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.”