Should former President Trump return to the White House, he has big plans for retribution against those who he believes have wronged him over the years.
It’s not clear if any presidential campaign in history has ever been as spite-driven as that of former President Donald Trump’s 2024 effort.
According to the Washington Post, Trump and his allies have a lot of plans for a second Trump Administration that do not involve policy, but rather retribution against the ex-president’s enemies.
Trump and his team, per the Post, have “begun mapping out specific plans for using the federal government to punish critics and opponents should he win a second term, with the former president naming individuals he wants to investigate or prosecute and his associates drafting plans to potentially invoke the Insurrection Act on his first day in office to allow him to deploy the military against civil demonstrations.”
The story first mentions not President Biden or Trump’s usual targets, but rather a group of former allies: Former chief of staff John Kelly, former Attorney General William Barr, and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley. It’s not clear what if any crimes those people would be investigated for.
Kelly was quoted in the story as stating that when Kelly was chief of staff, Trump regularly talked about wanting to prosecute his political enemies.
“The lesson the former president learned from his first term is don’t put guys like me … in those jobs,” Kelly, who long ago broke with Trump, told the newspaper. “The lesson he learned was to find sycophants.”
And of course, Trump does plan to appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” President Biden and his family, even though special counsels are already in place both for Biden (over his handling of classified documents) and his son Hunter.
Trump would move to break from precedent and direct the Justice Department to prosecute his political rivals.
“It would resemble a banana republic if people came into office and started going after their opponents willy-nilly,” Saikrishna Prakash, a constitutional law professor at the University of Virginia, told the Post. “It’s hardly something we should aspire to.”
The story references “Project 2025,” a think tank-based project aimed at planning out a Trump second term. The New York Times had reported this summer about that project, and that it appeared Trump is planning to assume near-dictatorial powers in a second term. The plans would go against previous conservative notions of “limited government.”
Trump’s second administration, the Times reported in the summer, would aim to “alter the balance of power by increasing the president’s authority over every part of the federal government that now operates, by either law or tradition, with any measure of independence from political interference by the White House.”
The Post story obtained additional communications, including the Trump team’s plans to invoke the Insurrection Act. The plans, per the Post, are aimed to “harness the power of the presidency to exact revenge on those who have challenged or criticized him if he returns to the White House.”
For presidential candidates to talk openly about wanting to use the instruments of government to strike back at their political enemies has not traditionally been a feature of American politics, at least not since the Watergate scandal and the fall of President Richard Nixon.
Fights over such efforts would likely be fought both by Congress and in the courts.
“Making prosecutorial decisions in a nonpartisan manner is essential to democracy,” former Trump Justice Department figure Rod Rosenstein told the Post, noting that doing so would violate the 14th Amendment. “The White House should not be meddling in individual cases for political reasons.”
While the Trump 2016 campaign barely planned a transition, and tossed out the announced transition chief, Chris Christie, as soon as they won, Trump’s team is now giving the transition much more attention.
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Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Stephen has authored thousands of articles over the years that focus on politics, technology, and the economy for over a decade. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @StephenSilver, and subscribe to his Substack newsletter.