President Trump is not known for personal courage. He used “bone spurs” to get out of military service in Vietnam. (He apparently is not scared of stairs, but is petrified of sharks and, by his own account, is revolted by the sight of blood. He’s also a germaphobe.) He’ll fire people, but not if he has to confront the person directly. (He sent an aide to fire FBI director James B. Comey; gave up trying to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — when White House counsel Don McGahn wouldn’t do it; and backed off trying to remove deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe when FBI director Christopher A. Wray threatened to quit.) When caught saying or doing something he shouldn’t (e.g., mocking a reporter with a disability, calling African countries “shitholes,” calling Democrats “un-American” and “treasonous,” etc.), he figuratively flees the scene by either denying what he said, or pretending it was a joke. And, for whatever reason, he will bend over backwards to avoid offending Russian President Vladimir Putin.
So when he declared on Monday that, had he been at the site of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, “I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon,” he was widely derided on social media. Obviously, few human beings, even brave ones, would race into a building to confront an active shooter with no weapon. In fact, it would be idiotic to do so. The fact that Trump felt compelled to brag about superhuman physical bravery (and further demean the school resource officer who failed to) is telling.
Lacking a service record of his own, he repeatedly feels compelled to equate military service with other conduct (e.g. sexual promiscuity, military school). He longs to be in the company of military men, but fails to understand the ethos of the American military. (Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis had to talk him out of adopting torture as a policy. He thinks the military wants a parade to show off.) He tries to ingratiate himself with the police by telling them that it is fine to rough up suspects. During the campaign, he said about a protester: “I’d like to punch him in the face.” In office, he called the Kim Jong Un “short and fat” and then made an empty boast that his nuclear button is “bigger” than the North Korean dictator’s nuclear button. His efforts to project manly strength are laughable.
You don’t have to have a medical degree to notice his ocean of insecurity and his need to overcompensate. (“They say X has never been done.” “They say X is the biggest ever.”) And you don’t have to be a political scientist to see that his insatiable need to prove his own worth may lead to international confrontations and domestic dysfunction.
In the case of Trump, his empty bravado has another ramification, a legal one. Trump faces a real confrontation that could end his presidency and land him in a heap of legal trouble, namely an interview with the special counsel about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and Trump’s actions after the investigation began. The president has bragged he’d love to talk to Mueller, but for now is hiding behind his lawyers’ skirts. His lawyers think he is so dishonest that he will lie under oath or is so foolishly loquacious that he’ll implicate himself in wrongdoing. They have resorted to silly excuses. (Too busy!) But, of course, Trump could override his lawyers; he is the client.
Moreover, he is the president, who is sworn to protect and defend the Constitution, which entails getting to the bottom of a plot to interfere with our election. A refusal to testify would be tantamount to admitting that his personal interests conflict with his obligations as chief executive.
The Wall Street Journal reports that his team is even considering a legal fight to prevent Mueller from questioning him.
“President Donald Trump’s lawyers are considering ways for him to testify before special counsel Robert Mueller, provided the questions he faces are limited in scope and don’t test his recollections in ways they say could unfairly trap him into perjuring himself, a person familiar with his legal team’s thinking said.”
It is a ridiculous gambit since the Supreme Court has consistently knocked down “executive privilege” as an excuse for the president and other senior executive-branch officials to avoid providing evidence. Trump could cut off his lawyers’ implicitly insulting line of defense by declaring that he is willing and eager to sit down for as long as Mueller wants and to answer any questions. But he doesn’t.
Trump could invoke the Fifth Amendment, despite the political firestorm it would ignite. Even with that certain political conflagration, Trump may be so afraid of facing Mueller (who served in Vietnam, by the way) that he might even resort even to pleading the Fifth rather than expose himself to the special counsel’s questions.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that Hillary Clinton sat stoically before the GOP-controlled committee charged with investigation the Benghazi tragedy for eleven hours, but Trump cannot muster up the nerve to talk face-to-face with Mueller? Some people, I suppose, are just naturally more stouthearted than others.
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