I have met John Brennan, who headed the CIA for four years under President Barack Obama. To say he is not given to hysterics is a gross understatement. His picture ought to be next to the word “sober” in the dictionary. Yet there he was on Saturday morning, using Twitter to tear into the supposed leader of the free world with language normally reserved for the tinhorn dictators of obscure kleptocracies.
What set Brennan off was the administration’s decision to fire Andrew McCabe from his job as deputy director of the FBI just two days before he would have qualified for full pension benefits. Trump had been tweeting with cartoon-villain glee over the dismissal, doubtless because he saw it as furthering his campaign to discredit any witness who might offer damning evidence against him in the Russia probe.
Trump ran the same dishonest routine on fired FBI director James B.Comey, and he’s also trying his best to sully the sterling reputation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The Oval Office has seen pettiness before, and it has seen venality, but it has never seen anything like Trump.
On Sunday, my Post colleague Ruth Marcus reported that the president required senior officials to sign nondisclosure agreements much like the one his lawyers are using in an effort to silence porn actress Stormy Daniels about the affair she says she had with Trump. Such agreements are probably not enforceable in the context of White House service, many legal experts say, but the intent may be to intimidate the signers into silence with the threat of costly litigation.
Read that last paragraph again. We have to discuss attempts to squelch free speech and the public’s right to know, strong-arm tactics of intimidation, furtive sex and a porn star in order to write about an office held by men such as Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt.
There is no “on the other hand” in our current predicament. If Trump were on some kind of learning curve, we’d see some evidence by now. If anything, he is getting worse — perhaps because he senses that the Mueller investigation is closing in, perhaps because he is just hopelessly overwhelmed by the job. At this point, I suppose it’s a good thing that he spends so much time watching Fox News, playing golf and calling old cronies for emotional support. Maybe it’s better that he wallow in self-absorption rather than actually try to run the government, since he has no idea how to make things better but is eminently capable of making them worse.
The Constitution gives Congress the tools it needs to deal with this situation, but Republicans in both the House and Senate refuse to use them. There could be constraints — legislation protecting Mueller from being fired, for example. There could be oversight — hearings into the havoc Trump’s Cabinet is wreaking on government agencies, such as Tillerson’s decimation of the senior Foreign Service or Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s war against climate science. There could be investigations — not only into Russia’s election meddling but also into the many apparent and potential conflicts of interest involving Trump’s far-flung real estate and branding empire.
If Trump does try to fire Mueller, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should get much of the blame. They have given Trump no reason to believe they will ever stand up to him.
Fortunately, the Constitution gives ultimate power to you and me. With every outrageous, shocking and depressing week, the November election becomes more important. The Trump presidency will keep going from bad to worse, and it is our responsibility to use our votes to make it stop.