Former George W. Bush administration solicitor general Ted Olson last week turned down President Trump's entreaties to join his legal team for the Russia investigation. And now Olson is explaining what seems to be his reasoning.
It probably won't surprise you.
“I think everybody would agree: This is turmoil, it's chaos, it's confusion, it's not good for anything,” Olson said Monday on MSNBC's “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” “We always believe that there should be an orderly process, and, of course, government is not clean or orderly ever. But this seems to be beyond normal.”
Olson was speaking broadly about Trump's personnel changes, but it's not difficult to apply his comments to Trump's legal situation. Last week, after the president insisted that he was happy with his legal team, the White House announced the hiring of former U.S. attorney Joe diGenova, tried unsuccessfully to hire Olson, parted ways with lead Trump personal attorney John Dowd, and then lost diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, over conflicts with their other clients.
None of it was the stuff of a well-oiled machine. How the White House announced diGenova's hiring without checking on his conflicts is mind-boggling in and of itself. Dowd's departure came after he had suggested the week before that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's Russia investigation should be shut down. Olson's attempted hire would have been a potential game-changer, given his cachet in Washington legal circles, but it just looks like an embarrassing Hail Mary in retrospect — especially given that Olson had turned Trump down once before.
In retrospect, it's easy to see why Olson has turned Trump down twice. In addition to his commentary Monday, Olson authored a Fox News op-ed a week ago — right around the time he was being recruited — accusing the Trump administration of “acquiescing in the evisceration of one of America’s most important counter-terrorism laws” — the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1992:
But where is the Trump administration? In June of last year, the Supreme Court requested that the solicitor general submit the views of the United States as to whether the Court should accept the case for review. This should have been an easy call. As long as we have had solicitors general, it has been recognized that they have a duty to defend the constitutionality of Acts of Congress if there is a reasonable argument to do so. And that duty has maximum force where, as President Obama’s solicitor general wrote, “the statute in question … is a vital part of the Nation’s effort to fight international terrorism.”
Months went by with no answer from the administration. It ultimately took the Trump administration eight months to file its brief. Astonishingly, the brief sided with the PLO and against American victims of terrorism. The administration urged the Supreme Court to leave undisturbed the New York court’s amputation of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Trump seems to enjoy chaos — at least to some degree. And there are arenas in which it could even help him strategically, including, perhaps, when it comes to negotiating with foreign countries. But at home it comes with all kinds of unforeseen consequences.
Olson has been viewing this from his own perspective for a while, and it seems it was too much for him to countenance. He became the most high-profile potential recruit to snub Trump during a period of upheaval in the White House, and now Olson is being pretty honest about the reason for that.
And the upshot of that chaos could wind up being very personal for Trump.