Welcome to The Republic Sentinel

Defending the American republic, one post at a time.

The Basics

I’m Patrick Eddington, publisher of The Republic Sentinel. Thanks for signing up. Let me get the housekeeping stuff out of the way first before I turn to the substance.

The Sentinel is designed to convey fact-based information, along with my analysis and opinions where appropriate or needed. In this publication, the distinction between what is a demonstrable fact and what I happen to think about said fact will, I hope, be at all times clear. At least that’s my goal.

With respect to comments, Notes, or any other form of exchange between myself and you, the reader, I will always endeavor to be polite and respectful. So long as we can, where necessary, “Agree to disagree agreeably,” our dialogue will be fruitful for both of us.

I will never tolerate invective, hate, or threats—whether aimed at me or another reader of this publication. Those that engage in such conduct will be unsubscribed and blocked.

For the balance of 2024, this publication will be free to all subscribers. You can expect one post every Monday, with potential “Breaking News” pieces during the balance of the week if I believe events warrant it. You’ll also see book reviews on works that fall within scope of the Sentinel’s focus (more on the focus part momentarily). I’ve also taken the liberty of importing over from Medium the body of my work previously published on that platform, as virtually all of it is relevant to the focus of the Sentinel.

In December 2024, and depending on how well the Sentinel is doing, I’ll evaluate the viability of adding a paid tier for 2025 and beyond. The paid tier would feature not only additional weekly posts, but early access to some of my most significant Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) finds and the offer to help you file a FOIA or Privacy Act (PA) request on any group you’re a part of (via FOIA) or on yourself (via the Privacy Act). That paid tier might also include a monthly Zoom with me and other Sentinel subscribers, along with occassional guest experts in the fields of constitutional law, privacy, civil liberties, and violent political extremism, among other topics….which brings me to the substance of what the Sentinel is all about.

The Substance

The Republic Sentinel is focused on threats to our core constitutional rights, and my suggestions for what can be done to mitigate or ideally end said threats.

In the course of my over 35 years in the D.C. metro area, both inside and outside of government, I’ve come to understand that that those threats generally come in two forms: political and institutional.

While the political threats can and often do drive the institutional threats, sometimes people in government agencies or departments charged with national security, homeland security, or law enforcement manage to create threats to our rights strictly through the (mis)use of their institutional power and authority. Let me give you some pertinent examples of both kinds of threats.

Former President Trump’s recent threats to use the power of the state to go after his political enemies if he’s reelected definitely fall into the “political threat” category. Based on his conduct during the last few months of his prior term, we ignore his words at our peril.

In retrospect, Trump's conduct in the months leading up to and after the 2020 election forcefully demonstrated the vulnerability of the federal bureaucracy to subversion by a sitting president unwilling to concede electoral defeat. Two departments in particular were Trump targets: Defense and Justice. The following includes material drawn from the respective transcripts of depositions given to the House January 6 Select Committee by former Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former Attorney Generall William Barr.

Esper on the Outs

Mark Esper's background virtually guaranteed a confrontation with Trump at some point. A West Point graduate and Persian Gulf War veteran, between 1986 and his appointment as Secretary of the Army in 2017, Esper had moved easily within traditional conservative political circles-- including a stint as chief of staff at the Heritage Foundation, time in the House and Senate as a committee staffer, and as VP for Government Relations at defense contractor giant Raytheon before joining the Trump administration. His tenure as Army Secretary was relatively quiet, but his brief time as Secretary of Defense would extremely consequential.

George Floyd's murder at the hands of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, sparked a level of nationwide street protests not seen since the Vietnam War era. Within less than a week, street demonstrations were happening in major cities across the country. In Oval Office meetings with Esper, Attorney General Bill Barr, and other senior officials, Trump made clear he wanted force used against the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters, specifically regular Army troops--something that would've required the invocation of the Insurrection Act and resulted in even more protests and political backlash, especially from Congress.

As Esper subsequently told the House January 6 Select Committee in an April 1, 2022, deposition, he made the decision to move a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division to Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, a short distance from Washington, on June 1 as a means of placating Trump and to buy time for law enforcement and National Guard units to restore order. Per the deposition (p. 25):

Q. Okay. And was that, Dr. Esper, motivated by the discussion you had had with the President earlier or meant to be a demonstration to him that you were acting upon or preparing for something that he wanted to do, despite the fact that it was against your advice?

A. I — there reached - there came a point in the White House - in the Oval Office discussion that I felt that we were on the precipice of the President ordering Active-Duty troops into the District of Columbia to quell the protests.

Two days later, Esper went further, making a live statement before television cameras at the Pentagon that, "The option to use Active-Duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act."

In a subsequent Oval Office confrontation, Trump told that Esper he had taken away "his ability to invoke the Insurrection Act, which legally I did not, but I was not inclined to disabuse him of that notion given where things stood." (Esper transcript, p. 37)

Throughout the summer and into the fall of 2020, Esper continued to oppose the deployment of regular Army troops in response to the ongoing BLM protests. As a result, his relationship with Trump deteriorated. But it was not until November 9--six days after Trump's election loss--that he was unceremoniously told by then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that he was being fired because he "was insufficiently loyal or not loyal to the President." Esper told Meadows that "...my oath was to the Constitution and not to the President." (Esper transcript, p. 40).

Looking back, the significance of Esper's ouster becomes clear. A seasoned national security professional, he successfully thwarted Trump's desire to employ regular Army troop against BLM protesters, and his loyalty was clearly to the Constitution vice Trump.  Esper was the kind of person Trump could ill afford to have in a position of power given his intention to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Another key Trump administration insider who initially had Trump's confidence but was also ultimately shown the door was his second Attorney General, William Barr.

Barr: Late Conversion Trump Apostate

Bill Barr's two terms as Attorney General--first for George H.W. Bush, the second for Trump--has earned him a well-deserved reputation as an ardent, even reckless, defender of presidential authority. After being confirmed in February 2019 to succeed the ousted Jeff Session, Barr was a loyal legal foot soldier for Trump on a host of issues. He was also the kind of partisan fighter Trump loved.

In a speech at the Federalist Society less than a year before the 2020 election, Barr excoriated Administration critics.

"The fact of the matter is that, in waging a scorched earth, no-holds-barred war of 'Resistance' against this Administration, it is the Left that is engaged in the systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law."

Barr's speech was bereft of a single example backing up his claim, but it was the kind of political "red meat" that Trump and his base loved.

And in the wake of George Floyd's murder, Barr took a number of steps to direct federal law enforcement organizations to move against BLM and other protesters.

In late May 2020, Barr authorized the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to surveil BLM and other protesters on a national basis. On September 21, Barr declared New York City, Portland, and Seattle as cities "Permitting Anarchy, Violence, and Destruction," in line with Trump's early declaration in September that cities deemed in such a status were putting the municipalities' federal funding in jeopardy.

Throughout the rest of the late summer and into the fall of 2020, Barr remained firmly in Trump's good graces. But as events would soon show, even Barr had legal red lines he wouldn't cross.

The same day that Trump fired Esper, Barr issued a memo to all U.S. Attorneys stressing the need to investigate voting fraud or other potential violations of federal election laws if there were "clear and apparently-credible allegations of irregularities that, if true, could potentially impact the outcome of a federal election in an individual State." And as we now know, Justice Department investigators spent literally weeks chasing down even the most ludicrous voting fraud claims Trump and his supporters made. None panned out. Trump lost 60 court cases in a failed attempt to change the election's outcome.

As Barr would later relate to the House January 6 Select Committee, Trump verbally exploded during a December 1 White House meeting at which Barr reiterated that there was no credible evidence of election fraud sufficient to change the outcome in a single state. Trump wasn't just unhappy about that news. He continued to fume that Barr had refused to prosecute former FBI Director James Comey despite the fact that Barr had concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Comey for anything. Barr offered to resign, and Trump immediately accepted. (Barr transcript, p. 26)

Barr would later tell January 6 Select Committee investigators that "So I decided after that, fairly shortly after that, that I was going to resign. And, to tell you the truth, you know, shortly after the election, my feeling was, there was no reason to stick around beyond Christmas, frankly. So I was looking for an opportunity to leave before Christmas." (Barr transcript, p. 28)

While Barr did his due diligence in pursuing Trump's allegations of voter fraud (no matter how far fetched or demonstrably false), the Attorney General himself had clearly accepted the election's outcome the night Joe Biden was declared the winner. He announced his resignation on December 14, with effect on December 23. But in abandoning the Department of Justice at that crucial time, Barr left it to lower level officials to fend off Trump’s last-ditch attempts to overturn the 2020 election. It was a very near-run thing.

I’ve spent so much time on these two episodes because they highlight the very real vulnerability of federal executive branch agencies and departments to the kinds of subversion that could pose a far greater threat should Trump actually be reelected.

As I noted just after Christmas 2023 in a piece in Antiwar.com:

If Trump does win and makes good on his promises to cleanse the “deep state” of his enemies and repopulate it with loyalists, exactly what or who could stop him from employing the sweeping and powerful investigative and spying tools used by the FBI, NSA, CIA, and other federal agencies against his political opponents?

Nothing.

Would a Trump loyalist attorney general order a Trump loyalist FBI director to take Trump into custody if a federal court ruled he had violated a surveillance law? No.

Would a Trump loyalist Defense Secretary dispatch troops to arrest him if Justice Department officials refused to do so? No.

Would a Trump loyalist Homeland Security Secretary tell Trump’s Secret Service detail to detain him pending arraignment? No.

Would Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts have the authority, much less the armed and sworn law enforcement personnel, to order Trump detained on federal charges? No.

At the beginning of 2023 in The UnPopulist, I offered some concrete proposals for making it far harder for a would-be authoritarian president to do what Trump is threatening. You can read that piece here. I’ll have further suggestions for “coup proofing” our institutions in the future.

Institutional Threat to Rights: FBI Edition

As for the second type of threats to our rights that I mentioned earlier—the institutional variety—there’s one that tops my list: FBI “Assessments.”

I’ve written at length on this topic elsewhere (an example is here), but simply stated, an FBI “Assessment” is a defacto form of investigation which the FBI can open on any person or group without a criminal predicate.

You can read about the full scope of what the FBI can do via “Assessments” in their Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) (WARNING: HUGE FILE) but for our purposes here what’s important is that FBI agents can via “Assessments” 1) run confidential informants against “Assessment” targets, 2) conduct physical surveillance against the target, 3) search commercial or government databases for information on the target, and 4) question people about the target without revealing that the questionner is an FBI agent. Again, all without any evidence that a federal crime has been or is about to be committed.

Prior to late September 2008, the “Assessment” category didn’t even exist. It was made possible by a revision to the “Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations” as one of then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s last major internal official acts in office during the waning months of the Bush 43 administration.

I’m pleased to report that there is a bipartisan effort underway to investigate the FBI’s misuse of “Assessments,” spearheaded by Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Nancy Mace (R-SC). It’s possible that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on this issue that they’ve requested will be out late in 2024, but more likely sometime in early 2025.

That’s a wrap for now. Going foward, I’ll have much more to say about both types of threats to our rights on a weekly basis. Because I’ve now laid the groundwork for what the Sentinel is all about, future pieces won’t (as a general rule) be quite as long. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me and I hope you’ll stay for the rest of the ride.

Read more