A battle-tested D.C. bureaucrat and self-described Christian nationalist is drawing up detailed plans for a sweeping expansion of presidential power in a second Trump administration. Russ Vought, who served as the former president's budget chief, calls his political strategy for razing long-standing guardrails "radical constitutionalism."

He has helped craft proposals for Donald Trump to deploy the military to quash civil unrest, seize more control over the Justice Department and assert the power to withhold congressional appropriations - and that's just on Trump's first day back in office.

Vought, 48, is poised to steer this agenda from an influential perch in the White House, potentially as Trump's chief of staff, according to some people involved in discussions about a second term who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

Since Trump left office, Vought has led the Center for Renewing America, part of a network of conservative advocacy groups staffed by former and potentially future Trump administration officials. Vought's rise is a reminder that if Trump is reelected, he has said he will surround himself with loyalists eager to carry out his wishes, even if they violate traditional norms against executive overreach.

"We are living in a post-Constitutional time," Vought wrote in a seminal 2022 essay, which argued that the left has corrupted the nation's laws and institutions. Last week, after a jury convicted Trump of falsifying business records, Vought tweeted: "Do not tell me that we are living under the Constitution."

Vought aims to harness what he calls the "woke and weaponized" bureaucracy that stymied the former president by stocking federal agencies with hardcore disciples who would wage culture wars on abortion and immigration. The proposals championed by Vought and other Trump allies to fundamentally reset the balance of power would represent a historic shift - one they see as a needed corrective.

"The president has to be able to drive the bureaucracy instead of being trapped by it," said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who led the GOP's 1994 takeover of Congress.

Vought did not respond to interview requests and a detailed list of questions from The Washington Post. This account of his plans for Trump's potential first day back in office and the rest of a second term comes from interviews with people involved in the planning, a review of Vought's public remarks and writings, and Center for Renewing America correspondence obtained by The Post.

The Trump campaign has distanced itself from the extensive planning. Campaign managers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita said in a statement, "Unless a message is coming directly from President Trump or an authorized member of his campaign team, no aspect of future presidential staffing or policy announcements should be deemed official."

But in a sign of Vought's status as a key adviser, Trump and the Republican National Committee last month named him policy director for the 2024 platform committee - giving him a chance to push a party that did not adopt a platform in 2020 further to the right. Trump personally blessed Vought's agenda at a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser for his group and said Vought would "do a great job in continuing our quest to make America great again."

Some of Vought's recommendations, such as bucking the Justice Department's tradition of political independence, have long percolated in the conservative movement. But he is taking a harder line - and seeking to empower a presidential nominee who has openly vowed "retribution," alarming some fellow conservatives who recall fighting against big government alongside Vought long before Trump's election.

"I am concerned that he is willing to embrace an ends-justify-the-means mentality," said Marc Short, formerly chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, who has said he won't endorse Trump. Vought, Short added, is embracing "tactics of growing government and using the levers of power in the federal bureaucracy to fight our political opponents."

Vought's long career as a staffer in Congress and at federal agencies has made him an asset to Project 2025, an initiative led by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, to lay the groundwork for a second Trump term. Vought wrote the chapter on the executive office of the president in Project 2025′s 920-page blueprint, and he is developing its playbook for the first 180 days, according to the people involved in the effort.

"We're going to plant the flags now," Vought told Trump's former strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, on his far-right podcast. "It becomes a new governing consensus of the Republican Party."

From fiscal hawk to MAGA warrior

Vought was raised in Trumbull, Conn., the son of an electrician and a teacher and the youngest of seven children. Brought up in what he has characterized as a "very strong, Bible-preaching, Bible-teaching church," he attended Christian camps every summer. He received a bachelor's degree from Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian school in Illinois, and headed to Capitol Hill near the end of the Clinton administration.

Vought mastered the federal budget working for fiscal conservatives, including Sen. Phil Gramm and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, both Texas Republicans, while getting his law degree from George Washington University.

Years before the Freedom Caucus enforced right-wing ideology on Capitol Hill, Vought was the bomb-throwing executive director of the conservative House Republican Study Committee. His prime targets: big government and entitlement spending. He worked under Pence, then a congressman, who called him "one of the strongest advocates for the principles that guide us" in 2010.

That year, as the populist tea party movement was surging, Vought joined the Heritage Foundation's new lobbying arm. From a Capitol Hill townhouse dubbed the "frat house," Vought and his other brash, young male colleagues tormented Republican leaders by grading their fealty to fiscal conservatism.

"Russ was determined to make our scorecard tougher than others out there," said Republican strategist Tim Chapman, who worked closely with Vought at Heritage Action. "He wanted to separate the wheat from the chaff."

Joining the Trump transition allowed Vought to put his principles to paper. Later, Pence cast the tiebreaking vote for his confirmation in 2018 as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Vought ascended to the top post in 2019.

But instead of slashing spending as Vought and other budget officials recommended, Trump resisted significant reductions to domestic programs and backed trillions in emergency pandemic assistance. The national debt ballooned by more than $8 trillion.

Vought blamed Congress. And he stood by Trump throughout his tumultuous presidency, as a procession of other Cabinet officials balked at breaching what they viewed as ethical and legal boundaries. "A bunch of people around him who were constantly sitting on eggs and saying, 'Oh my gosh, he's getting me to violate the law,'" was how Vought later described them at a Heritage Foundation event.

By contrast, Vought found workarounds to fulfill the president's ambitions that tested legal limits and his own record opposing executive overreach and deficit spending.

When Congress blocked additional funding for Trump's border wall, the budget office in early 2020 redirected billions of dollars from the Pentagon to what became one of the most expensive federal infrastructure projects in U.S. history. And it was Vought's office that held up military aid to Ukraine as Trump pressed the government to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, prompting the president's first impeachment. Vought defied a congressional subpoena during the impeachment inquiry, which he mocked as a "#shamprocess." The Government Accountability Office concluded that his office broke the law, a claim Vought disputed.

Near the end of Trump's presidency, Vought helped launch his biggest broadside at the "deep state" - an order to strip the civil service protections of up to tens of thousands of federal employees. The administration did not have time to fully implement the order.

After the 2020 election, as Trump refused to concede, Biden officials complained that Vought was impeding the transition. Vought rejected that accusation - but wrote that his office would not "dismantle this Administration's work." He was already planning ahead; bylaws for what would become the Center for Renewing America were adopted on the day of Biden's inauguration, records show.

"There's a marriage of convenience between Russ and Trump," said Chapman, senior adviser at Pence's group, Advancing American Freedom. "Russ has been pursuing an ideological agenda for a long time and views Trump's second term as the best way to achieve it, while Trump needs people in his second term who are loyal and committed and adept at using the tools of the federal government."

Radical constitutionalism

Since Biden took office, Vought has turned the Center for Renewing America into a hub of Trump loyalists, including Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department lawyer later charged in Georgia with trying to overturn Biden's victory in 2020. Vought called Clark, who has pleaded not guilty, "a patriot who risked his career to help expose voter fraud."

"I think the election was stolen," Vought said in a 2022 interview with Trump activists Diamond and Silk. He is no longer in touch with Pence, his longtime patron, who has said Trump's efforts to overturn the vote disqualified him from serving as president again, according to people familiar with the relationship who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive topic.

The Center for Renewing America is among several pro-Trump groups incubated by the Conservative Partnership Institute, founded in 2017 by former senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). The center, a tax-exempt group that is not required to publicly disclose its donors, raised $4.75 million in 2023, according to its annual report.

As Vought and other Trump allies work on blueprints for a second term, he is pushing a strategy he calls "radical constitutionalism." The left has discarded the Constitution, Vought argues, so conservatives need to rise up, wrest power from the federal bureaucracy and centralize authority in the Oval Office.

"Our need is not just to win congressional majorities that blame the other side or fill seats on court benches to meddle at the margins," he wrote in the 2022 essay. "It is to cast ourselves as dissidents of the current regime and to put on our shoulders the full weight of envisioning, articulating, and defending what a Radical Constitutionalism requires in the late hour that our country finds itself in, and then to do it."

In practice, that could mean reinterpreting parts of the Constitution to achieve policy goals - such as by defining illegal immigration as an "invasion," which would allow states to use wartime powers to stop it.

"We showed that millions of illegal aliens coming across, and Mexican cartels holding operational control of the border, constitute an invasion," Vought wrote. "This is where we need to be radical in discarding or rethinking the legal paradigms that have confined our ability to return to the original Constitution."

Vought also embraces Christian nationalism, a hard-right movement that seeks to infuse Christianity into all aspects of society, including government. He penned a 2021 Newsweek essay that disputed allegations of bias and asked, "Is There Anything Actually Wrong With 'Christian Nationalism?'" He argued for "an institutional separation between church and state, but not the separation of Christianity from its influence on government and society."

Looking at immigration through that lens, Vought has called for "mass deportation" of illegal immigrants and a "Christian immigration ethic" that would strictly limit the types of people allowed entry into the United States. At a 2023 conference organized by Christian and right-wing groups, he questioned whether legal immigration is "healthy" because, in a politically polarized climate, "immigration only increases and exasperates the divisions that we face in the country."

In a podcast interview last year, Vought said it's appropriate to question whether immigrants "have any sense of the Judeo-Christian worldview that this country was founded on," adding, "And that doesn't mean we don't give religious liberty, but it does mean - are they wanting to come here and assimilate?"

Vought's views amount to a kind of Anglo-Protestant cultural supremacism, said Paul D. Miller, a Georgetown University professor who published a book critiquing Christian nationalism.

"The Civil War taught us that America is big and broad and strong enough to include non-Christians and non-Whites," Miller wrote in an email to The Post. "It also should have taught us that the greatest threat to the American vision are racial and religious supremacists."

Planning for 2025

Vought's playbook for Trump's first 180 days, the final phase of the Heritage Foundation's Project 2025, has not been publicly released. But a review of his proposals so far suggests that a second Trump term could breach even more political norms than the first.

Vought argues that protocols intended to shield criminal cases from political influence, which were adopted in the wake of the Watergate scandal, have allowed unelected prosecutors to abuse their power. Even as Trump vows to "go after" Biden and his family without providing clear evidence of alleged crimes, Vought wants to gut the FBI and give the president more oversight over the Justice Department.

"Department of Justice is not an independent agency," he said at a Heritage Foundation event last year. "If anyone brings it up in a policy meeting in the White House, I want them out of the meeting."

Echoing Trump, Vought supports prosecuting officials who investigated the president and his allies. "It can't just be hearings," he told right-wing activist Charlie Kirk on his podcast. "It has to be investigations, an army of investigators that lead to firm convictions."

Vought favors boosting White House control over other federal agencies that operate somewhat independently, such as the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces consumer protection laws, and the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates television and internet companies. Trump's never-implemented order from his first term making it easier to fire government employees would allow the White House to excise policymakers who resist the will of the elected chief executive.

"It really concerns me, and I know it concerns Russ, that these agencies have turned on the very people they are supposed to serve," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who led a House panel that Vought pushed for on the alleged "weaponization" of government.

Vought also recommends reviving presidential "impoundment" power to withhold funding appropriated by Congress; the practice was outlawed after President Richard M. Nixon left office, but Vought calls that move "unconstitutional." And he supports invoking the Insurrection Act, a law last updated in 1871 that allows the president to deploy the military for domestic law enforcement.

On abortion policy, Vought calls for Congress to outlaw the drugs used in medical abortions - a hard-line stance at odds with some Republicans, who are sidestepping an issue that has galvanized Democrats in recent elections.

"My personal story has fortified my beliefs," Vought told antiabortion activists in 2020, describing how his younger daughter, now 10 years old, was born with cystic fibrosis. The chronic illness can cause severe digestive and breathing problems and require intense, daily treatment; patients' average life span is 37 years, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Vought said in that speech that 87 percent of fetuses diagnosed with the disease are "tragically aborted" - though the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ACOG and other health organizations told The Post they were not aware of any research of that nature.

Vought proposes in his Project 2025 chapter a new special assistant to the president to ensure "implementation of policies related to the promotion of life and family." To Vought, that means curbing abortion - and boosting the birthrate. "The families of the West are not having enough babies for their societies to endure," he wrote in a Center for Renewing America policy paper.

When Trump said this spring that abortion limits should be left to the states and was silent on a national ban, disappointing some antiabortion leaders, Vought urged them not to lose faith. "Trust the man who delivered the end of Roe when all the other pro life politicians could not," he said.

Even fellow critics of the federal bureaucracy said some of Vought's proposals would face legal challenges and other hurdles. Michael Glennon, a Tufts University constitutional law professor who wrote a book that Vought cites as a formative critique, said in an interview that the framers were wary of concentrating too much power in the presidency.

"If conservatives trash long-held political norms to move against liberals, what will protect them when liberals retake power?" Glennon asked.

Bannon, the former Trump strategist ordered this week to serve a four-month prison term for contempt of Congress, touted Vought and his colleagues as "madmen" ready to upend the U.S. government at a recent Center for Renewing America event.

"No institution set up within its first two years [has] had the impact of this organization," Bannon said. "We're going to rip and shred the federal government apart, and if you don't like it, you can lump it."

Caroline Kitchener, Aaron Schaffer and Jeff Stein contributed to this report.