John Podesta, the chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, served as counselor to President Barack Obama and chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.
Are you searching for a common thread for all the craziness emanating from President Trump’s White House during the past week? To review:
On Monday, the American people received the stunning disclosure that on Jan. 26, acting attorney general Sally Yates warned White House Counsel Donald McGahn that national security adviser Michael Flynn had been seriously compromised by his communications with the Russian ambassador and subsequent lies about those communications.
Armed with that information, the president, the White House counsel and the White House chief of staff did precisely nothing. They permitted Flynn continued access to the most sensitive operations and highly classified information possessed by the U.S. government. They allowed Flynn to staff the executive branch and listen in on his first official call with Vladimir Putin. More than two weeks after Yates’s meeting with McGahn, the president continued to deny knowledge of Flynn’s deceit.
On Tuesday, Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey with the laughable excuse that he had lost confidence in Comey because of his gross mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. The firing of the FBI director was done so hastily that he received his pink slip via cable news.
On Wednesday, the vice president and a slew of top White House aides went out and forcefully and consistently told the American people that the firing had nothing to do with the Russia investigation and was the result of the recommendation of the deputy attorney general, who believed agents in the bureau and the American people had lost faith in Comey.
On Thursday, Trump threw his vice president and key aides under the bus by admitting that their explanation of the firing was a lie, but added in a tweet the next day that you can’t hold anyone in the Trump White House responsible for misinformation because so much is being done by a “very active president.”
On Friday, in a crazy tweet rant, Trump tried to intimidate the former FBI director by saying that Comey had better hope there were no tapes of their conversations.
The common thread here, besides a president with exactly zero impulse control, involves senior White House aides checking their judgment at the door and indulging the president’s impulses. The job of senior White House officials is not to bend to the president’s whim, but to protect the Office of the President of the United States. Failure upon failure to carry out that obligation can no longer be tolerated.
Can we learn anything from these episodes, and is there anything to be done to stabilize our democracy?
This is a White House, starting with the president but including his top aides, that collectively has an utter disregard for leveling with the American people. When former White House press secretary Scott McClellan lamented about the Valerie Plame affair in his memoir, writing, “I had unknowingly passed along false information and five of the highest-ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so,” it was viewed as an aberration in the George W. Bush White House. In the Trump White House, high-level subornation of deceit is an everyday occurrence.
Yet rather than building a team of professionals who can check the president’s impulsive behavior and worst instincts, the president has surrounded himself with a squad of enablers. There are talented individuals working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, such as National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and his deputy, Dina Powell. But too many key roles are filled by people whose talent seems to be damage enhancement rather than damage control.
The combination of the mismanagement of the Flynn episode, the disastrous oversight of conflicts of interests in the White House, and the summary dismissal of Comey while he was in the middle of overseeing the Russia investigation have, to use Yates’s words, “created a compromise situation” for Trump’s top aides, including McGahn and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. It is time not only for McGahn and Priebus to go, but also for a clean sweep of White House officials who cannot say no to the president. Speaking truth to power must begin with a commitment to the truth and not to convenient “alternative facts.”
As for the president himself, his credibility has long ago been shredded. But Trump’s decision to fire Comey in the wake of the director’s request for more resources to investigate the Russian connection has cast a dark cloud over the rule of law and the administration of justice in our country. The need could not be clearer for a special counsel to investigate Russia’s interference in our election, possible collusion by the Trump campaign, and Trump’s ongoing attempts to interfere in the investigation.