Two on Trump

  1. The Comey firing
  2. Scandal Magnet

1

Of the firing of James Comey, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry notes:

A Nixonian moment this wasn’t.

But this has been a classic Trump moment: impulsive, self-aggrandizing, insecure, passive-aggressive (Trump reportedly didn’t even tell Comey face to face but sent an aide to deliver the dismissal letter), shameless, short-sighted.

So much for style. The Thursday Wall Street Journal and New York Times could hardly contrast more sharply on substance.

Much as I detest this President, and as clumsy and Trumpesque as the dismissal was, the Wall Street Journal’s Review & Outlook, based on Ron Rosenstein’s memo, satisfies me that Comey damaged the FBI in his 2016 public grandstanding related to Hillary Clinton’s private email server. “Grandstanding” is short-hand for usurping the roles of others, like Attorneys General or Deputy Attorneys General.

Rosenstein is not a partisan hack. As far as I’m concerned, the case is closed. I don’t care much about mixed motives because motives rarely are not mixed. It will be darned hard to move me off that position.

But having reached that position, I nevertheless waded into New York Times opinion pieces despite their headlines.

Charles Blow (Trump Is Insulting Our Intelligence) yields nothing but wild insinuendo, ending with an insult to any reader who isn’t suitably outraged: “If this doesn’t stink to you, your nose is broken.”

David Leonhart (Rod Rosenstein Fails His Ethics Test) gives away the store in his opening:

Until two days ago, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, had an enviable reputation as a straight-shooting law-enforcement official respected by members of both parties. Then he decided that he was willing to help President Trump tamper with an investigation into his presidential campaign.

Now Rosenstein’s reputation is permanently damaged, as it deserves to be. In that damage is a lesson for other subordinates and allies of Trump.

Oh, the horror! We can’t bear to look at Rosenstein’s reasoning! All that 2016 stuff has been forgiven because Trump/Russia/rumor!

I’ve said previously I hope that good people already working in the executive branch remain in their jobs and that smart, principled Republicans come to staff many jobs in the Trump administration. I still hope so.

But Rosenstein’s abandonment of the basic principles of ethical government should remind everyone of the risks of joining Team Trump. Once you do, avoiding Trumpian behavior becomes very hard. Adopting it starts to seem normal, even honorable.

Remember, though: There is no job, not even at the highest levels of government, that is worth your reputation.

I hope good people will remain working for the press, but David Leonhart’s haste to vilify Rosenstein because he doesn’t like his conclusions should remind everyone one of the risks of joining The Resistance.

Bret Stephens and Peter Wehner join the chorus.

Most comparable institutionally to the Wall Street Journal’s Review & Outlook is not individual columnists, but the Times Editorial Board’s Open Letter to the Deputy Attorney General:

Given the sterling reputation you brought into this post — including a 27-year career in the Justice Department under five administrations, and the distinction of being the longest-serving United States attorney in history — you no doubt feel a particular anguish, and obligation to act. As the author of the memo that the president cited in firing Mr. Comey, you are now deeply implicated in that decision.

It was a solid brief; Mr. Comey’s misjudgments in his handling of the F.B.I. investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server were indeed serious. Yet you must know that these fair criticisms were mere pretext for Mr. Trump, who dumped Mr. Comey just as he was seeking more resources to investigate ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

Got that? Rosenstein’s right, but you dare not speak truth if it’s convenient for Trump.

Sorry, but “yet you must know” is Charles Blow’s “If this doesn’t stink to you, your nose is broken” with a little softening at the edges.

The only loose end in my mind is the suggestion that Trump ordered Rosenstein to write a memo about Comey’s conduct. But I don’t think Trump is smart enough to know that a memo from Rosenstein would be negative, and if I were Rosenstein, I’d resent like hell the suggestion that I was a lackey.

The Times sharks think there’s blood in the water, and they’re going in for the kill. The Trumpista’s will defend anything Trump does and revel in the vulgarity with which he does it. It’s ugly  out there.

UPDATE on Trumpista loyalty: I had forgotten this.

UPDATE 2: “As far as I’m concerned, the case is closed.” I’ve debated whether to retract that. In light of Trump’s own Thursday comments, I’m limiting it to “firing was not unjust to James Comey.”

2

I was debating whether to publish these two interesting criticisms of Donald Trump, even before the Comey affair.

The case for shutting up: he’s eleven-for-eleven in Court of Appeals and Supreme Court nominees — the only thing he seems to be getting right. Could Mike Pence do any better than that were Trump either impeached or removed as mentally unfit under the 25th Amendment?

Then I decided the question was too calculating. Mussolini mythically made the trains run on time, and though I’m a lawyer, I detest the (admittedly: increasingly plausible) idea that the most important thing a POTUS does is appoint our true, black-robed rulers.

So here goes.

Donald Trump’s still-young administration is so thoroughly scandal-plagued that the president sort of benefits from the fact that it’s difficult for the press or the public to focus on any one scandal before being distracted by another. It calls to mind an old episode of The Simpsons in which feeble, ancient billionaire Montgomery Burns is informed by his doctor that he is sick with every known disease, but all his ailments are in perfect balance, which explains why he isn’t dead.

(Simon Malloy)

Even before we knew about Flynn’s strange ties to Russia or the fact that he was secretly acting as a paid agent for the Turkish government while serving as Trump’s chief foreign policy adviser during the campaign, some of us were warning that Flynn was an Islamophobe, a conspiracy theorist, and an all-around crackpot.

Yet Trump can’t admit that hiring Flynn to be his principal adviser on matters of national security might not have been such a great idea. Instead, he seemed to be arguing that it was actually Barack Obama’s fault that he appointed Flynn. “General Flynn was given the highest security clearance by the Obama administration — but the Fake News seldom likes talking about that,” Trump tweeted on Monday. That’s despite the fact that Obama fired Flynn from his position as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and warned Trump in their post-election Oval Office meeting that putting Flynn in a position of influence in the White House was a dangerous thing to do.

But hey, it can’t be Trump’s fault, right? He doesn’t make mistakes. Don’t forget that during the campaign, when asked whether he has asked God for forgiveness, instead of giving the standard politician’s answer (“Of course — we all need forgiveness at times”), he said, “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so.”

(Paul Waldman)

* * * * *

Men are men before they are lawyers or physicians or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers and physicians. (John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address at St. Andrew’s, 1867)

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.