WASHINGTON – Elizabeth Neumann struggled with the decision for weeks. She worried about the backlash, the impact it would have on her career, potential threats to her family.
But the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, who resigned in April, reached a breaking point after President Donald Trump deployed homeland security officers to Portland, exacerbating tensions there. She decided the risk was worth denouncing Trump, whom she had come to see as a threat to the country.
“Enough is enough,” said Neumann, the former deputy secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention. “People need to understand how dangerous a moment we find ourselves is. “
There are many others who weigh the same decision.
Weeks before the November 3 election, the moment of truth has come for current and former Trump administration officials to consider whether they too should join the chorus of Republican voices trying to persuade voters on the sidelines to help deny Trump a second term.
“It’s now or never,” said Miles Taylor, former DHS chief of staff, who worked to recruit others to join the effort. In interviews, Taylor accused Trump of regularly asking assistants to break the law, using his former agency. for explicitly political ends, and wanting to mutilate and shoot migrants who attempt to cross the southern border.
“Those who have witnessed firsthand the president’s inability to perform office have a moral obligation to share their assessment with the electorate,” said Taylor, who launched the REPAIR group – The Republican Political Alliance for integrity and reform – to bring together relevant former officials.
A related group, Republican Voters Against Trump, has compiled nearly 1,000 video testimonials from Republicans across the country who want Trump to come out. Strategic Director Sarah Longwell has said her goal is to provide an “authorization structure” to help reluctant Republicans feel comfortable facing Trump.
The effort, she said, grew out of research into “soft” Trump voters.
“While these voters didn’t like Trump intensely, they didn’t trust the media, they didn’t trust Democrats, they didn’t trust the leaks,” she said. “Who is a credible messenger? They were people like them.
Other prominent “elders” have spoken independently – or are thinking about it.
Former national security adviser John Bolton wrote a scathing book in which he said Trump “saw plots behind rocks and remained incredibly ill-informed” on how to run the government. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis broke a self-imposed vow of silence in June with an op-ed criticizing Trump’s response to the racial justice protests. He and former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats have also been quoted extensively in a new book by reporter Bob Woodward calling Trump dangerous and unfit for the job.
But Mattis and Coats, like former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and former national security adviser HR McMaster, have refrained from more explicit condemnations, often citing a “duty of silence” or a long tradition of non-political military officials, according to people who spoke with them.
Efforts to extract them are underway. While former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen seems reluctant to take a step forward, it is hoped that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could be persuaded to comment and Coats could be asked to say more. And Kelly, a retired four-star general, would be on the fence and torn by the decision.
“I think he loves his country and he wants to do what’s best for the country,” said Neumann, who served as Kelly’s deputy chief of staff at DHS and hopes he speaks out, even if others don’t think so. what will happen.
Officials like Kelly, with long careers and high pensions, would seem to have less to lose in doing so than more junior officials like Olivia Troye, former counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Mike Pence who joined the United Nations last week. campaign against Trump and declared that she “I will vote for Biden.
In video and interviews, Troye accused Trump of mismanaging the coronavirus and of being more concerned about his re-election prospects than saving lives. The White House retaliated with an aggressive campaign of attack aimed at discrediting it through a barrage of statements, interviews and denunciations from the lectern in the White House briefing room.
“These are not brave profiles, but they are profiles of cowardice,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said of Troye and Taylor, dismissing them as part of a “fringe club of, quote, ‘Never Trumpers’ who are desperately searching for relevance. . ”
Taylor said it was clear the White House was “coming after” those who speak as a warning to those who are considering doing the same.
“The White House knows that if it shows that this is a very expensive thing to do, it will scare people off from going ahead,” he said.
He added that while more and more people are still considering coming forward, the White House’s tactics have worked to some extent – dissuading a senior official who was about to speak out.
Rick Wilson, a longtime Republican strategist who co-founded the anti-Trump Lincoln project, stressed that time is running out.
“There will be a cottage industry when Trump is out of the office of people saying, ‘Oh, I fought from the inside out, I fought the good fight, I stopped so many bad things from happening. ‘ “, Did he declare. whatever. There is only one moment in time that matters. And it is now. ”
For Neumann, who describes herself as a conservative Christian and voted for Trump in 2016, the considerations were deeply personal, including what it might mean for her career in a city that emphasizes loyalty.
“It’s a city based on relationships,” she said. “And what we’ve done, you know, isn’t usually done in this town. Usually you stab people in the back and do it quietly. You do this as an anonymous source. You don’t really put your name there.
Neumann is still unemployed and notes that many companies are concerned about hiring that might seem political. But she still said she was pleasantly surprised by the overall response.
“It was more positive than I expected,” she said, adding: “No serious threats, I didn’t have to call the police or anything, so it’s well.”
Anthony Scaramucci, who turned on the president last year after a brief stint as White House communications director, has also had discussions with those on the fence and uses every channel he can find to spread his message, including a new anti-Trump documentary. .
“We have to keep the pressure on, so for me it’s a multimedia approach. It’s radio, it’s podcasts, it’s Twitter, it’s television and it’s movies, ”he said. As a citizen, all I have tried to do is give the Surgeon General a warning. … This guy is a threat to the institutions of democracy, and I worked for him and I think it’s important to send a signal to others, ”he said, that it’s okay to speak out.