In ordinary times, there’s a fairly routine churn of personnel between government jobs as political appointees and positions in the private sector—in Washington and beyond. At the start of a presidency, party loyalists leave their law firms or corporate gigs or political-campaign work in order to go to work for the American people. And at an administration’s end, they update their resumes, where their federal experience usually helps them land a better-paying job on the outside.
But the Trump era, especially its chaotic end, is no ordinary time. Inside the government, the personnel director is reportedly threatening to fire anyone who’s discovered looking for a job. And outside the government, there’s a new organization working to make sure those job-seekers would be blackballed anyway.
The organization, which calls itself the Trump Accountability Project, launched a website this week laying out its mission:
But those who took a paycheck from the Trump Administration should not profit from their efforts to tear our democracy apart. The world should never forget those who, when faced with a decision, chose to put their money, their time, and their reputations behind separating children from their families, encouraging racism and anti-Semitism, and negligently causing the unnecessary loss of life and economic devastation from our country’s failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Administration appointees aren’t the only group the project is targeting: campaign workers, RNC officials, and donors have also earned their ire.
The site, which is thus far skeletal, doesn’t list who exactly is behind the project or who is funding it. But earlier this week, in response to a Tweet from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez predicting dim future prospects for Trump “sycophants,” former Democratic National Committee press secretary Hari Sevugan tweeted about the effort.
You better believe it. We just launched the Trump Accountability Project to make sure anyone who took a paycheck to help Trump undermine America is held responsible for what they did. https://t.co/clRu6WSfvL https://t.co/J78dgyHJpG
— Hari Sevugan (@HariSevugan) November 6, 2020
Sevugnan pointed to his tweets when Washingtonian reached out for comment. “I was helping to lift it up, but I’m not in charge,” writes Sevugnan in an email.
Almost immediately, Sevugnan’s announcement sparked some pushback, with online right-wingers likening them to fascists, and a US Senator taking to the floor to invoke “cancel culture.”
The "Trump Accountability Project" is deeply concerning. This kicks up the brownshirt-type activity up a notch. Kristallnacht soon.
This is totally incompatible with democracy. If a politician's team committed crimes, arrest 'em. If not, leave 'em alone.https://t.co/2kjuqcLa4l
— Larry Sanger (@lsanger) November 7, 2020
Sen. Marsha Blackburn: "Liberal operatives have sent up test balloons on the creation of official enemies lists." pic.twitter.com/BhZHCrzgRR
— The Hill (@thehill) November 9, 2020
In fact, the idea of permanently blackballing former political appointees marks a major break with past Washington practice, in which even disastrous service in failed administrations hasn’t been a disqualifier for prestigious onward employment. (Robert McNamara, who was Defense Secretary as the Vietnam War became a morass, was later appointed president of the World Bank; so was Paul Wolfowitz, one of the George W. Bush administration’s main champions of the invasion of Iraq.)
Which is why it’s not especially surprising that the effort has also come under fire well beyond the aggrieved right—or that Sevugnan has appeared to back away, slightly, from some of the site’s statement that appeared to say they’d target anyone “who took a paycheck from the Trump administration.” In a follow-up Tweet, he noted that “there are many staff who checked the Administration from the inside or simply pushed paper.”
While I don’t “own” this project, I am am supportive of the idea of preserving the record and ensuring the officials who actively damaged American democracy aren’t able to profit from that experience. That said, this is a fair criticism. https://t.co/JNhPHmrijH
— Hari Sevugan (@HariSevugan) November 10, 2020