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Post-impeachment, Donald Trump moves loyalists into top jobs, pushes out others

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2/20/2020 Courtney Subramanian, John Fritze, Michael Collins and David Jackson, USA TODAY
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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump, who has long questioned the allegiance of career employees in his midst, is tightening his grip on the White House by installing some of his most loyal allies in top jobs and culling others deemed untrustworthy.

Unburdened by the impeachment that dogged his administration for months, Trump has moved swiftly in the days since the Senate voted to acquit him to remove aides who sounded alarms about his interactions with Ukraine and install others who have been close to the president since his campaign or who have since proven their loyalty.

The latest demonstration of Trump's reshuffling arrived Wednesday in the form of Richard Grenell, who as ambassador to Germany has been among the most outspoken supporters of the president within the U.S. diplomatic corps. Trump said he will name Grenell acting director of national intelligence, a key job that has been without a permanent, Senate-confirmed appointee for six months.

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"Rick has represented our Country exceedingly well and I look forward to working with him," Trump posted on Twitter late Wednesday. 

Every president tries to surround himself with loyal aides, though Trump has not always succeeded in that effort. The president's former chief of staff, John Kelly, has publicly questioned the president's judgement in a series of recent appearances. His current attorney general, William Barr, has considered resigning amid a widening dispute over the president's persistent tweets criticizing the Justice Department.

Richard Grenell wearing a suit and tie: (FILES) In this file photo taken on May 30, 2019 US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell awaits the arrival of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (not in frame) at Tegel airport in Berlin. - The United States' ambassador to Germany said February 16, 2020, that President Donald Trump had threatened to cut off intelligence-sharing with countries that dealt with Chinese tech firm Huawei. Washington has been pressing allies to ban Huawei, one of the world's largest tech firms, from next-generation 5G mobile data networks, saying it is a security risk. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP) (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images) ORIG FILE ID: AFP_1P21YE © ODD ANDERSEN, AFP via Getty Images (FILES) In this file photo taken on May 30, 2019 US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell awaits the arrival of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (not in frame) at Tegel airport in Berlin. - The United States' ambassador to Germany said February 16, 2020, that President Donald Trump had threatened to cut off intelligence-sharing with countries that dealt with Chinese tech firm Huawei. Washington has been pressing allies to ban Huawei, one of the world's largest tech firms, from next-generation 5G mobile data networks, saying it is a security risk. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP) (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images) ORIG FILE ID: AFP_1P21YE

More: From a cop to the crying businessman, Trump’s anecdotes don't always add up 

More: Top Pentagon official who had role in Ukraine aid deal resigns 

"I inherited a place with, you know, many different administrations and they worked there for years and with civil service and with unions," Trump said of his staff recently during an interview with Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera. "They come from Obama or they're Never Trumpers from Bush or whoever it may be."

Richard Grenell

Grenell, who became Trump's ambassador to Germany in 2018, will take a job overseeing the same U.S. spy agencies that Trump has regularly scorned. His appointment comes six months after former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats left the position following frequent clashes with Trump about the administration's approach to Russia, North Korea, and other national security issues.

Grenell, who briefly worked for the presidential campaign of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has been a vocal supporter of Trump's on social media and elsewhere. When Barr drew considerable attention last week in an ABC interview by saying that the president's tweets were making it "impossible" for him to his job, Grenell quickly appeared on Fox News to proclaim that the president's Twitter feed "makes my job so much easier."

Grenell will take over the top intelligence job from Joseph Maguire, who has served as acting director since Coats' departure. 

"I would like to thank Joe Maguire for the wonderful job he has done," Trump wrote in his Twitter post on Wednesday. "And we look forward to working with him closely, perhaps in another capacity within the Administration!" 

Hope Hicks 

a person wearing a blue shirt: White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, arrives to meet behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee, at the Capitol in Washington on Feb. 27, 2018. © J. Scott Applewhite, AP White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, arrives to meet behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee, at the Capitol in Washington on Feb. 27, 2018.

Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director who was once widely known as a "Trump whisperer" is set to return to the president's inner circle as a senior adviser nearly two years after she left.

Hicks, who was one of Trump’s most trusted confidants and longest-serving aides – dating back to before his entrance into presidential politics – will work closely with the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and White House Political Director Brian Jack, according to a White House official speaking on the condition of anonymity.

More: Former Trump aide Hope Hicks to return to the White House as adviser 

After her departure, the 31-year-old moved to Los Angeles to become a communications executive for Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox News. The famously loyal Hicks outlasted several aides to the president, both on Trump’s upstart 2016 campaign and then later at the White House. Her return signals Trump’s desire to surround himself with those he trusts and who can translate his wishes. 

John McEntee

a person wearing a suit and tie: White House staffer John McEntee walks to board Air Force One prior to departure with US President Donald Trump from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, January 23, 2020, as he travels to speak at the Republican National Committee Winter Meeting in Miami, Florida. © SAUL LOEB, AFP via Getty Images White House staffer John McEntee walks to board Air Force One prior to departure with US President Donald Trump from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, January 23, 2020, as he travels to speak at the Republican National Committee Winter Meeting in Miami, Florida.

John McEntee, who served as Trump’s personal assistant before he was forced out of the White House two years ago, will lead the Presidential Personnel Office, according to multiple reports. It's a key office that oversees the selection process for presidential appointments and candidates to serve throughout the federal government.

McEntee, a former University of Connecticut quarterback, worked on Trump’s first presidential campaign in 2016 and followed him to the White House after the election.

Viewed as a highly loyal aide, McEntee served as Trump’s “body man” before he was fired by Kelly and marched out of the West Wing for undisclosed security reasons. Multiple news reports said his firing was related to gambling. Within hours of his ouster, McEntee went to work for Trump's reelection campaign.

Vindman, Sondland

a group of people wearing military uniforms: Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, left, and his twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, on Capitol Hill on Nov. 19, 2019. © Julio Cortez/AP Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, left, and his twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, on Capitol Hill on Nov. 19, 2019.

Both Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Ambassador Gordan Sondland have been in Trump’s crosshairs since they provided pivotal testimony to House impeachment investigators last fall. Vindman, a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, was reassigned to a post outside of the White House and Sondland, who was U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was recalled. 

Both moves took place within hours of each other on Feb. 7. 

Vindman testified about his concerns with Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Sondland told lawmakers that Trump’s demands to Zelensky amounted to a “quid pro quo” and that he was working with the Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to undertake politically beneficial investigations in Ukraine “on the president’s orders.” 

More: Trump administration ousts Vindman, Sondland days after Senate acquittal

Trump slammed Vindman as “insubordinate” on Twitter a day after the NSC staffer was escorted from the White House. Vindman’s brother Yevgeny Vindman, who worked as a senior lawyer and ethics official at the NSC, was also escorted off White House grounds.

John Rood

John Rood wearing a suit and tie: Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, John Rood, speaks during a news conference on the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, at the Pentagon. © Jacquelyn Martin, AP Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, John Rood, speaks during a news conference on the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, at the Pentagon.

Many of the changes to top personnel have been tied to the military.  

John Rood, under secretary for policy at the Pentagon, said in a resignation letter Wednesday that Defense Secretary Mark Esper had asked him to leave. Rood wrote in his letter than Esper was acting at Trump's request.  

Rood had been involved in the Pentagon’s effort to send $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, the issue that resulted in the president’s impeachment. Rood certified that Ukraine had met anti-corruption requirements, deeming it eligible to receive the assistance. That certification came before Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s Zelensky, during which he asked his counterpart for a “favor.”

Rood also worked on nuclear deterrence, NATO and the National Defense Strategy, which assesses threats from China and Russia.

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Post-impeachment, Donald Trump moves loyalists into top jobs, pushes out others

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