The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Even the ‘good guys’ don’t look so good

Since President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9, the explanations for the dismissal have been getting murkier. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump has demonstrated time and again that anyone who comes within his orbit becomes intellectually and ethically corrupted. Career prosecutor Rod J. Rosenstein is now sullied by his involvement in the firing of former FBI director James B. Comey. Republicans in Congress have tossed overboard promises (e.g., preserving full protection for preexisting conditions) and principles (e.g., restriction on the executive branch) — and then misrepresented their actions. (“It keeps the GOP’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act — but doesn’t really repeal the Affordable Care Act. It passed after conservatives demanded that it allow states to nix some mandated benefits — but states aren’t actually going to do that.  . . . What many Republicans say is sometimes hard to square with the facts.”)

Previously respected lawmakers, especially House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), now excuse or refuse to remark on the president’s aberrant behavior and refuse to name a select committee to investigate Russian meddling in our elections.

Longtime GOP operatives who enjoyed good relations with the press (e.g., Sarah Huckabee Sanders) now peddle ridiculous excuses or flat-out misrepresent the truth.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is reduced to apple-polishing on national TV. (“I have to earn his confidence every day.”) When he says he will never compromise his own values, one wonders how he can countenance the president’s pretextual firing of the FBI director and sending out aides and the vice president to lie as to the real reason for Comey’s firing.

Even Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, seems to have lost her way. “The president is the CEO of the country,” Haley told ABC’s News  George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. “He can hire and fire anyone he wants.” No, no, no. He is the chief executive of one branch of government, and he does not have the right to fire someone and lie about the reason as a means of derailing an investigation of executive-branch employees. Where did Haley get the idea he was responsible to no one and unconstrained by laws and norms? Again, to work for Trump requires one to think up justifications that defy common sense and ignore reality.

Even some of the “better” senators haven’t been very good. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) insists there cannot be a special prosecutor because this is a counterespionage investigation. HUH? Rosenstein is supervising the investigation, which Comey specifically said encompasses a criminal inquiry; the question is whether someone free from political manipulation (which Rosenstein is not, as demonstrated in the Comey firing) should do that job.

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Then there is Vice President Pence. If reports are accurate that he participated in the decision to fire Comey, then he knew full well the real reason for his firing. (The Post reported, “Vice President Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, senior adviser Jared Kushner, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Counsel Donald McGahn were the closest to the president as he weighed his options, according to White House officials.”) He was no victim of false information, but rather a purveyor of the false story that Rosenstein had initiated the firing. He repeated this lie to the faces of lawmakers and to the public at large. Here too a once squeaky-clean pol is now reduced to carrying false messages to his former colleagues, not to mention the American people.

From the 2016 presidential campaign to Comey's firing, here are three instances when Trump contradicted Pence. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Trump, we warned throughout the campaign, cannot attract and retain decent people. Those unwilling to dissemble won’t join the administration, and those dutiful public servants who do wind up covering for Trump with lies and non-facts.

One of the few Republicans who never endorsed Trump and seems unaffected by the GOP compulsion to stick with a mendacious president, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), observed on “Face the Nation“: “Lots of people can think that Director Comey, who is a fundamentally honorable man, but people can think that he executed his job in all sorts of clunky and imperfect ways,” he observed. “That’s a different question than whether or not he should have been fired the way he was last week. And I have been critical of that decision. I think it exacerbates the erosion of trust in our institutions.” The lack of trust arises frankly because the president lies so often and ropes others into doing the same that at this point there is no reason to believe what comes out of the mouths of the president, vice president, senior advisers or most of the GOP’s leadership on Capitol Hill.

This president was elected because enough voters felt politicians were not straightforward with them or responsive to their concerns. He is, as anticipated, the least honest president since Richard Nixon and resorts to untruths to defend actions that do not respond to the public’s concerns. The rest of the GOP meekly follows along. We have a “civilization-warping crisis of public trust,” as Sasse puts it, because those in power abuse that trust and partisans on their “team” defend them. Republicans who engage in this behavior demonstrate how essential it is to replace them with either Republicans cut from a different cloth (e.g., Ohio Gov. John Kasich), members of a new political grouping or Democrats.