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The Challenge Trump Faces From Within: The Federal Bureaucracy
02/06/2017 Donald Trump Lesley F
keywords: Federal Bureaucracy Dissent Corruption

As President Donald Trump appears to be learning as he progresses into his third week in office, one of the biggest challenges to his presidency will come from within the ranks of his own federal bureaucracy. Hostile forces inside the government's permanent workforce have threatened presidents before Trump, from Nixon to Clinton. From leaks to the press about diplomatic calls to direct challenges to orders from bureaucrats themselves, Trump has already come head-to-head with a force that has taken down presidents before.

The leaks and challenges began on Trump's very first day in office. As part of Trump's efforts to support his claims that the press had underreported his inauguration's crowd size, the president called National Park Service Director Michael Reynolds to order him to provide photographic evidence of the crowd size. Trump's order and Reynolds' non-compliance were quickly leaked to the media. 

In the days that followed, more leaks and challenges were publicized in the press. A leaked draft order asking the CIA to reconsider controversial interrogation techniques blindsided CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis, while a "Dissent Channel" memo criticizing Trump's executive order concerning the travel ban was signed by over a thousand State Department officials without the administration's knowledge. Details about Trump's diplomatic calls with the Australian and Mexican leaders were divulged to the press by unnamed officials, much to the consternation of Trump and his inner circle.

What does this mean for Trump? While Trump became president despite having no governmental experience or understanding of how to manipulate the federal bureaucracy to follow his agenda, perhaps the opposition from within the bureaucracy of the executive branch will only bolster Trump's reserve. As Press Secretary Sean Spicer noted to reporters: "These career bureaucrats have a problem with it? I think they should either get with the program or they can go." 

On the other hand, opposition from within can be fatal for a president, as President Nixon clearly learned. Nixon was well known for his paranoia, but these deep-seated suspicions turned out to be based in reality when the source nicknamed Deep Throat that provided The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with the information that brought Nixon's presidency down was revealed to be FBI Associate Director Mark Felt.

Trump will ultimately have to learn how to deal with the federal bureaucracy on his own terms. However, as four-time presidential adviser David Gergen noted, “My experience is you’re far better off respecting the civil servants than you are by ignoring or dismissing them because it will come around and bite you in the end."


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