These are all people President Trump has defended when most of the rest of Washington has abandoned them.
And the pattern is clear: If Trump likes you or thinks you're valuable to him politically, he's going to defend you — sometimes even when it makes no sense for him politically to do so. In fact, in at least one case, his reflex to defend has invited legal scrutiny.
The way Trump has gone about defending these guys is just as remarkable as the fact that it happens.
On Thursday morning, White House physician Ronny L. Jackson had already bowed out of the job Trump nominated him for, to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Minutes later, Trump went on “Fox and Friends” and blasted the accusations against the doctor as universally false.
He and his staff have offered no other rebuttals other than to say they liked him personally and to provide President Barack Obama's job performance approval for Jackson. It's as though Trump's reality with Jackson as a patient is the only reality he'll consider. If the allegations are true, working for Jackson was a very different story than being the doctor's most prized patient. The fight was over, Trump had lost, but he couldn't resist defending Jackson anyway.
Trump has defended staff members he personally likes before. Senior White House official Rob Porter had lots of face time with Trump despite being denied a security clearance over allegations from two ex-wives that he physically beat them. When those allegations surfaced, Trump's chief of staff, John F. Kelly, originally defended Porter in part because he thought Porter was a valuable ally in the White House.
Trump gave Porter the benefit of the doubt. If a guy he likes says he's innocent, then he must be. When Porter resigned anyway, Trump zeroed in on how this must be “a tough time” for Porter and wished him “a great career.”
There is perhaps no clearer example of Trump defending someone he likes regardless of what they did (and what trouble defending them causes him) than Michael T. Flynn. Trump fired his national security adviser, who had been on the job for mere weeks, in 2017 after allegations arose that he had not been truthful about past interactions with Russian officials, but in private he has reportedly tried to protect him.
Former FBI director James B. Comey says Trump pulled him aside the day after Flynn got fired and urged the FBI to back off its investigation of Flynn: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
A year later, Flynn would plead guilty to lying to the FBI and is now helping the special counsel investigation of Russia meddling. Comey testified about that conversation and many others with Trump to Congress, and the special counsel is now investigating whether the president may have tried to obstruct the FBI inquiry.
Other times, a person's character has appeared to factor very little in Trump's decision to defend someone accused of behaving badly. Instead, the president has prioritized politics.
Last fall, when Washington Republicans were pulling all the tools out of their kit to try to get Roy Moore to drop out of the U.S. Senate race in Alabama after allegations of past sexual misconduct arose, Trump endorsed him. His reason was very shortsighted, Republicans in Congress thought: Trump wanted a Republican, any Republican, in that seat.
Trump's ability to ignore evidence that doesn't suit his end game and adopt evidence that does is nothing new. He does this frequently with the various investigations of Russian meddling and whether his campaign helped. He seized on the fact that the wife of a top FBI official had accepted money from a Hillary Clinton ally in a failed 2016 election in Virginia to try to argue that the entire FBI is pro-Democrat and therefore he is innocent.
It simply defies logic, but Trump ran with it anyway to prove a point. He appears to be trying to prove a point when defending any number of other former aides and allies accused of doing bad things. The question is: What point is the president trying to make?