How Important Is the Protest Against Trump from the National-Security Establishment?

During the past few years, we have learned that, almost no matter how outrageous or potentially dangerous Donald Trump’s actions and words are, senior Republicans in Congress, on whose support Trump ultimately depends, won’t break with him. If anything, Trump’s grip on the Republican Party, and particularly on its process of selecting candidates, seems to be getting stronger.

It is therefore tempting to dismiss the growing protests against Trump’s decision to revoke the former C.I.A. director John Brennan’s security clearance as just another summer squall in the nation’s capital, one that will quickly blow over. But possibly—just possibly—this could turn out to be a significant political moment.

The blowback intensified on Thursday, when seven former C.I.A. directors issued a public letter supporting Brennan and denouncing the President’s decision. “We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar actions against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances—and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” the letter said. The letter’s signatories included

  1. William Webster,
  2. George Tenet,
  3. Porter Goss,
  4. Michael Hayden,
  5. Leon Panetta,
  6. David Petraeus, and
  7. Robert Gates,

whose tenures as the head of the C.I.A. spanned five Presidents, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.

That is quite a list. Even the stoutest Trump defenders will have difficulty describing the letter as a partisan political ambush, although, of course, that will not stop them from trying.

.. In asking the President to revoke his security clearance, he was taking a step that could have negative financial consequences for him and his family.

(Many retired military and intelligence figures parlay their security clearances into valuable consulting gigs.)

.. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter that McRaven’s letter “could well be the closest we have come to a Joseph Welch ‘Have you left no sense of decency?’ moment that in many ways broke the McCarthy fever.”

.. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter that McRaven’s letter “could well be the closest we have come to a Joseph Welch ‘Have you left no sense of decency?’ moment that in many ways broke the McCarthy fever.”

.. the former C.I.A. chiefs didn’t go as far as McRaven did. They didn’t attack Trump’s over-all record, call him an embarrassment, or ask him to revoke their security clearances in solidarity with Brennan. But, Haass noted, “They were willing to put their names to something that will not go down well in the White House. It is one thing to take on an individual like John Brennan. But I don’t think the White House counted on this type of reaction. These are patriots. Many of them have served in the military. A lot of members of the Trump base will respect these people.”

.. For months now, Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and pro-Trump media figures like Sean Hannity have been vilifying former senior government officials with long and distinguished records, including Brennan; James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence; and James Comey, the former F.B.I. director.

In the coming days and weeks, the vilification campaign may well extend to McRaven and the former intelligence chiefs who signed the public letter. Will Trump’s base care more about them than they did about Clapper?

.. On Capitol Hill, some Democrats have expressed concerns that Trump’s actions are intended to silence people who might serve as witnesses in any eventual impeachment process or other legal proceeding. Most senior Republicans, predictably enough, are keeping quiet or expressing support for the President’s treatment of Brennan. The “President has full authority to revoke [Brennan’s] security clearance as head of the executive branch,” Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said.

..  especially in the run-up to the midterms, Republicans are unlikely to come out strongly against Trump’s actions, much less hold hearings on them. But he pointed out that, back in 1954, a substantial amount of time—six months—elapsed between Welch’s exasperated remonstration of McCarthy and the Senate’s historic vote to censure the Wisconsin senator, which put an end to his reign of terror.

.. “Sometimes, only in retrospect do actions or words emerge as a key moment, or a tipping point. We’ll only know in retrospect if this is one of those moments.”

For Trump, Book Raises Familiar Questions of Loyalty and Candor

In President George W. Bush’s last year in office, his former press secretary, Scott McClellan, wrote a tell-all book concluding that the Iraq war was a “serious strategic blunder” based on the “ambition, certitude and self-deceit” of a White House that was not fully honest with the American people.

The president’s remaining advisers were livid at what they considered the betrayal of an aide who had been with Mr. Bush since his Texas days. But when Dana Perino, who then held the same spokesman’s job, expressed her indignation, Mr. Bush sighed and told her to find a way to forgive Mr. McClellan or risk being consumed by anger.

.. while the White House and various others challenge the accuracy of specific episodes in the book, its broader portrayal largely squares with the journalistic coverage of the past year based on the president’s own staff.

.. Mr. Bannon is quoted in the book saying things that other advisers have said confidentially for months — that the president is stunningly undisciplined with no patience or interest in learning and driven by intemperate, sometimes absurd motivations. At one point, Mr. Bannon describes Mr. Trump acting “like a 9-year-old,” an observation that has power not because it was unique to those who worked for the president but because it is now on the record in Mr. Bannon’s name.

.. Mr. Trump, of all presidents, should know what to expect given his predilection for making employees sign nondisclosure agreements, a practice he brought from the private sector to his 2016 campaign and the subsequent presidential transition.

.. Mr. Stephanopoulos’s former White House colleagues stayed away from the launch party lest they risk Mr. Clinton’s ire.

.. Mr. Panetta was pushed out. The second was a more respectful but at times unflattering portrayal of his experiences as C.I.A. director and defense secretary for Barack Obama, whom he deemed smart but vacillating and overly cautious.

.. As aggravated as Mr. Trump may be with Mr. Bannon’s apostasy and Mr. Wolff’s book, he may need to get used to it. Just one year in, Mr. Trump faces many years of books to come.

.. Mr. Trump may have more to wonder about with Omarosa Manigault Newman

.. she had seen things “that have upset me.” She added ominously, “It is a profound story that I know the world will want to hear.”

.. Mr. Comey has a different understanding of the meaning of loyalty than the president does. His book is due out on May 1. Its title: “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.”

Forceful Chief of Staff Grates on Trump, and the Feeling Is Mutual

President Trump was in an especially ornery mood after staff members gently suggested he refrain from injecting politics into day-to-day issues of governing after last month’s raucous rally in Arizona, and he responded by lashing out at the most senior aide in his presence.

It happened to be his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly.

Mr. Kelly, the former Marine general brought in five weeks ago as the successor to Reince Priebus, reacted calmly, but he later told other White House staff members that he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of serving his country. In the future, he said, he would not abide such treatment, according to three people familiar with the exchange.

Like every other new sheriff in town Mr. Trump has hired to turn things around at the White House or in his presidential campaign, Mr. Kelly has gradually diminished in his appeal to his restless boss. What is different this time is that Mr. Trump, mired in self-destructive controversies and record-low approval ratings, needs Mr. Kelly more than Mr. Kelly needs him.

.. The question now is how long Mr. Kelly will stay, with estimates ranging from a month to a year at the most.

.. He has thrown himself into long-term planning of the administration’s tax reform push, the president’s Asia trip in November and scheduling for the next several months

.. The president, for his part, has marveled at the installation of management controls that would have been considered routine in any other White House.

A West Coast Plea to an Unstable President

I’ll let Leon Panetta, the wisest of West Coasters and former secretary of defense, speak for us:

“You’ve got two bullies chiding each other with outrageous comments,” he told Politico this week. He worried that the bully in Bedminster may feel that the bully in Pyongyang is “attacking his manhood,” an age-old trigger for war. The similarities between the two of you are unavoidable: the preening, the insecurity, the pathological narcissism, the chronic lying, the bad haircuts.

.. But we sometimes can’t tell the statements between the two of you apart. Was it Kim or your magnificence who said you would turn the other’s capital city into a “sea of fire”? Or force the other’s country to suffer “fire and fury like the world has never seen?”

.. one of your top advisers, Sebastian Gorka, has been trying to sound like you, ratcheting up the my-nukes-are-bigger-than-yours brinkmanship. “We are not just the superpower,” he said. “We are now a hyperpower.” If only he were talking about a Marvel Comics character.

And it’s equally unsettling that your evangelical adviser, the Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, is now giving you cover from the Bible. “God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil,” he said, speaking for God.

.. It will take more than “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake,” more than calling President Xi Jinping of China a good guy one day, a bad guy the next. Diplomacy is hard. But it beats the alternative.

Leon Panetta: How John Kelly can fix the White House

Retired Gen. John F. Kelly has survived combat. The question now is whether he can survive as White House chief of staff.

.. The elements critical to improving White House operations are pretty basic:

.. 1. Trust. There has to be trust between the chief of staff and the president. Each must be honest with the other and be willing to back the other up on personnel and policy decisions.

.. 2. One chief. If there are too many assistants to the president who have no clear portfolio of responsibility but who can go around the chief of staff to the president, that is a prescription for chaos.

For the chief to be successful, he must control all staff, know what each person is responsible for and working on, and be fully aware of all policy discussions taking place with the president.

.. 3. A clear chain of command. Every staff member needs supervision, and that means having clear lines of authority.

.. 4. An orderly policy-development process. It is critical that there be a system for providing the president with the essential information and options required to make decisions on key issues.

.. It may be difficult to stop this president from tweeting, but at a minimum he needs to tweet based on a policy process managed by the chief of staff.

.. 5. Telling the president the truth. There has to be one person in the White House willing to look the president in the eye and tell him the truth — to tell him when he is wrong and when he is about to make a mistake — and that has to be the chief of staff.

.. No president likes to be told he is wrong. However, to be successful, all presidents have to accept the reality that they are not always right.

.. Whether President Trump is willing to make these changes will in large measure determine not just how long Kelly survives as chief of staff, but also the ultimate success or failure of Trump’s administration.

Trump’s presidency hinges on this choice

On one point above all, they were unanimous: The president cannot govern effectively, they said, without a chief of staff empowered to execute his agenda.

.. the president cannot govern effectively without a chief of staff who is first among equals. The chief wears many hats. But he is above all the person the president counts on to turn his policies into reality and, when necessary, to tell him what he does not want to hear.

.. Since the days of Richard Nixon and H.R. Haldeman, every president has learned, often the hard way, that he cannot govern effectively without empowering a chief of staff as his gatekeeper. Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, tried to run the White House according to a model he called the “spokes of the wheel” — with a handful of advisers reporting directly to him, at the center. The result was chaos

.. Carter, horrified by the Watergate scandal personified by Haldeman, chose not to appoint a chief at all; but 2½ years into his term, unable to prioritize his agenda and bogged down in minutia, he realized his mistake and named Hamilton Jordan.

.. Panetta set the stage for Clinton’s reelection. He did it by telling Clinton hard truths.

.. Pitting advisers against one another may work in a family real estate empire, but modern history shows that it is a formula for failure in the presidency. Like Trump, Ronald Reagan wanted to shake up the establishment, but he intuited something Trump has yet to grasp: As a Washington outsider, he needed a consummate insider to get things done.

He found that person in James A. Baker III, a smooth-as-silk 50-year-old Texas lawyer. Baker knew what was doable on Capitol Hill and was not afraid to tell the president what he did not want to hear.

.. No competent chief would allow an executive order on immigration (a core Trump campaign promise) to be dispatched without vetting it with the departments involved.

It’s also hard to imagine Baker or Panetta allowing a president to squander his political capital on an ill-fated health-care bill with almost no chance of passing the Senate.

.. Priebus’s greatest failure has been his unwillingness to confront the president with the painful truth.

.. He cannot succeed as president if he is surrounded by sycophants.

.. Trump can continue to try to govern by himself — his gut instincts unchecked, his advisers warring, his executive orders mired in the courts and legislation dead on Capitol Hill. Or he can empower a chief of staff to take charge

The Death of Clintonism

With Hillary Clinton’s loss, Democrats are burying a once-winning way of politics.

She embraced bold approaches on hot-button issues like immigration and gun control that would have been shocking for a Democrat in her husband’s day, and accepted what was arguably the most liberal Democratic Party platform in history, but that never seemed to be enough to satisfy younger voters, especially. “People thought she’d been conceived in Goldman Sachs’ trading desk,” says one veteran Clinton aide, noting the irony that this was millennial voters’ jaded view of a woman often seen in the 1990s as reflexively more liberal than her husband.

.. A Democratic Party that was seen as more sympathetic to criminals than to victims was not a Democratic Party that was going to win elections. Bill Clinton had to correct that, and he did, and by 2015 we just did not have that kind of violent crime any more

.. It is heartbreaking to have so many young people see him not as the guy who shut down the government to save the Great Society from Newt Gingrich

.. Panetta, whose late-career turn toward national security has overshadowed a keen political mind, thinks the surprisingly tough Democratic primary knocked the Clintons off kilter. “They had to deal with Bernie Sanders and the left. They had to make sure they retained that base,

.. She could not, or would not, say aloud what others in her party knew: That Obama had not only largely overlooked the concerns of white working-class voters but, with his health care overhaul, had been seen as punishing them financially to provide new benefits to the poorest Americans. Fairly or not, he lost the public argument.

.. “You didn’t hear a lot of people putting in context that before Bill Clinton, Republicans had controlled the White House for 20 of 24 years, that his last six years in office were with an all-Republican Congress, or that the main reason he got crushed in 1994 was that he was perceived as being too progressive on health care.