When Trump tried to fire the DHS intelligence chief
Opinion by Miles Taylor
Updated 6:32 PM ET, Wed September 9, 2020
Miles Taylor served at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the Donald J. Trump Administration from 2017 to 2019, including as DHS chief of staff to Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. He is a CNN contributor. Taylor has endorsed Joe Biden for President. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
(CNN)America's democratic process is in greater danger in the 2020 election cycle than it was in 2016.
The reason is two-fold. Our election is being targeted from the outside -- and from within.
First, unlike in 2016, we now face threats to the integrity of the 2020 vote from the inside.
The President himself is undermining election security through a combination of willful ignorance and outright attacks on the system. Indeed, I believe Trump poses a greater risk to the integrity of the US election than America's foreign rivals do.
I don't make this charge lightly, but I've seen the damage firsthand.
During my tenure at the Department of Homeland Security, we couldn't get the President to focus on the subject, even though our adversaries were working feverishly to undermine us. At best, Trump didn't seem to care; at worst, he appeared to welcome the interference, as long as it benefited him politically.
I'll never forget one day in September 2018, when David Glawe, our top intelligence official at DHS, testified in a closed-door classified hearing on Capitol Hill about security threats. He told members of Congress that he supported the spy community's public assessment on Russia -- that Moscow had sought to sow discord in the United States in 2016 and had shown a preference for Trump.
Word got back to the President. He called the Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, that evening and demanded she fire Glawe.
We were astounded. All the man had done was tell the truth. But seemingly consumed with fear about the "collusion" narrative and the Russia investigation, the President was dead set on burying the truth by attempting to purge those who embraced it. After a late-night scramble of phone calls -- and with the help of senior aides at the White House -- we kept the President from tweet-firing the head of DHS intelligence.
It wasn't the last time Trump would try to axe one of his spy chiefs for saying what he needed to hear, rather than what he wanted to hear.
In fact, we were told at one point by the White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney that we should avoid even raising the subject of Russian interference with the President because he didn't want to hear it.
What's worse, since that time, Trump has begun actively undermining public confidence in the electoral process itself.
He has launched a full-frontal attack on mail-in voting at a time when Americans desperately need the convenience due to a global pandemic.
He has widely promoted conspiracy theories about voter fraud.
He has insinuated to citizens that if he loses, it's because the election was rigged.
He has amplified foreign propaganda generated by US rivals overseas.
This effort to use the Office of the President to "tip the scales" in the election is without precedent in modern history. And we cannot tolerate it.
Second, the same bad actors from 2016 are back. Russian operatives are bent on undermining the November vote in order to pit Americans against one another and to create civil unrest in the United States. They have already been denigrating former Vice President Joe Biden and using social media to boost President Donald Trump's reelection effort.
But this time they are joined by others. The Chinese and Iranians are working to meddle in our democracy to achieve outcomes they think will benefit their nations, whether it's promoting a certain US candidate or amplifying an issue they want to see prioritized in the US political discourse. Right now, for example, the intelligence community believes the Chinese want Trump to lose the election.
It didn't have to be this way. During my time with the Trump administration, I served at the highest levels of DHS, where we were responsible for protecting US elections against foreign interference.
Career DHS officials and others throughout the government have done incredible work. As a result, our election infrastructure (such as voting machines and vote-tallying processes) are better defended than they were in 2016.
Yet the White House paid far too little attention to the ongoing threat posed to our elections and failed to punish the Russians sufficiently after their meddling in the 2016 election, leaving the door wide open to other nation-states to engage in similar practices.
It is imperative that elected officials -- especially those in the Republican Party -- condemn Trump's persistent assault, as well as efforts by foreign actors, on the electoral process by drawing a line in the sand.
They must demand that he cease the loose talk about vote-rigging, stop amplifying foreign propaganda, condemn and punish all countries that try to muck around in our elections (regardless of their intentions), and most importantly, accept the results of the election, even if they are unfavorable to him.
These shouldn't be difficult demands. They're the bare minimum expectation of our nation's chief executive.
If GOP leaders don't have the courage to demand the President respect our democratic process, then they don't deserve the jobs they hold, or for which they are campaigning.
Accordingly, voters should draw their own red lines by signaling to politicians that they should protect our elections -- or face removal from office.
The health of our democracy depends on it.