A confidant of Donald J. Trump who is likely to serve in a senior national security role in any new Trump administration threatened on Tuesday to target journalists for prosecution if the former president regains the White House.
The confidant, Kash Patel, who served as Mr. Trump’s counterterrorism adviser on the National Security Council and also as chief of staff to the acting secretary of defense, made the remarks on a podcast hosted by Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former strategist, during a discussion about a potential second Trump presidency beginning in 2025.
“We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government but in the media,” Mr. Patel said. “Yes, we’re going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections — we’re going to come after you. Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out.” He added: “We’re actually going to use the Constitution to prosecute them for crimes they said we have always been guilty of but never have.”
Earlier in the interview, when asked by Mr. Bannon whether a new administration would “deliver the goods” to “get rolling on prosecutions” early in a second term, Mr. Patel noted that the Trump team had a “bench” of “all-America patriots,” but he said he did not want to name any names “so the radical left-wing media can terrorize them.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Patel, Erica Knight, pointed out that in the same conversation with Mr. Bannon, Mr. Patel said they would “follow the facts and the law.” She also sent The New York Times a statement from Mr. Patel, reading, “When President Trump takes office in 2025, we will prosecute anyone that broke the law and end the weaponized, two tier system of justice.”
But Mr. Trump, who is facing 91 felony charges in four separate cases, has already promised to use the Justice Department to “go after” his political adversaries — signaling that a second Trump term would build on the ways it opened investigations into his enemies during his first term and fully abandon the post-Watergate norm of Justice Department independence.
“I will appoint a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the United States of America, Joe Biden, and the entire Biden crime family,” Mr. Trump said in June.
Mr. Patel was a relatively unknown Capitol Hill staffer in the early days of the Trump administration, in 2017, but he became an aggressive defender of Mr. Trump against the investigation into whether the president’s 2016 campaign conspired with Russians to affect the outcome. Over the next four years, he rose to become one of Mr. Trump’s most trusted aides and among the most powerful national security officials in the federal government.
In late 2020, Mr. Trump trusted Mr. Patel to such a degree that he asked for him to be installed as a deputy director of either the C.I.A. or the F.B.I. Mr. Trump jettisoned this plan only after senior officials, including the former C.I.A. director Gina Haspel and former Attorney General William P. Barr, argued forcefully against the move. Mr. Barr wrote in his memoir that he told Mark Meadows, then the chief of staff, that having Mr. Patel become deputy F.B.I. director would only happen “over my dead body.”
Over the past three years, since leaving government, Mr. Patel has capitalized on his fame as a Trump insider. He has sold “Kash” merchandise on an online store and wrote a children’s book about the Russia investigation in which a “King Donald” is persecuted by a wicked “Hillary Queenton.” The story’s hero is a wizard named “Kash” who exposes a conspiracy to tear down King Donald. Mr. Trump declared that he wanted to “put this amazing book in every school in America.”
Mr. Patel himself has filed defamation suits against The New York Times, CNN and Politico. And since leaving government he has set up a fund-raising entity to “fight the deep state” and finance lawsuits on behalf of the “everyday Americans” who he says have been “defamed” by what he calls “the fake news mafia.”
Mr. Patel’s threats against the news media echo warnings from Mr. Trump himself.
In a Truth Social post in September, the former president wrote: “I say up front, openly, and proudly, that when I WIN the Presidency of the United States, they and others of the LameStream Media will be thoroughly scrutinized for their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things, and events.” He added: “Why should NBC, or any other of the corrupt & dishonest media companies be entitled to use the very valuable Airwaves of the USA, FREE?”
In the same post, Mr. Trump wrote that “Comcast, with its one-side and vicious coverage by NBC NEWS, and in particular MSNBC,” should be “investigated for its ‘Country Threatening Treason.’”
Earlier this year, Mr. Trump recorded a video for his campaign website in which he promised that in a second term he would bring the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadcast licenses, “back under presidential authority as the Constitution demands.”
A spokesman for Mr. Trump, Steven Cheung, was asked if the former president disavowed Mr. Patel’s comments. Mr. Cheung did not answer the question directly, instead referring to a recent public statement from Mr. Trump’s top two campaign advisers that read, “Any personnel lists, policy agendas, or government plans published anywhere are merely suggestions. Likewise, all 2024 campaign policy announcements will be made by President Trump or members of his campaign team. Policy recommendations from external allies are just that — recommendations.”
Mr. Patel is among a small number of former senior national security officials from Mr. Trump’s first term who have stayed close to him. He was appointed by Mr. Trump in June 2022 to be one of his representatives to interact with the National Archives, whose officials had spent months the previous year trying to retrieve reams of presidential records that left the White House when Mr. Trump did, including classified material.
Mr. Patel told Breitbart News during an interview in 2022 that he had been on hand when Mr. Trump declassified documents before leaving office.
That interview attracted interest from federal investigators, who in May 2022 had subpoenaed any remaining classified documents that he hadn’t turned over. Three months later, the F.B.I. executed a search warrant to locate additional classified material at Mr. Trump’s Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago. Mr. Trump’s office claimed shortly after the search of the club that he had a standing order in place as president by which materials that left the Oval Office for the White House residence were considered declassified.
Several former senior officials, including former Vice President Mike Pence, said they knew of no such order.
Despite Mr. Trump’s obsession with news coverage and his need to stay in the headlines dating back to the 1980s, he has grown increasingly threatening toward the press throughout his life and particularly since his political campaigns began in 2015.
He has talked about changing libel laws to make it easier to sue over coverage. He repeatedly encouraged crowds at his rallies to antagonize the reporters gathered at the back covering the events. Once in office, he began referring to the press in public as “the enemy of the people,” language often used by despots globally to justify anti-press crackdowns.
He was obsessed with leaks. He wanted aides to interfere with the merger between AT&T and CNN, which covered him rigorously. And he told advisers he wanted officials to obtain phone records of a journalist covering him, a request that apparently was never fulfilled.
But Mr. Trump is suggesting there will be results next time.
“They are a true threat to Democracy and are, in fact, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” Mr. Trump wrote in September on Truth Social. “The Fake News Media should pay a big price for what they have done to our once great Country!”
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