Former Trump Officials Hit Roadblock in Effort to Force Way Back onto Naval Academy Board

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An effort to get back onto the U.S. Naval Academy Board of Visitors by former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and ex-Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought has hit a roadblock after a federal judge blocked the two men's request for immediate reinstatement. 

Spicer and Vought filed a lawsuit several weeks after the Biden administration removed them from the academy's board as part of a larger purge of 18 officials from boards at all the Defense Department service academies. Many of those officials were close allies of former President Donald Trump, and had been added to the boards in the last days of his administration.

Spicer and Vought argued in their complaint that the Biden administration did not have the legal authority to remove them, and they asked for a restraining order blocking their ousting. 

"The statute governing the Board provides for staggered three-year terms," the lawsuit said, "and it makes no provision or allowance for at-will presidential removal based on political affiliation or otherwise." 

However, in a Dec. 4 ruling, the judge denied their request for such an order, citing the fact that the men failed to show that there is anything in the law that stops a president from firing them. 

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"Even if the merits of this case were closer, the plaintiffs have not met their burden of showing either that they face an irreparable injury or that the public interest favors a preliminary injunction," Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee, wrote in the order. 

Friedrich also noted that, while the two men "argue that their removal from the Board would 'silence dissenting views,' ... they give no indication that their views on the governance of the Naval Academy actually differ from the other Board members'." 

"Nor do they explain how it would serve the public interest to present advice to the president -- the primary function of the board -- that the president does not intend to consider," the order added. 

Neither of the men, who both tweeted reactions to their initial removal, reacted to the ruling on the social media site. A request for comment from their lawyers was not immediately answered. 

Spicer and Vought's firings came after a period of turmoil for the advisory boards of the three DoD service academies.  

In the waning days of the Trump administration -- between Trump's election loss and Biden's inauguration -- Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller frenetically removed and replaced dozens of members of various Defense Department boards. 

The replacements were often Trump loyalists, such as senior adviser Kellyanne Conway; fundraiser and White House adviser Matt Schlapp; and impeachment attorney Pam Bondi. Many had little or no military or defense experience.

In one instance, Miller dismissed nine members of the Defense Business Board and appointed 11 new ones, including Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, two senior members of the former president's 2016 campaign team. 

Unlike most of the other appointments, Spicer has military experience. In 1999, he joined the United States Navy Reserve as a public affairs officer and currently holds the rank of Commander.

Shortly after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin took office in early February, he suspended all the boards and ordered a review.  

The firings of Spicer and others were announced in early September. At the time, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden's goal in purging the boards of visitors for West Point and the Air Force and naval academies was to ensure appointees are qualified to serve and are aligned with the values of the current administration. She denied that the resignation requests were based on political parties. 

"I will let others evaluate whether they think Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and others were qualified, or not political, to serve on these boards," she said in September at a press briefing. 

Spicer and Vought's suit isn't the only one to arise from the drama with the DoD advisory boards. Heidi Stirrup, a former lobbyist who was appointed to the U.S. Air Force Academy board on the same day The Associated Press reported that she had been banned from the Justice Department after pressuring officials to give her information on election-fraud investigations, sued Austin and other defense officials in federal court in July over the ordered suspension.  

In the initial complaint, she alleged that the Air Force Academy's board of visitors was "unlawfully suspended," a move she said was to make way for the "implementation of a radically new and fundamentally unconstitutional Critical Race Theory (CRT) 'race training' curriculum." 

Since its filing, however, the subject of that suit has shifted to include the firings from all three academies. Spicer is a plaintiff in that lawsuit as well, and it is still pending before the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. 

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin. 

Related: Biden Orders 18 Trump Appointees Off Service Academy Boards

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