The ominously dark final weeks of Donald Trump's presidency were made possible by one devotedly loyal staffer who had already been fired once from the White House but returned even more determined to root out traitors.
Johnny McEntee, one of the first full-time staffers on the first Trump campaign, was named director of personnel in January 2020 over the strong objections of other White House staffers and quickly set to work enforcing loyalty, according to Jonathan Karl's new book, "Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show," republished in excerpt form by The Atlantic.
"McEntee and his enforcers made the disastrous last weeks of the Trump presidency possible," wrote Karl, the chief Washington correspondent for ABC News. "They backed the president's manic drive to overturn the election, and helped set the stage for the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Thanks to them, in the end, the elusive 'adults in the room' — those who might have been willing to confront the president or try to control his most destructive tendencies—were silenced or gone. But McEntee was there — bossing around Cabinet secretaries, decapitating the civilian leadership at the Pentagon, and forcing officials high and low to state their allegiance to Trump."
The former quarterback for the University of Connecticut had already been fired over past gambling habits from his role as "body man" to the president by then-chief of staff John Kelly, but returned to his workspace outside the Oval Office after Kelly himself was fired, and then elevated to a more powerful role despite his "comically inexperienced" qualifications.
"Just 29 when he got the job, he'd come up as Trump's body guy — the kid who carried the candidate's bags," Karl wrote. "One of Trump's most high-profile Cabinet secretaries described him to me as 'a f*cking idiot.' But in 2020, his power was undeniable. Trump knew he was the one person willing to do anything Trump wanted. As another senior official told me, 'He became the deputy president.'"
McEntee's team scoured social media for evidence of disloyalty -- sometimes for minor offenses such as "liking" a post by Democrat-leaning pop singer Taylor Swift -- and forced virtually every senior official across the federal government to re-interview for their jobs, and he took an active role in assisting Trump subvert the election.
"When Trump wasn't happy with the answers he was getting from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, McEntee set up a rogue legal team," Karl wrote. "This back-channel operation played a previously unknown role in the effort to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the vote. Just days before January 6, McEntee sent Pence's office an absurd memo making the case that Pence would be following Thomas Jefferson's example if he used his power to declare Trump the winner of the 2020 election."
"More than anyone else in the White House, McEntee was Trump's man through and through — a man who rose to power at precisely the moment when American democracy was falling apart," Karl added.
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