In the space of a little more than an hour on Tuesday afternoon, life was breathed into three separate and distinct potential investigations of the Trump administration.
First came the independent Office of Government Ethics's recommendation that the White House should investigate Kellyanne Conway's plug of Ivanka Trump's fashion line and “consider taking disciplinary action.” The letter was first tweeted by the House Oversight Committee's Democrats at 2 p.m.
— House OversightDems (@OversightDems) February 14, 2017
A half-hour later, the Republican chairman of the Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), announced a letter probing Trump's apparent discussion of sensitive information out in the open this weekend at Mar-a-Lago.
Finally, a little after 3 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it was “highly likely” the Senate would deepen its Russia investigation after Michael Flynn resigned as Trump's national security adviser and questions emerged about whether his December discussion of sanctions with Russia's ambassador broke the law.
Three separate controversies, all coming to a head at once, and all potentially becoming investigative headaches for the White House. Within 25 days of Trump being sworn in as president. Meet the Trump administration.
The Obama White House, toward the end of its eight years, liked to pride itself on being “scandal free” and avoiding the kind of drama that has marked Trump's first weeks. That claim — while perhaps oversimplifying what actually happened during the Obama years — almost seemed designed to create a lasting contrast with what lay ahead. Basically, the Obama team knew this would happen to Trump. And plenty of others saw it coming too, especially given Trump's many potential conflicts of interest and penchant for controversy on the campaign trail. If you play fast and loose — and Trump certainly does that, for good or bad — this is the result.
Trump supporters will gladly dismiss much of this as politics and the price of Trump doing big things/rocking the boat/Draining the Swamp. But in two of these cases, it's Republicans inching toward broader investigations. The pressure on Chaffetz and McConnell is too much, and the concern is too great to simply ignore these episodes. In both cases, national security is at issue.
What's most remarkable is that all of this is the result of unforced errors. It's one thing to do something for an advantage and have it go south; it's another to mess up for no discernible benefit. In each case, there didn't seem to be a better angel telling anyone, 'Hey, maybe this isn't a good idea.'
When Trump broached a gray area by defending his daughter against Nordstrom's dropping her fashion line, nobody apparently told Conway that going too far with it could violate ethics rules.
When Trump was told three weeks ago that Flynn had misled people about his talks with Russia's ambassador, he apparently didn't do much of anything — including inform Vice President Pence, who had gone on TV and regurgitated Flynn's false claims. This lack of action and disclosure only makes it look like the Trump White House had something to hide.
And when news of North Korea's ballistic missile test broke over the weekend, nobody apparently suggested to Trump that discussing it in the open might not be the greatest idea.
The point is that the Trump White House, either through negligence or design, seems to be almost walking into potential investigations right now. We're less than a month into his presidency, and he's already spurring even Republicans to talk about diving deep into troubling matters within his administration.
And at this rate, there's really no reason to believe this won't be the new normal. If three possible investigations can move forward in one afternoon three weeks into Trump's presidency, that's a bad omen for what lies ahead.