Perhaps Accountability Is Possible

“I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

“Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one’s mind.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham

But he did change his mind. The New York Times’ team of Maggie Haberman and Eric Lipton and Katie Rogers report on how that finally happened:

He knew he was inviting criticism by choosing his own luxury golf club in Miami for the site of a gathering of world leaders at the Group-of-Seven summit in June, President Trump told his aides opposed to the choice, and he was prepared for the inevitable attack from Democrats.

But what Mr. Trump was not prepared for was the reaction of fellow Republicans who said his choice of the club, the Trump National Doral, had crossed a line, and they couldn’t defend it.

So Mr. Trump did something that might not have been a surprise for a president facing impeachment but that was unusual for him: He reversed himself Saturday night, abruptly ending the uproar touched off two days earlier by the announcement of his decision by Mick Mulvaney, his acting chief of staff.

He was going to show off his snazzy property. Everyone would pay big bucks but he’d offer them a big discount so he wouldn’t really make a ton of money from this. This would be “at cost” – he certainly wasn’t going to take a loss on this – but this wasn’t going to be. Fox News said so, and then even some Republicans decided they weren’t all that frightened of him and said so too:

The president first heard the criticism of his choice of the Doral watching TV, where even some Fox News personalities were disapproving. By Saturday afternoon, his concerns had deepened when he put in a call to Camp David, where Mr. Mulvaney was hosting moderate congressional Republicans for a discussion of issues facing them, including impeachment, and was told the consensus was he should reverse himself. Those moderates are among the votes Mr. Trump would need to stick with him during an impeachment…

With many members already unhappy with the consequences of the president’s move to withdraw troops from Syria, and Democrats pressing their impeachment inquiry, Republicans on Capitol Hill were not eager to have to defend the appropriateness of the president’s decision to host the Group of 7 meeting at one of his own properties.

In short, this was asking just too much, on top of everything else, so he tweeted out the news:

By late Saturday afternoon, Mr. Trump had made his decision, but he waited to announce the reversal until that night in two tweets that were separated by a break he took to watch the opening of Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News program.

The tweets were angry. That “haters” got their way. It was so sad, and so wrong, and he hated all of it, but he did give in, and that led to this:

The president’s reaction “out in the tweet was real,” Mr. Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday. “The president isn’t one for holding back his feelings and his emotions about something. He was honestly surprised at the level of pushback.”

He thought he had been doing America a favor. The world would love his Doral resort and thus love America, because his Doral resort is America and America loves it just as they love him. They’re so very proud of both or something like that, but now he’s mad at someone else:

Mr. Trump’s unhappiness may also extend to Mr. Mulvaney, who at his Thursday news conference – whose intended subject was the summit hotel choice – essentially acknowledged that the president had a quid pro quo in mind in discussions with Ukrainian officials.

He may have to fire Mulvaney over that quid pro quo admission – there was one and everyone should get over it – but he seemed obsessed with his resort:

Many aides have said Mr. Trump – a real estate developer for whom the presidency at times seems like his second job instead of his primary one – had an understandable motivation for choosing Doral: He wanted to show off his property to a global audience.

“At the end of the day,” Mr. Mulvaney said Sunday, “he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business, and he saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders from around the world, and he wanted to put the absolute best show, the best visit that he possibly could.”

He’s basically an innkeeper, a very proud innkeeper, a very proud innkeeper in the wrong business:

“It is really just about him ordering the country to pay him money,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a Department of Homeland Security official in the George W. Bush administration who is now associated with the Heritage Foundation. “It is just indefensible.”

Pushing the Doral site also threatened to hurt the United States’ standing globally, legal experts said, in light of its decades’ worth of efforts to combat corruption by other foreign governments, according to Jessica Tillipman, a lawyer who specializes in an American law known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

“This is no different than any other corrupt leader of an oil-rich African country who is taking money from the government and taxpayers,” she said.

And this was far worse:

Scholars who have studied the history of Group of 7 gatherings – dating to their start in the 1970s – said they could cite no other time when a president effectively tried to force global political leaders to pay his or her family money at a resort owned by the head of state.

“This was unprecedented,” said John Kirton, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto and the director of the G7 Research Group, which studies these gatherings. “This was astounding and embarrassing to the United States.”

And there’s this:

The White House has typically just picked the host city, not the hotels. That has traditionally been left to the State Department, said Peter A. Selfridge, the department’s chief of protocol during the Obama administration…

Mr. Selfridge said perhaps the most confounding piece of Mr. Trump’s now-aborted choice of the resort outside Miami was the idea of welcoming global leaders to a destination that is hot, muggy – and not particularly popular in June.

“It would be like picking northern Minnesota in the middle of the winter,” he said. “You would not want to be there then.”

There is that, but the Washington Post is more succinct:

President Trump was forced to abandon his decision to host next year’s Group of Seven summit at his private golf club after it became clear the move had alienated Republicans and swiftly become part of the impeachment inquiry that threatens his presidency.

In a round of phone calls with conservative allies this weekend, Trump was told Republicans are struggling to defend him on so many fronts, according to an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.

This was the last straw, and he had left them no choice any longer:

In the month since Democrats announced their impeachment inquiry, Republicans have struggled to offer a coherent response. With no White House war room, GOP lawmakers have seized on process-related responses.

At the same time, they’re being asked to defend the president’s erratic approach to policymaking, including his abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops and abandon Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria. That announcement was roundly condemned by Republicans, including some of his staunchest defenders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), in a rare public rebuke of Trump, wrote a withering op-ed in The Washington Post on Friday, just days after 129 House Republicans backed a resolution criticizing the president’s move.

Trump’s decision to host next year’s G-7 meeting at his private golf club only increased the anxiety among GOP lawmakers, some of whom have grown weary of having to develop new talking points almost daily.

The White House is supposed to develop talking points and distribute them, to keep everyone on message. The White House is supposed to have a message. That’s leadership.

This is something else, so there was this:

Fox’s Chris Wallace said a “well-connected” Washington Republican told him that there’s a 20 percent chance enough Republicans will vote to remove President Trump from office in an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Wallace mentioned his source’s comments during an interview with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Fox News Sunday.

Wallace cited an overwhelming House vote criticizing the president’s policies in Syria and an op-ed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) slamming Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from that country.

He then said he had “talked to a very well-connected Republican in Washington, someone whose name you would know well, who says that if the House votes to impeach and it gets to a trial in the Senate, there’s now a 20 percent chance enough Republicans would vote with Democrats to impeach the president.”

Mulvaney said no, everyone loves Trump – every Republican and every American – so that cannot be. Chris Wallace shrugged.

But now, as the New York Times’ Katie Benner reports, something is up elsewhere in the government:

The Justice Department distanced itself on Sunday from Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, declaring that department officials would not have met with Mr. Giuliani to discuss one of his clients had they known that federal prosecutors in New York were investigating two of his associates.

They may have to treat Giuliani as just one more thug representing other thugs:

Several weeks ago, Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and lawyers from the division’s Fraud Section met with Mr. Giuliani to discuss a bribery case in which he and other attorneys were representing the defendants.

That meeting took place before the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan publicly charged the two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, with breaking campaign finance laws and trying to unlawfully influence politicians, including former Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman were part of Mr. Giuliani’s effort to push Ukraine for an inquiry into Democrats.

“When Mr. Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers met with Mr. Giuliani, they were not aware of any investigation of Mr. Giuliani’s associates in the Southern District of New York and would not have met with him had they known,” said Peter Carr, a department spokesman.

Giuliani may be in on all this:

Even as Mr. Giuliani ran a shadow foreign policy campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate the president’s political enemies – which is now at the heart of an impeachment inquiry against Mr. Trump – he and his business associates were under criminal investigation for unlawfully wielding political influence. And while all of this was happening, Mr. Giuliani still served as a lawyer to clients with cases to plead before the Justice Department.

And that may ruin him:

In distancing itself from Mr. Giuliani and trying to draw bright lines around how the Justice Department will and will not engage with him, the department has also undercut the perception that Mr. Giuliani can influence some of Washington’s most important lawyers and decision makers. That could make it harder for Mr. Giuliani to represent clients who are under Justice Department scrutiny in the future…

Last week, Mr. Giuliani told The New York Times that he was being unfairly attacked by reporters and lawmakers and that questions about his behavior would “destroy” his business.

“I can’t publicly defend everything I do because I’m presumed guilty,” Mr. Giuliani said in a text message. “If I did, my business and firm would be unable to have any clients.”

Giuliani may have to order Trump to fire Benczkowski, but things don’t work that way:

Foreign business leaders and politicians have long hired those with ties to the White House as consultants, paid back channels to the administration who could plead their cases and present their interests to American decision makers.

Mr. Trump, however, was not connected to the usual array of Washington power brokers who had built lucrative businesses off their ties to American leaders, and Mr. Giuliani was perceived as the rare figure who could provide a direct line to the president.

Now that tie to the Justice Department seems to be gone, and Mr. Giuliani himself is a person of interest in at least two federal investigations.

Donald Trump may not be able to save him. Something is up. Politico says it’s the revenge of the Deep State:

They’ve been derided as a “deep state,” slurred as “Obama holdovers,” threatened with draconian budget cuts and told President Donald Trump doesn’t even need them.

Now, America’s diplomats are taking their revenge.

In recent days, current and former Foreign Service officers have defied Trump administration orders and trudged to Capitol Hill to testify before House committees conducting an impeachment investigation against the president. Colleagues inside the State Department and their allies in the broader foreign policy community are quietly hailing them as heroes, with special praise for those testifying despite still being on the government payroll.

And their testimony has been deadly:

In their testimonies, the diplomats have described being sidelined on Ukraine policy as Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and political appointees – apparently at the president’s direction – pursued a “shadow” foreign policy that included withholding some $400 million in military aid to Kyiv…

Overall, the diplomats’ testimonies have bolstered allegations that Trump tried to improperly pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival. But some also used the platform to air long-held grievances about Trump and his aides’ treatment of the State Department’s career staffers, several of whom were demoted or sidelined after attacks by the conservative media.

But it had to be done:

The defiance has risks: It could deepen the rift between Trump and the State Department while fueling more global confusion over U.S. foreign policy positions. Many of Trump’s top aides view Foggy Bottom as a den of Democratic intrigue – a long- and widely held suspicion on the right with roots in the Cold War.

For now, though, it feels pretty good to hit back.

“People are fed up,” said Laura Kennedy, a former U.S. ambassador who remains in touch with officials in the State Department. “There’s a deep well of resentment that’s just bubbled toward the top.”

And the White House laughed at that:

Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, took a shot at the diplomats who testified, calling them “career bureaucrats who are saying, ‘You know what? I don’t like President Trump’s politics so I’m going to participate in this witch hunt.'”

That might not have been the best response:

In a furious essay in Foreign Affairs magazine, William Burns, a highly regarded and famously measured Foreign Service veteran who now leads the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, turned heads in Washington when he compared Trump’s treatment of U.S. diplomats to the days of communist hunting led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

“The damage from this assault – coming from within the executive branch itself, after nearly three years of unceasing diplomatic self-sabotage, and at a particularly fragile geopolitical moment – will likely prove to be even more severe to both diplomatic tradecraft and U.S. foreign policy,” Burns warned in the essay, which was widely read at the State Department.

Yes, but that never mattered with Trump:

Just days after Trump took office, White House officials were infuriated after around 1,000 State Department officials signed a “dissent channel” memo criticizing Trump’s “travel ban” on people from several Muslim-majority countries. The affair hardened perceptions among political appointees that the department was a Democratic bastion.

Later in 2017, when he was pressed on why he’d left so many top State Department positions empty, Trump said he simply didn’t need them.

“The one that matters is me,” Trump told Fox News. “I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”

This won’t end well, but it’s not just the diplomats. The Washington Post’s Missy Ryan reports this:

A cascade of criticism by current and former military officials of President Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from Syria has thrust into plain sight internal debates over the military’s role in foreign policy and whether uniformed officials have a responsibility to publicly appraise decisions affecting American security.

Someone else has had just about enough of Trump:

Retired Gen. Joseph Votel, who stepped down this year as head of U.S. Central Command, and other former top officers have issued sharp warnings in the days since Trump ordered a sudden exit of nearly all U.S. forces in Syria, leaving Syrian Kurdish forces that have been an important U.S. partner against the Islamic State exposed to an offensive by Turkey’s better-armed military.

The “abandonment threatens to undo five years’ worth of fighting against ISIS and will severely damage American credibility and reliability,” Votel and co-author Elizabeth Dent wrote in the Atlantic.

And he wasn’t alone:

The hurried drawdown also triggered an unusual wave of commentary, mostly anonymous, by current and former Special Operations troops who predicted that the unceremonious rupture of their partnership with Kurdish forces would spark a militant resurgence.

Those serving in Syria, according to one senior official with knowledge of the mission there, view a cease-fire deal trumpeted by the White House on Thursday as “a total capitulation” to Turkey. “They are livid,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly.

And this is dangerous:

The discontent is straining an axiom that had long guided military officials’ conduct, including decisions about publicly weighing in: While elected leaders “have a right to be wrong,” the military’s role is to execute orders, said Peter Feaver, a scholar on civil-military relations at Duke University

“This comes close to a limiting test of that principle,” Feaver said.

This came up before, back in 2009:

It turns out there are still lines to be crossed in American punditry, and Newsmax columnist John Perry crossed it – and then some. In a column titled, “Obama Risks a Domestic Military ‘Intervention,'” Perry claimed Obama is turning the United States into a Marxist country and must be stopped. Raising the idea of a military coup, Perry, granting that it might not be “an ideal option,” stated that it was nevertheless on the table. “Imagine a bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation,” Perry fantasized. He wondered, is that “unthinkable?” Newsmax pulled the column.

But the idea was out there. The president was dangerous. The military knows this and could toss him out and take over the country for a few years, or more, until things settle down. Everyone trusts the military. Let them run the country. But now the shoe is on the other foot:

The [Kurd] episode follows more than two years in which many Pentagon leaders have chafed at Trump’s testing of institutional and foreign policy norms, including questioning alliances and injecting partisan rhetoric into military events. Again and again, uniformed and civilian officials have struggled to publicly reconcile Trump’s statements with long-held national security views.

The concerns have prompted some former military officials to set aside what some within the ranks see as a code of military silence, culminating last week in an opinion piece calling for the president’s replacement that was written by retired Adm. William McRaven, who headed U.S. Special Operations Command.

The United States is not powerful because of its military or economic might, McRaven wrote, but because its “ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.” The president, he implied, has betrayed that.

McRaven didn’t call for a military coup, but impeachment would be good, although all of this is dangerous:

Scholars and officers agree that in a properly functioning system, uniformed leaders are supposed to privately share their advice with civilian leaders and, if necessary, their objections about a particular course of action. But some say those norms on which that process was built are now being strained.

“The best way for a democracy to work is not for bureaucracies to slow-roll and second-guess” decisions made by elected leaders, said Jason Dempsey, a former infantry officer who writes about civil-military relations at the Center for a New American Security. But the system is also predicated on “good faith among all the actors operating within known bureaucratic boundaries,” Dempsey said.

Those boundaries are gone:

Derek Chollet, an assistant defense secretary under Obama, said the push-and-pull felt within the military community probably would intensify as what is sure to be a divisive presidential election approaches. “The military, whether it likes it or not, is going to get caught up in this in ways that are going to be very uncomfortable, for it and for us,” he said.

The discomfort appeared to be captured this past week by a photo tweeted by Trump showing him in a standoff with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during a meeting of senior administration and congressional officials at the White House. The president sought to draw attention to what he characterized as a “meltdown” by Pelosi, but the photo also shows Trump’s new chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark A. Milley, sitting to his right.

While most of the officials are looking on at the Trump-Pelosi exchange, Milley, who took on the military’s highest-ranking role less than a month ago, is staring down at his hands, his face tight.

He knows what is happening, as does Michelle Cottle:

President Trump is right: The deep state is alive and well. But it is not the sinister, antidemocratic cabal of his fever dreams. It is, rather, a collection of patriotic public servants – career diplomats, scientists, intelligence officers and others – who, from within the bowels of this corrupt and corrupting administration, has somehow remembered that their duty is to protect the interests, not of a particular leader, but of the American people…

Their aim was not to bring down Mr. Trump out of personal or political animus but to rescue the Republic from his excesses. Those who refuse to silently indulge this president’s worst impulses qualify as heroes – and deserve our gratitude…

Mr. Trump prides himself on punching back against perceived enemies, publicly suggesting that “spies” and “traitors” and people who turn “rat” deserve to have their lives and their families destroyed. Small wonder that few congressional Republicans have dared express even gentle concern over Mr. Trump’s increasingly erratic behavior. But still the patriots come.

And they fight what Charles Blow explains here:

Trump’s strategy is simple: Be brazen. Conduct your corruption in plain sight. And, it follows a simple logic: If it were wrong, I would be ashamed of it and attempt to conceal it. The fact that I haven’t attempted to shroud it is proof of its virtue.

That is what’s maddening about the Trump presidency: how much harm has been done as America looked on, with full awareness of the damage, and Trump has yet to be held accountable for any of it.

But that time is drawing to an end.

In fact, Blow sees this:

Wrong is wrong, whether you parade it or put it away. In fact, it is the flaunting of wrongdoing that should carry more of a penalty, not less of one. We can’t allow our numbness to make this normal. It isn’t.

This impeachment inquiry is the best thing Congress has done to help the country in years. Some worry that an impeachment would tear the country apart. To the contrary, I believe that it will bring the country together. A majority of Americans will recognize and rally around a common set of facts, a common truth, and reject Trump’s attempt to bend reality.

It’s not that I believe that the Senate would be in any danger of actually voting to convict and remove Trump. It’s that we need to know that at least some of these Republican men and women who make our laws are not totally craven and devoid of morality.

And, Republicans and independents need to know that holding Trump accountable is not a sour grapes pursuit to re-litigate 2016, or born out of maddening personal hatred of the man himself.

This is far bigger than all that.

Trump is a stress test on our system and constitutional government and we dare not fail. Trump must be held accountable not only because his corruption dictates it, but also because we must demonstrate that accountability is possible.

It is? Well anything is possible, even accountability. Now the trick is to make it likely. That business with the Doral resort is a start.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Perhaps Accountability Is Possible

  1. Ed Martin says:

    Lots of quotes from wannabe mind readers in this piece.

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