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Protecting the presidential line of succession

When I first broke into the U.S. government consulting business, in 1981, I worked briefly on the continuity of government (COG) program. In particular, I worked on the part of it that was concerned with maintaining the presidential line of succession.

I was impressed with the number of statements I signed promising not to breathe a word of what I worked on, but I don’t think it’s a damaging national security disclosure to point out that the government spends a lot of time – and money – worrying about the security of the line of succession. At the height of the cold war, even a threat to the person who stood 12th in the line of succession, was a matter of significant national security concern.

A Soviet “decapitation strike” – or any other event – that took out significant portions of the line of succession – especially those near the top – was considered a national security threat nearly equivalent to a massive Soviet land attack in Germany or an attack that threatened our nuclear retaliation force.

A lot of words to make the point: the line of succession is a serious matter. Yet, on January 6, 2021, the country’s commander in chief, who swore an oath to protect the country against “all enemies, foreign and domestic,” abetted a mob that intended to decapitate the top three people in the current line of succession (vice president Pence, speaker Pelosi, President pro tem Grassley) and the same three positions in the upcoming administration (vice president-elect Harris, speaker Pelosi, and President pro tem in waiting Leahy). All five were in the Capitol that day and all five were in danger.

In our history, there has only been one decapitation plot as dangerous as January 6: the Good Friday 1865 plot which killed president Lincoln, severely wounded Secretary of State Seward, and failed to attack the third target, vice president Andrew Johnson.

The traitor who led that attack was the subject of a nationwide manhunt and was found and executed within two weeks. Donald Trump, the traitor who posed the gravest national security threat to this country since the Cold War hasn’t been clapped in irons nor lost the support of his base.

We’ve had all manner of presidents, some good, some bad, most pretty mediocre. But among the first 44 presidents, we never had one who wasn’t at least a loyal patriotic American who wanted the best for the country. Even James Buchanan, arguably the worst of the first 44, tried hard. He often caved to the southern states but that was because he was trying to hold the Union together. Even Richard Nixon, the biggest threat to the Constitution among the first 44, never made war against the United States. With the events of January 6, Trump left the peer group of James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, and George W. Bush and has joined the company of such as Guy Fawkes, Caligula, and John Wilkes Booth.

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Leon Reed is a former US Senate staff member, defense consultant, and history teacher. He is a five year resident of Gettysburg, where he volunteers with SCCAP and at the Resource Room at the park visitor center; writes military history; and explores the park and the Adams County countryside. He is the publisher at Little Falls Books, a board member of Adams County Habitat for Humanity, and is chairing the Adams County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee. He and his wife, Lois, have 3 children, 4 cats, and 5 grandchildren.

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  • Hardly! If the people were serious about over throwing the government they would have been armed and ready to battle. Fake narrative being perpetuated for deflection and personal gain by parties who do not have the best interest of our country at heart! It is evident by what has occurred to the American people since the transfer of the Presidency.

    • Thanks for your comment on my article. But the main thing I think your comment illustrates is the almost unlimited capacity of the MAGA crowd to deny the plain truth and to excuse inexcusable behavior by Trump.

      For your information, the people pointing out a) that everyone knew from day 1 that the stolen election claims were ridiculous lies and b) that the insurrection was instigated within the Oval office were Trump’s own aides. The ones who were still with him at the bitter end.

      • Agreed, Mr. Reed.

        LMHeyser also ignores that insurgents came armed and clearly battled those protecting our nation’s Capital Building on Jan. 6. Over 140 police officers injured by folks claiming to support the Blue.

        At least one convicted to date (Guy Reffitt of Texas) and several others charged with carrying firearms. A bunch charged with seditious conspiracy. There is also the dud from Alabama who had explosives in his truck. He awaits trial. Others, including some from PA came armed with various types of sticks, knives and other assorted types of weapons, which they used against the police. Some arrived late, or intended to arrive late, all while armed with guns (Mr. Shirk from Cornwall Boro, PA, for instance).

        How I wish we could return to the days of folks being less dishonest and less willing to sow discord.

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