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.
There are several kinds of success stories. We emphasize the ones starring brilliant inventors and earnest toilers. We celebrate sweat and stamina. We downplay the schemers, the short cuts and the subterfuge. But for every ambitious person who has the goods and is prepared to pay his or her dues, there’s another who doesn’t and is content to play the con. In the Trump era and the Trump orbit, these ambassadors of a darker side of the American dream have come to the fore.
.. What a con Holmes played with Theranos. For those unfamiliar with the tale, which the journalist John Carreyrou told brilliantly in “Bad Blood,” she dropped out of Stanford at 19 to pursue her Silicon Valley dream, intent on becoming a billionaire and on claiming the same perch in our culture and popular imagination that Steve Jobs did. She modeled her work habits and management style after his. She dressed as he did, in black turtlenecks. She honed a phony voice, deeper than her real one.
She spoke, with immaculate assurance, of a day when it might be on everyone’s bathroom counter: a time saver, a money saver and quite possibly a lifesaver. She sent early, imperfect versions of it to Walgreens pharmacies, which used it and thus doled out erroneous diagnoses to patients. She blocked peer reviews of it and buried evidence of its failures.
This went on not for months but for years, as Holmes attracted more than $900 million of investment money and lured a breathtakingly distinguished board of directors including two former secretaries of state, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger; a former secretary of defense, William Perry; and a future secretary of defense, James Mattis. What they had before them wasn’t proof or even the sturdy promise of revolutionary technology. It was a self-appointed wunderkind who struck a persuasive pose and talked an amazing game.
She was eventually found out, and faces criminal charges that could put her in prison. But there’s no guarantee of that. Meantime she lives in luxury. God bless America.
Theranos was perhaps an outlier in the scope of its deceptions, but not in the deceptions themselves. In an article titled “The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley” in Fortune magazine in December 2016, Erin Griffith tallied a list of aborted ventures with more shimmer and swagger than substance, asserting: “As the list of start-up scandals grows, it’s time to ask whether entrepreneurs are taking ‘fake it till you make it’ too far.”
Many executive officials seem okay with spending public money on personal expenses, but how would they react if Hillary Clinton were doing it?
.. But if ever there were a crew less suited to drain the swamp in Washington, the Trump team would have to be it.
.. Remember Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price? You may not, since his tenure was less than nine months long. But in that time, according to Politico, he ran up $400,000 in private-plane trips and $500,000 for military flights to Asia, Africa, and Europe.
.. There were also questions raised about his private investment in a company that stood to benefit from his public action.
.. Steven Mnuchin and his wife Louise Linton jetted off to Kentucky last August on a government plane to (depending upon whom you believe): do Treasury business or view the solar eclipse.
.. The couple also apparently requested a military plane for their honeymoon trip to Europe.
.. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin also took his wife to Europe for a ten-day trip.
.. Environment Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, reports the Washington Post, is also being investigated for “at least four noncommercial and military flights
.. I find it hard to think of an EPA emergency that would require Scott Pruitt to fly on a military jet
.. the complicated web of loans and investments and connections Jared Kushner brought with him to the swamp
.. one of the reasons his security clearance was downgraded this week involved accepting loans from a private equity billionaire named Joshua Harris.
Scott Pruitt, the champion of fossil fuel interests who is busily trying to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, and his aides have made the ludicrous argument in recent days that he must fly first class because he is not safe in economy. This has elicited howls of laughter from aviation experts.
.. Mr. Pruitt and his staff have racked up a tab totaling many thousands of dollars for domestic and international trips, including $1,641 for a brief flight from Washington to New York. Mr. Pruitt told The New Hampshire Union Leader that he has to travel in the front of the cabin because people in coach are mean to him. “We’ve reached the point where there’s not much civility in the marketplace, and it’s created, you know, it’s created some issues,” he said.
.. David Shulkin, last week struggled to explain why the government spent $4,000 to fly his wife to Europe
.. the happy couple spent nearly half the trip checking out sites like Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen and Buckingham Palace in London
.. Dr. Shulkin said he was repaying the Treasury for the cost of his wife’s ticket, though not before producing an unusual 28-page rebuttal to the inspector general’s report.
.. Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, his wife, Louise Linton, and their penchant for traveling on military planeswhen far cheaper options are available.
.. Trump appointees like Tom Price, the former health and human services secretary, and Brenda Fitzgerald, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who have had to bail out of the administration because of scrutiny they were under for expensive air travel (Mr. Price) and dubious investments (Dr. Fitzgerald).
When Cohn joined the Trump administration, many corporate executives were relieved, seeing him as a steadying influence.
.. Now, unfortunately, both Cohn and Mnuchin are endangering their reputations in their attempts to sell a tax cut.
.. Within the administration, there are real differences among how top officials have behaved and how they are perceived. Several — Tom Price, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer and Rex Tillerson — have badly sullied their standing with virtually everyone outside the administration. After long careers, they have turned themselves into punch lines.
.. The clearest exception is Jim Mattis, the defense secretary. Mattis has done so partly by avoiding scandal and minimizing conflicts with Trump. But he has also been careful to set his own ethical boundaries. Can you recall a single time when Mattis has said something outright untrue? I can’t. That’s how he has retained his dignity in the eyes of so many people.
.. In the early stages of promoting Trump’s tax cut, they have made a series of statements that are blatantly false — not merely shadings of truth or questionable claims but outright up-is-down falsehoods mocked by various fact-checkers. The statements make the two look more like Trump press secretaries than serious business executives whom members of Congress can trust.
.. They fall into two main categories. The first is who benefits from the tax plan. “Wealthy Americans are not getting a tax cut,” Cohn said on “Good Morning America.” He was echoing a promise that Mnuchin had made before the inauguration: “Any reductions we have in upper-income taxes will be offset by less deductions, so that there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class.”
.. Want to guess how many families in New York State — population 20 million — are wealthy enough that they’re likely to pay any estate tax next year, according to an estimate based on I.R.S. data? Just 470. The number is so low in Montana, Vermont, West Virginia and four other states — likely fewer than 10 families in each — that the I.R.S. doesn’t provide details, to avoid privacy concerns.
.. The Harvard economist Greg Mankiw coined the phrase “charlatans and cranks” specifically to describe people who claim that tax cuts pay for themselves. And Mankiw is a conservative who’s worked for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.
.. Neither one of them has yet turned 60 years old. These won’t be their last jobs.
The Trump Fog Machine erased all his Tweets supporting the other guy in Alabama. No need for that. We do it for him, by following the fresh distractions. Trump is not Teflon. Things do stick to him. But he survives by saying or doing something so outrageous, so regularly, that we forget the last atrocity, and turn on one another.
.. So, this week his cabinet official charged with taking away health care from the poor and cutting the budget for cancer research is using our money to fly private planes at his pleasure. The multimillionaire treasury secretary wanted the same perk for his honeymoon.
.. He’s already tweeted the word “loser” 234 times, “incompetent” 92 times and “pathetic” 72 times. Call them projection tweets, showing the man for what he truly is.
.. He’s already lied about whether his tax plan will benefit the rich and his own family. It will, by eliminating the estate tax, and ensuring that the top 1 percent will get nearly 50 percent of the windfall.
Mr. Trump has grown incensed by Mr. Price’s liberal renting of expensive planes, which he views as undercutting his drain-the-swamp campaign message, according to several administration officials with direct knowledge of the president’s thinking. Through intermediaries and the media, Mr. Trump has let it be known that offering reimbursement as repentance was no guarantee that Mr. Price would keep his job.
.. The newspaper said Mr. Price took at least 26 flights on private jets, including to Nashville, where his son lives, and where Mr. Price owns a condominium, and to St. Simons Island, a Georgia resort area where Mr. Price owns property and recently spoke at a medical conference. Mr. Price also booked a charter flight that included a leg to Philadelphia from Dulles International Airport in Virginia, a distance of about 130 miles.
.. Politico estimated at over $400,000, a number that has not been disputed — and asked why Mr. Price had only offered to pay back only $51,887.
.. On Thursday night, Politico reported that the White House approved Mr. Price flying on United States military aircraft to travel to Europe, Asia and Africa for official events, at a cost of more than $500,000.
.. Combined, the total cost to taxpayers for Mr. Price’s flights comes to more than $1 million, according to Politico... Mr. Price, who was already poised to shoulder some of the blame for the failed Graham-Cassidy health care effort, may have one main saving grace: Mr. Trump has few options of people who want his job