The position of director of national intelligence was created after the 9/11 terror attacks to prevent another such assault on the American homeland. The DNI, as the director is known, must oversee 17 intelligence agencies with a total budget of about $60 billion. There are few jobs more important in the federal government — or the entire country. Yet President Trump treated the selection of a DNI with less care and forethought than he would give to picking an interior designer for Mar-a-Lago.
When Dan Coats decided last month that he had suffered enough as Trump’s DNI, Trump reportedly called Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to ask what he thought about Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) as a replacement. “Burr responded that he didn’t know much about the lawmaker but would consult with a few people,” Politico reported. “But less than a half hour later, Trump tweeted that Ratcliffe was his choice.”
Trump picked Ratcliffe, it seems, because he liked the congressman’s obnoxious questioning of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in July hearings and his role in spreading cuckoo conspiracy theories about a nonexistent “secret society” of FBI agents supposedly out to get the president. But it soon emerged that Trump didn’t know much about his new nominee.
In the days after Trump impetuously announced Ratcliffe’s nomination on July 28, The Post and other news organizations discovered that the three-term congressman from Texas had greatly embellished his résumé. He had boasted that he had “arrested over 300 illegal immigrants in a single day” and had “firsthand experience combating terrorism. When serving by special appointment in U.S. v. Holy Land Foundation, he convicted individuals who were funneling money to Hamas behind the front of a charitable organization.” Turns out that Ratcliffe had played only a small role in a sweep of undocumented immigrants and an even smaller role in the Holy Land case; an aide told the New York Times that Ratcliffe only “investigated side issues related to an initial mistrial.”
With Senate opposition growing, Trump withdrew Ratcliffe’s nomination on Friday just five days after putting him forward. He had lasted less than half a Scaramucci. In pulling the plug, Trump both credited and blamed the media, saying, “You are part of the vetting process. I give out a name to the press and you vet for me, we save a lot of money that way. But in the case of John [Ratcliffe], I really believe that he was being treated very harshly and very unfairly.”
Ratcliffe was treated “very harshly and very unfairly” — but by Trump, not the news media. There’s a reason presidents normally vet nominees before, not after, they’re announced. It’s better both for the prospective appointee and for the president to have any skeletons uncovered before swinging the closet door wide open.
By ignoring the traditional way of doing things, Trump subjected his personal physician, Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, to considerable embarrassment in 2018 by nominating him to become secretary of veterans affairs and then having to withdraw the nomination after stories emerged accusing Jackson of “freely dispensing medication, drinking on the job and creating a hostile workplace.” The Defense Department inspector general even launched an investigation of Jackson. Learning nothing, Trump repeated the same mistake this year when he nominated Herman Cain and Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors — posts for which they were utterly unqualified. Facing Senate resistance, Trump had to withdraw their names — but not before unflattering details of Moore’s divorce became public.
And those are the good-news stories: the nominees who never took office. Much more common for Trump has been his discovery, after the fact, that his appointments were terrible mistakes. His clunkers have included a secretary of state
- (Rex Tillerson) who devastated morale at the State Department; a national security adviser
- (Michael Flynn) who was convicted of lying to the FBI; three Cabinet officers (Interior Secretary
- Ryan Zinke, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Health and Human Services Secretary
- Tom Price) who were forced out for improper travel expenses and other ethical improprieties; a secretary of labor
- (Alexander Acosta) who had given a sweetheart deal to a wealthy sex offender; and of course a communications director
- (Anthony Scaramucci) who was fired after 11 days for giving a profanity-filled, on-the-record interview to a reporter.
Coats is the 10th Cabinet member to leave the Trump administration. In President Barack Obama’s first two years in office, not a single Cabinet member departed. Trump also has a record-setting rate of 75 percent turnover among senior, non-Cabinet officials. The cost of this constant churn and chaos is high: It becomes nearly impossible to develop or pursue coherent policies.Trump is a president straight out of “The Great Gatsby.” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of his protagonists: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” In Trump’s case, the thing that he has smashed up is America’s government, and the cleanup cannot begin until January 2021 at the earliest.
Bret: Anyone who survives a half-dozen bankruptcies and goes on to win the presidency should never be written off.
Gail: Sigh. Good point.
Bret: Trump is a master of inventing new dramas to make us forget the old ones. And if unemployment and growth figures remain good a year from now, he’ll still have a powerful argument for a second term.
Bret: I’m not too worried. Capitalism survived the transition from horse-and-buggy to the Model T. It survived the transition from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy to a service-based one. And it survived the creative destruction of countless other forms of employment. Where, for instance, are the typesetters these days?
Gail: Well, they’re not creating hot new social media sites.
Bret: Now the question everyone is asking is what will happen to all those truck and cab and Uber drivers — a total of three million professional drivers — once driverless cars become ubiquitous. There’s no doubt the transition will be painful for some of them, and policymakers need to be sensitive on that point. But if history is any guide, things will work out. Many of those drivers will find work in industries that currently don’t exist. Just ask yourself, where was the mobile apps economy at the turn of the century? Where was the internet economy in 1990, or the personal computing industry in 1975?
Gail: I still don’t see the truck drivers working on mobile apps. And if you’re worried about the left’s solutions, I don’t see a whole lot of candidates running around talking about the state taking over the means of production.
Bret: Just wait an election cycle or two.
Gail: But if we’re moving to an economy in which trucks are automated, robots do all the warehouse work and some kind of artificial intelligence is taking orders at the restaurant, we’ll need a government that can create a whole lot of useful public service employment to make up the difference.
Bret: Heaven forfend.
Gail: And underwrite free college education for everybody who needs it.
Gail: And assure lower-middle-class people decent housing.
Bret: My soul is dying.
Gail: All of which would have to be paid for by large taxes on the very rich.
Bret: Now it’s dead.
.. Bret: I’m all for universities figuring out ways to become more affordable for those who need and deserve it, but making college free for everybody makes it bad for everybody. We would wreck a university system that’s still the envy of the world.
.. Bret: As for affordable housing, I’d sooner trust the invisible hand of the market than the heavy hand of the state. Large taxes on the very rich won’t raise the kind of income you need, and sooner rather than later those taxes will land on the decidedly less rich. And A.O.C. should start mastering her facts rather than getting into Twitter wars with fact checkers.
Gail: Hehehe. Knew I’d get you with A.O.C. That’s what people love about her.
.. Bret: I was with you until you mentioned taxes. Purely theoretical question for you (and our readers) for our next conversation: If Congress would agree to cut the top marginal rate to 33 percent in exchange for a pledge by Trump not to run again, would you take it? I’m sure we’ll be hearing from readers on the comments page.
A television show featuring Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who is suing President Trump on behalf of a pornographic film actress, and the former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was pitched to two cable networks in recent weeks, people briefed on the matter said on Thursday.
.. Before becoming a fixture on cable news as counsel to Ms. Clifford, Mr. Avenatti had made a name for himself in California legal circles by mixing serious cases — like a $454 million verdict he won against Kimberly-Clark and Halyard Health for claims they were selling defective surgical gowns — with more tabloid-friendly suits against the celebrities Paris Hilton and Jim Carrey.
.. He had an early mentor in the aggressive use of media in Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations. Mr. Avenatti worked during college and law school at Mr. Emanuel’s political communications firm, the Research Group. The firm specialized in so-called opposition research, or digging up potentially embarrassing information on opponents for future use in the press.
Other than Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the lone remaining enforcer is Kelly. But his power as chief of staff has been diminished. Officials said the days of Kelly hovering in the Oval Office morning to night and screening the president’s calls are over. Trump is largely circumventing Kelly’s strict protocols.
The president recently reached out to some people Kelly had sought to excommunicate, calling former communications director Anthony Scaramucci to banter about politics and inviting Lewandowski and Bossie to dinner in the residence.
“He’s rotating back to the people who actually like him and is more willing to take advice from those people,” Scaramucci said. “They’re more honest with him, and he’s more comfortable with them.”
Allies said Trump is reverting to the way he led the Trump Organization from his 26th-floor office suite at Trump Tower in Manhattan. There, staffers were functionaries or lawyers, and many of his advisers were outside the company — rival business leaders, media figures and bankers. Back then, Trump controlled his orbit himself from behind his cluttered desk, relying on assistant Rhona Graff to field calls.
.. Ascendant in the West Wing are advisers who play to Trump’s gut: Kudlow on tax cuts and deregulation, Bolton on a muscular approach to foreign affairs, Peter Navarro on protectionist trade policies, Stephen Miller on crackdowns on undocumented immigrants and Kellyanne Conway on an open press strategy and tangling with reporters.
.. Like Conway, Bolton and Kudlow are seasoned cable news commentators who share Trump’s hard-charging instincts and have no illusions about his governing style. Officials said they are expected to cater to the president’s wishes and seek to avoid the internal knife fights that have befallen many a Trump aide.
.. “Gary was really good, but I don’t know if Gary ever embraced the Trump economic ideas. He was more of a traditional Democrat or moderate Republican. Kudlow is a real cheerleader for the tax cuts in a way Gary never was, although he helped get them passed.”
.. Trump has been frustrated by news stories of White House tumult and has ordered aides to contest the notion that there is chaos.
.. “The top story, number one, is Stormy Daniels,” King said he told Trump. “I told him it’s utterly ridiculous. I just came back from Hamburg, Germany, and they were just laughing at us.”
The nature of the comedy, it was soon clear, was that here was a group of ambitious men and women who had reached the pinnacle of power, a high-ranking White House appointment — with the punchline that Donald Trump was president. Their estimable accomplishment of getting to the West Wing risked at any moment becoming farce.
A new president typically surrounds himself with a small group of committed insiders and loyalists. But few on the Trump team knew him very well — most of his advisors had been with him only since the fall. Even his family, now closely gathered around him, seemed nonplussed. “You know, we never saw that much of him until he got the nomination,” Eric Trump’s wife, Lara, told one senior staffer. If much of the country was incredulous, his staff, trying to cement their poker faces, were at least as confused.
.. Reince Priebus, the new chief of staff, had, shortly after the announcement of his appointment in November, started to think he would not last until the inauguration.
Then, making it to the White House, he hoped he could last a respectable year, but he quickly scaled back his goal to six months.
.. Kellyanne Conway, who would put a finger-gun to her head in private about Trump’s public comments, continued to mount an implacable defense on cable television, until she was pulled off the air by others in the White House who, however much the president enjoyed her, found her militancy idiotic. (Even Ivanka and Jared regarded Conway’s fulsome defenses as cringeworthy.)
.. Leaking became the political manifestation of the don’t-blame-me eye roll.
.. Bannon tried to explain him as having a particular kind of Jungian brilliance. Trump, obviously without having read Jung, somehow had access to the collective unconscious of the other half of the country, and, too, a gift for inventing archetypes: Little Marco … Low-Energy Jeb … the Failing New York Times. Everybody in the West Wing tried, with some panic, to explain him, and, sheepishly, their own reason for being here. He’s intuitive, he gets it, he has a mind-meld with his base. But there was palpable relief, of an Emperor’s New Clothes sort, when longtime Trump staffer Sam Nunberg — fired by Trump during the campaign but credited with knowing him better than anyone else — came back into the fold and said, widely, “He’s just a fucking fool.”
.. Part of that foolishness was his inability to deal with his own family.
.. Even Donald Trump couldn’t say no to his kids. “It’s a littleee, littleee complicated …” he explained to Priebus about why he needed to give his daughter and son-in-law official jobs.
.. To lose your deputy chief of staff at the get-go would be a sign of crisis in any other administration, but inside an obviously exploding one it was hardly noticed.
.. To say that no one was in charge, that there were no guiding principles, not even a working org chart, would again be an understatement.
.. The competition to take charge, which, because each side represented an inimical position to the other, became not so much a struggle for leadership, but a near-violent factional war.
.. By July, Jared and Ivanka, who had, in less than six months, traversed from socialite couple to royal family to the most powerful people in the world, were now engaged in a desperate dance to save themselves, which mostly involved blaming Trump himself. It was all his idea to fire Comey! “The daughter,” Bannon declared, “will bring down the father.”
.. Scaramucci, a minor figure in the New York financial world, and quite a ridiculous one, had overnight become Jared and Ivanka’s solution to all of the White House’s management and messaging problems. After all, explained the couple, he was good on television and he was from New York — he knew their world. In effect, the couple had hired Scaramucci — as preposterous a hire in West Wing annals as any — to replace Priebus and Bannon and take over running the White House.
.. There was, after the abrupt Scaramucci meltdown, hardly any effort inside the West Wing to disguise the sense of ludicrousness and anger felt by every member of the senior staff toward Trump’s family and Trump himself. It became almost a kind of competition to demystify Trump. For Rex Tillerson, he was a moron. For Gary Cohn, he was dumb as shit. For H.R. McMaster, he was a hopeless idiot. For Steve Bannon, he had lost his mind.
.. Trump, in the estimation of his senior staff, did not have the discipline to navigate a tough investigation, nor the credibility to attract the caliber of lawyers he would need to help him. (At least nine major law firms had turned down an invitation to represent the president.)
.. Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories — now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions — he just couldn’t stop saying something.
.. By summer’s end, in something of a historic sweep — more usual for the end of a president’s first term than the end of his first six months — almost the entire senior staff, save Trump’s family, had been washed out: Michael Flynn, Katie Walsh, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon. Even Trump’s loyal, longtime body guard Keith Schiller — for reasons darkly whispered about in the West Wing — was out.
Gary Cohn, Dina Powell, Rick Dearborn, all on their way out.
.. The president, on the spur of the moment, appointed John Kelly, a former Marine Corps general and head of homeland security, chief of staff — without Kelly having been informed of his own appointment beforehand.
.. Kelly seemed compelled by a sense of duty to be, in case of disaster, the adult in the room who might, if needed, stand up to the president … if that is comfort.
.. Hope Hicks, Trump’s 29-year-old personal aide and confidant, became, practically speaking, his most powerful White House advisor.
.. the staff referred to Ivanka as the “real wife” and Hicks as the “real daughter.”
.. Hicks’ primary function was to tend to the Trump ego, to reassure him, to protect him, to buffer him, to soothe him. It was Hicks who, attentive to his lapses and repetitions, urged him to forgo an interview that was set to open the 60 Minutes fall season.
.. Instead, the interview went to Fox News’ Sean Hannity who, White House insiders happily explained, was willing to supply the questions beforehand. Indeed, the plan was to have all interviewers going forward provide the questions.
.. The tax bill, his singular accomplishment, was, arguably, quite a reversal of his populist promises, and confirmation of what Mitch McConnell had seen early on as the silver Trump lining: “He’ll sign anything we put in front of him.”
.. 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.
At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.
In his letter, Lieberman cited a case in which even statements that contained some amount of opinion were found to be defamatory when they claimed a public official had been unethical, and wrote that Scaramucci “has never been charged nor found to have committed any ethical violation. . .”.. Scaramucci, a 1986 graduate of the university, was appointed to a five-year term on the board in 2016... Scaramucci did not respond immediately to a request for comment Monday, but he responded publicly on Twitter, saying, “All I need is an apology and correction. Get the facts right. Defamation is not unflattering coverage. It’s defamation.”He also wrote, “I asked for an apology. Plain and simple. In our country defamation comes with its consequences.”
.. “Sending a graduate student a letter accusing him of something two days before Thanksgiving and demanding a response within five days is clearly mean-spirited,” Rose said. “The ACLU of Massachusetts is not going to allow Mr. Caballero or anyone who’s a journalist to be bullied into silence. There’s a long history in this country of trying to use defamation law to silence critics.”
.. Frederick M. Lawrence, the secretary and chief executive of the Phi Beta Kappa society, who is a lecturer at Georgetown Law, said, “The Supreme Court has said when a public figure is involved, defamation requires that the reporting was done with knowledge of falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth. The burden of proof for a plaintiff who is a public figure in a defamation suit is very, very stiff.”
But who’s laughing now? Upon exiting his job he apparently had his pick of posh lecture-circuit agents, one of whom told Mike Allen of Axios that Spicer scoffed at the suggestion that he might be worth only $20,000 to $30,000 per speech, which is what other former press secretaries made.
.. Ask Anthony Scaramucci. He was sent packing after just 10 profane and ignominious days as the White House communications director, and what do you suppose he did? Change his name and enter the political equivalent of witness protection? Retreat to a monastery for prayerful atonement until the shame dissipated?
.. For decades, it has been customary for the former attendants of presidents and presidential candidates to cash in. The Clintons were a money train with no shortage of passengers, and Bill and Hillary themselves never shrank from turning political pain into financial gain. She’ll mint fresh millions from her new book, “What Happened,” and from engagements to promote it.
.. They weren’t idealists in grateful thrall to some coherent vision or exalted principles that he was advancing. They were more or less flunkies for a bully whose top priorities have always been an immense fortune and immeasurable celebrity, though not necessarily in that order. Spicer and Scaramucci are paying their onetime boss the highest of compliments. They’re emulating him... Mike Flynn .. He’s weighed down by actual scandal, while Spicer and Scaramucci are weighed down only by their volitional debasement, and that’s apparently no drag at all... The ethos of enrichment in this administration starts at the very top, with Trump and his family, for whom the presidency represents the ultimate branding opportunity... This separates Trump from his predecessors, none of whom had or held onto the array of business interests that remain in his possession, managed by his flesh and blood. And he’s hardly shy about advertising that empire. He and members of his cabinet swan and sup at the Trump International Hotel in Washington whose earnings since his inauguration have handily exceeded expectations... Of course the initiation fee to join Mar-a-Loco doubled shortly after his election, to $200,000.. To judge by what has happened in only its first seven and a half months, the office’s degradations under Trump may well include its commercialization beyond anything seen before... And the marketability of the Trump clan and those around them proves anew that visibility and notoriety are their own rewards, regardless of how they come about.. No matter what people thought of him, they wanted to ogle him, and he’ll be merrily monetizing that for some time to come.
So will Spicer, who at least had the good sense to turn down an offer from “Dancing With the Stars,” which is more than Energy Secretary Rick Perry can say.
.. “His name ID is massive,” said the speaking agent who talked with Mike Allen, referring to Spicer. “He’s obsessed with that.”
.. Spicer bragged to Allen about how his White House press briefings had been nightly prime-time viewing in parts of Europe. “I’m one of the most popular guys in Ireland,” he crowed.
.. So what if he trashed his previous reputation as a reasonably straight shooter? Who cares if he spread the lies of a serial fabulist? That’s entertainment! And it’s lucrative.
I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money,” Scaramucci told reporters as Spicer left the White House. What a poignant farewell. And what a perfect tell.