After years of campaign promises to help ordinary Americans and guarantees to “drain the swamp” in Washington D.C., in political hindsight it’s safe to say that President Donald Trump’s tenure did far more to benefit Wall Street than it did to help Main Street. His actions and the actions of his administration can be characterized by broken promises, gross conflicts of interest, and a stark erosion of transparency, ethics, and other democratic norms. By the end of his presidency, a majority of Americans believed that President Trump did not keep his promises and was incompetently unable to manage the government.
The magnitude of President Trump’s ineffectiveness can be easily measured by the number of whistleblowers who have stepped forward during his administration. Loyal governmental employees who could no longer stomach the deceit, fraud and abuse of power they were witnessing. In what would become a general retaliatory practice, President Trump would remove or replace Inspector Generals at key governmental agencies in an effort to silence federal employees trying to do the right thing. Over the course of one six week stretch during his tenure in office, President Trump fired at least five Inspector Generals, sending a clear message of his insularity for anyone set on reporting his treachery. In the previous twenty years of the American Presidency, only one single Inspector General had ever been removed by a president.
Recently published investigative reports found a disturbing pattern of bias and vindictiveness from within the Trump administration when it came to the persecution of whistleblowers who dared to criticize the President’s authority. Time and time again, long-standing and loyal governmental employees who came forth with legitimate questions and concerns about the actions of President Trump or his administration, were systematically oppressed, bullied and, ultimately, fired. Among them was a outstanding academic and a dedicated diplomat named Haroon Ullah.
It is hard to overestimate Mr. Ullah’s skills and relevance in the position he held in the Trump administration. Dr. Haroon Ullah has a PhD in Political Science and Public Policy from the University of Michigan and was a William J. Fulbright fellow, a Harvard University presidential scholar, a National Security Education Program fellow, and a Woodrow Wilson Public Service fellow. His academic achievements only rivaled by his record of service for the United States Government and the professional recognitions he has earned along the way. Dr. Ullah served as senior advisor to Secretaries of State (Kerry and Tillerson) focusing on public diplomacy, strategic policy and countering violent extremism.
While serving as a Chief Strategy Officer at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Dr. Ullah began to recognize a pattern of misuse and exploitation of United Sates governmental resources to the extent that he could not stay silent any longer. Presuming to be protected by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, Dr. Ullah felt that his confidential disclosure of this information would expose an activity that clearly constituted a violation of law and a gross mismanagement of funds.
Only it didn’t remain confidential. And once President Trump’s staff discovered who disclosed this information, Dr. Ullah fell victim to the administration’s pathological desire to suppress and even alter the truth.
It didn’t take long for the Trump administration to concoct a scheme to discredit Dr. Ullah. In 2019, coincidently very shortly after Dr. Ullah’s disclosure of wrongdoing, the Office of Inspectors Generals received allegations that Dr. Ullah was engaging in abuse of official travel. He was accused of falsifying expense reports, relatively minor administrative transgressions in the big scheme of governmental financial expenditure, and sent to prison for three years, a vastly disproportionate sentence to the petty crime committed.
His initial disclosures were never investigated.
And while this may have satiated those who fell within the maniacal Trump circle of trust, this action outraged many in the Defense community including Gen. John R. Allen, a retired United States Marine Corps four-star general and former commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan. On April 28, 2019, Gen. Allen wrote a letter Russell Carlberg of the US Attorney’s Office indicating, in part, “Haroon’s unique skill set in fighting counterterrorism and protecting this country at the highest levels is of critical importance to our country’s future national security needs.”
Despite this, the systematic conspiracy to discredit Dr. Ullah in both a public and shameful manner was successful, and another Trump whistleblower was victimized by a methodical and Machiavellian-style witch-hunt.
It ultimately became widely acknowledged from a number of federal agencies that there was a coordinated attempt to take down officials like Dr. Ullah, who were not viewed as loyal enough to the Trump administration. This is a dangerous and alarming trend and directly contradicts the retaliatory protections offered by Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), but what is certainly even more distressing is the blatantly partisan manner in which the retaliation is being administered.
As a clear example, in June 2020, the US Senate approved Trump appointee Michael Pack, a friend of Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, to run the USAGM in an obvious and devious effort to dictate more favorable news coverage. After a turbulent six-month tenure in which he was accused (but never formally charged or even investigated) of spending millions of government dollars tormenting whistleblowers and content creators who spoke up against the excessive abuses with the Trump administration. Within two hours of the swearing in of President Biden in January 2021, Pack resigned, leaving behind a wake of professional devastation that will take years to recover.
The case of Michael Pack is just one example of the lengths President Trump went to in order to support political allies. There are many more examples, 237 to be exact, of clemency Trump granted to friends, families and supporters despite evidence of significant misconduct, including (but not limited to) Roger Stone, who had a 40-month prison sentence commuted, and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump’s son-in-law, who was released from prison despite pleading guilt to tax evasion, witness retaliation and making false statements to the FEC.
History will ultimately speak for itself. The protections offered by the WPA were established to strengthen and improve protection for the rights of federal employees, to prevent reprisals from superiors, and to help eliminate wrongdoing within our government. With the actions of his administration, President Trump crippled this tool of democracy and weakened our nation in the process.
I suppose the truth can be elusive, especially when a sitting President wants to keep it hidden. But for the sake of loyal federal employees like Dr. Ullah, let’s all hope that the truth is ultimately attainable.
Novatus Igosha is a lawyer and human rights advocate