, too. And government bureaucrats, however qualified, are a political constituency Biden and the Democrats have courted.
Yet there’s also a clear preference among Biden’s advisers for career professionals either alienated or drummed out during the Trump administration. Some left or got the axe due to a lack of loyalty to Trump — “patriots,” one senior Biden adviser called them.
Already, Biden has summoned one such alienated professional, when he announced Linda Thomas-Greenfield as his choice for United Nations ambassador. She’s a 35-year veteran of the foreign service who departed after her pro-forma resignation was accepted by Trump and then wrote about the hollowing out he was inflicting on the State Department.
Senior Biden advisers aren’t talking about any particular individuals yet as likely candidates for open jobs, but they do point to his promise to respect the experience and expertise of the civil service and diplomatic corps.
“There is a need for a certain number of very experienced senior people where there’s a shortage,” Ronald Neumann, the President of the American Academy of Diplomacy and a former career ambassador, told CNN regarding the State Department. “And they’re likely to pull some of those back and, since most of those are pretty respected people, it’s likely to go smoothly. But it also depends on what people have established in the meantime, and if they have good jobs that are very well-paying. Some will come back, some will have moved on.”
And there are plenty of Trump administration refugees — particularly in the areas of national security, law enforcement, and diplomacy — who fit the description. For examples, Biden need look no further than news reports of the past four years.
One of Trump’s first purge victims came at the top of the Justice Department hierarchy was Sally Yates — and now she’s considered a top contender for attorney general under Biden.
As the deputy attorney general from the Obama administration, Yates became acting attorney general following Trump’s inauguration and was expected to serve in that role until Jeff Sessions was confirmed by the Senate to lead the Justice Department.
But she didn’t last that long, thanks to the new President’s executive order banning travel into the US from seven Muslim-majority countries. Yates instructed Justice Department lawyers not to defend the order, infuriating the White House. Ten days into Trump’s term, Yates was dismissed — not by a presidential phone call but by a hand-delivered letter.
While Yates is a Democrat, she had not been known in Washington legal circles as particularly partisan prior to her firing. But the Georgia native made an appearance at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, accusing the President who had fired her of “trampl[ing] the rule of law.”
She also tussled with Republican senators in August to defend her role overseeing the FBI investigation that led to criminal charges against Michael Flynn, who served briefly as Trump’s national security adviser. During her testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she referred to Attorney General William Barr’s move to dismiss those charges earlier this year as “highly irregular.”
Plenty of career foreign service officers were caught in the middle of the events leading to Trump’s impeachment. None was more prominent than Marie Yovanovtich, whose removal as ambassador to Ukraine in May 2019 was a central fact of the investigation into wrongdoing by the President.
Like Thomas-Greenfield, Yovanovitch spent her career in the foreign service, including appointments in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. The credibility of her damning testimony during the impeachment hearings rested on her decades of diplomatic experience and expertise. Her work in anti-corruption was what prompted allies of Trump to encourage Yovanovitch’s ouster through a smear campaign against her.
After a fellowship at Georgetown University, Yovanovitch retired from the State Department last January. But she delivered a harsh assessment of the administration in remarks weeks after her retirement that might be considered a manifesto for the foreign service in the Trump era.
“To be blunt: An amoral, keep-’em-guessing foreign policy that substitutes threats, fear and confusion for trust cannot work over the long haul, especially in our social media-savvy, interconnected world,” Yovanovitch said at Georgetown on Feb. 12.
Another central figure of the impeachment saga, Alexander Vindman was a career Army officer with a decade of experience as a foreign area officer. Before that, Vindman had served in combat in Iraq, receiving a Purple Heart after being injured by a roadside bomb in 2005. In 2018, he was detailed to the National Security Council at the White House (along with his twin brother, Yevgeny).
Vindman’s own testimony before Congress provided details about the July 2019 phone call with new Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky when Trump asked Zelensky to help investigate Biden. He had also reported to an intelligence officer his concern about what he considered the President’s “improper conduct” on the call.
Both Vindmans appeared to face retaliation when on Feb. 7 the brothers were escorted from the White House and immediately reassigned within the Army. National security adviser Robert O’Brien denied the move was retaliatory, but Trump took to Twitter to blast Alexander Vindman for being “very insubordinate” and accused him of leaking information and not respecting the chain of command.
By July, Vindman announced he would retire from the Army, with his lawyer blaming Trump’s intimidation and bullying.
Before she was fired on November 6, Bonnie Glick was the deputy administrator at the US Agency for International Development — an independent agency that oversees the country’s foreign aid and development funds.
Glick began her career as a foreign service officer at the State Department and also worked for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, as deputy secretary of the state’s Department of Aging. She was confirmed by the Senate as USAID deputy administrator, a political appointment, in January 2019.
Glick was not seen as particularly disloyal or problematic to Trump, nor did she give the administration cause for her removal. But her occupation of that role complicated things for a White House that increasingly relied on acting officials across government.
Glick’s ouster came the same day that John Barsa’s term as acting administrator of the agency expired under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, and sources told CNN that she was fired so he could remain at the helm. Glick was told to resign or be fired, and sources said she refused to resign.
Sources told CNN they feared Glick’s ouster could imperil the ease of a transition between a Trump and a Biden presidency at the agency. A source close to Bonnie Glick told CNN that given that she’s a Republican she would not be interested in rejoining USAID under a Biden administration. This person said she was asked before the election to help with the transition and that she has told the Biden team that she is happy to help in an unofficial, unpaid capacity to ensure a smooth transition at the agency.
Glick is now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank based in Washington.
Another post-election firing came on November 17, when the Department of Homeland Security’s top cybersecurity official, Chris Krebs, was shown the exit.
As director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS, Krebs had cultivated a stellar reputation, including with lawmakers on both of sides of the aisle. But he earned the wrath of the President and his allies after Krebs and his agency began actively debunking many of the claims made by Trump and his supporters that there was widespread election fraud
The final straw appeared to be when Krebs’ agency — along with a group of election officials — issued a statement definitively saying there “is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”
Trump cited the CISA statement in his own tweet explaining the decision to fire the 43-year-old cybersecurity expert.
Since Krebs was ousted he has continued with the pushback that got him fired and heaped praise on federal and state election officials, including his team. He’s now tweeting from a personal account (which quickly racked up over 200,000 followers) and has been more direct in calling out disinformation.
“As a reminder, still no evidence that election systems and votes were manipulated,” he tweeted after GSA ascertained the vote. Following the press conference by Rudy Giuliani and the president’s team of lawyers, Krebs took to Twitter with unusually harsh and direct language, calling it “the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest.”
Krebs was expected to move on and into the private sector after the election, regardless of the outcome of the election. He hasn’t said what’s next for him but indicated it may include his own venture, writing about his former deputy — who resigned after Krebs was fired — “I’ll be lucky to have a biz partner half as good ever again.”