When does commitment to principle take precedence over keeping your job? It hasn’t happened yet in the Trump administration — no matter how outrageous the president’s actions.
When President Trump told James Comey “I hope you can let this go,” the then-FBI director interpreted that statement as a request to shut down the agency’s investigation into Mike Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser. But Comey didn’t quit over this improper effort to influence the Justice Department. He wrote a memo, now leaked to the press after Trump fired Comey.
“What’s your red line?” Back in January, US Rep. Seth Moulton said that was the question being discussed by administration officials like Defense Secretary James Mattis, after Trump’s controversial executive order to keep citizens of some Muslim-majority countries out of the United States. Since then, Trump has given the men and women who work in his administration plenty of reason to look in the mirror and wonder how much more unprincipled behavior they can tolerate from the president — and from themselves, as enablers.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein drew up the written case that the White House first used to justify Comey’s dismissal. By the next day, Trump bragged that he was going to fire Comey no matter what the Justice Department said, and the cause was the FBI’s investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. When the Washington Post reported that Rosenstein threatened to resign after Trump cast him as the prime mover behind the Comey firing, Rosenstein quickly denied it. Apparently, he didn’t want anyone to believe any such principle would get him to the point of quitting.
When news broke that Trump had shared classified information with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister, H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, was dispatched to tell reporters: “The story that came out tonight as reported is false.” The next day, Trump tweeted that he did share information, and had the “absolute right” to do so. Publicly, McMaster doubled down in defense of Trump. The country can only hope that privately, McMaster — the celebrated author of “Dereliction of Duty,” a book highlighting the consequences of withholding candid advice to the president during the Vietnam War — was braver.
Trump’s deep flaws and venality were obvious from the start. The hosts of “Morning Joe” said Trump cheerleader Kellyanne Conway would go on camera during the campaign and sing her now familiar odes to the candidate. Then, when the interview was over, Conway said she needed to take a shower. Despite all the showers required since that time, in response to the “Morning Joe” revelations, Conway tweeted that her “beliefs, commitment, and loyalties are plain to see.” Her loyalty is not to truth and country, but to Trump and preservation of power.
So far, that’s the case at every level of the Trump administration, no matter what Trump does. Vice President Mike Pence vouched for Flynn, insisting there was no talk of sanctions between him and Russia and backed up the initial White House explanation for why Trump fired Comey. That means he was either out of the loop, misled, or lied to. Of course, he’s not going to quit. If Trump topples, he inherits the White House.
They are all hoping the leaks sink Trump and the press he reviles will do the job they are afraid to do.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.