Opinion writer

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

A week after the 2016 election, foreign policy expert and #NeverTrumper Eliot Cohen wrote a controversial piece in which he warned:

A gaggle of [senior administration advisers] will poison all decision-making. They will turn on each other. No band of brothers this: rather the permanent campaign as waged by triumphalist rabble-rousers and demagogues, abetted by people out of their depth and unfit for the jobs they will hold, gripped by grievance, resentment and lurking insecurity. Their mistakes — because there will be mistakes — will be exceptional. …

Conservative political types should not volunteer to serve in this administration, at least for now. They would probably have to make excuses for things that are inexcusable and defend people who are indefensible.

No more accurate assessment of the Trump fiasco has been rendered to date.

The three White House staffers roped into providing House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) with classified information that didn’t in fact support the president’s allegation he had been “wiretapped” but was nevertheless grossly inappropriate might be protected in the short run by an administration bent on deflecting attention away from Trump’s dependence on Russian disinformation during the campaign. In the long run, they have proved themselves entirely untrustworthy and exposed themselves to allegations that they improperly handled classified information. As Barton Gellman explains:

Three named officials—two Trump appointees and arguably his leading defender on the Hill—appear to have engaged in precisely the behavior that the president describes as the true national security threat posed by the Russia debate. Secrecy regulations, including SF312, the Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement, do not permit [Michael] Ellis and [Ezra] Cohen-Watnick to distribute sensitive compartmented information through a back channel to Nunes. This is true, and their conduct no less an offense, even though Nunes holds clearances sufficient to receive the information through proper channels.

Then consider what is going on over at the State Department. In addition to picking fights with Mexico and Australia, the Trump team outdone its predecessors in the department of self-destructive and amoral actions with its official abandonment of the Syrian people and more broadly, its repudiation of human rights as a pillar of U.S. foreign policy. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley notwithstanding, the administration has made clear that human rights is a non-essential element of foreign policy. The administration no longer cares to make human rights an issue in its dealings with the increasingly repressive regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. Likewise, “The Trump administration has told Congress it plans to approve a multibillion-dollar sale of F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain without the human rights conditions imposed by the State Department under President Barack Obama.” Trump also does not raise the issue of human rights with regard to China. CNN reports that in advance of China President Xi Jinping’s visit, “Trump administration officials have suggested that inserting human rights into disputes with China could risk alienating the country’s leaders and forestalling cooperation on issues like North Korea. Trump has already rankled China by speaking by phone with the leader of Taiwan after being elected, a break in longstanding US policy.”

In sum, the State Department is now pursuing a policy more indifferent to human rights than its predecessor. Conservatives who bashed the Obama administration and mocked its ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, for silence on Syria might want to consider how they justify enabling the current president’s approach.

As Cohen predicted, at some point you wind up defending the indefensible. Go to the White House counsel’s office, and you wind up excusing Jared Kushner’s and Ivanka Trump’s gross conflicts of interest. Go to the Justice Department, and you’re obliged to defend the egregiously incorrect proposition that the president’s travel ban order is not subject to judicial review. Go to the National Security Council, and you wind up as an errand boy trying to buck up the president’s wiretap delusion and distract from potentially the greatest political scandal (i.e. Russian manipulation of our election) of all time. Go to the State Department, and you’re an apologist for abandoning human rights. Well-meaning public servants should think carefully: What profits your career and ego if you lose your soul?