Yes, there is an ever-cresting tsunami of presidential corruption news. But this week, in light of Ambassador Nikki Haley’s run-in with presidential vacuity, I want to get back to basics: Donald Trump is incompetent.
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— RECENT HEADLINES —
“Trump Doorman Was Paid $30K in Late 2015 to Keep Rumored Donald Love Child Quiet” (4/12/2018)
“Trump Aides Surprised, Alarmed by ‘Get ready, Russia,’ Missiles-Coming-to-Syria Tweet” (4/12/2018)
“President Now Considering Rejoining Trans-Pacific Partnership aka TPP” (4/12/2018)
“James Comey’s Book Excerpts Are out; Comey Begins Media Tour; Trump Apoplectic” (4/12/2018)
“Mueller Preparing Trump-Russia Report w/o Interviewing President; Will Outline Obstruction: 1) Comey Firing; 2) Don Jr. Mtg. Pretense; 3) Pardons Dangled; 4) Sessions Pressed Not to Recuse” (4/12/2018)
“Trump Is Exhorting Friends to Go on Fox and Call for Firing Mueller, Sessions, Rosenstein” (4/12/2018)
“RNC Sets up War Room and ‘Lyin’ Comey’ Website to Counter Comey’s Media Book Tour” (4/12/2018)
“Cohen Negotiated $1.6M Hush Pymt., From RNC Official to Pregnant Playboy Centerfold” (4/13/2018)
“Trump Pardons Bush-Era Felon Scooter Libby; Widely Seen as Precursor to Russia Pardons” (4/13/2018)
“Trump Personal Lawyer Michael Cohen Is Officially Under Criminal Investigation” (4/13/2018)
“Trump Addresses Nation Announcing Joint (France, U.K.) Strikes on Syria for Gas Attacks” (4/13/2018)
“Steel Dossier Claim Reportedly Confirmed: Cohen Did Go to Prague to Meet w/ Russians” (4/13/2018)
“President Tweets ‘Mission Accomplished,’ Demonstrating Zero Sense of Historical Irony” (4/14/2018)
“Cohen Search Warrant Seizures Probably Include Recordings of Conversations” (4/14/2018)
“Nikki Haley Announces on ‘Face the Nation’: New Russian Sanctions Imminent” (4/15/2018)
“After Russia Complains, Trump Reverses Nikki Haley’s Announcement of New Sanctions” (4/16/2018)
“Sean Hannity Was Revealed in Court to be Michael Cohen’s Mysterious 3rd Client” (4/16/2018)
“Trump Loses Motion to Vet Seized Cohen Evidence for Attorney-Client Privilege Status” (4/16/2018)
“EPA Head Scott Pruitt’s Additional Financial Abuses Continue to Be Discovered and Tallied” (4/17/2018)
“Trump Adviser Kudlow Tries to Take Heat off Trump for Reversing Russia Sanctions, Says Haley Was ‘Confused’ When She Announced Them; Haley: ‘With all due respect, I don’t get confused’” (4/17/2018)
“Trump Exploded at Aides After Last Sanctions (60 Russians Expelled – Should’ve Been Only 4), Felt Manipulated Into Being too Tough, Hates Media Characterizing U.S. as Toughest on Russia” (4/17/2018)
“CIA Head Pompeo Secretly Met w/ NK Leader Kim Jong Un, to Prep for Trump-Kim Mtg.” (4/17/2018)
“Sean Hannity Has Also Retained Another Trump Lawyer, Jay Sekulow, for Past Work” (4/17/2018)
“Former FBI Director James Comey’s Book Is Released Today; He Continues Media Blitz” (4/17/2018)
“GOP Leaders in Congress Demanding Comey Memos Evidence, Jeopardizing Russia Probe” (4/17/2018)
“Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell Kills Any Chance of Vote on Bill to Protect Mueller” (4/17/2018)
“Trump Now Says Russia Probe Not Reason for Firing Comey, Notwithstanding Lester Holt” (4/18/2018)
“AMI (National Enquirer) Releases Karen McDougal From Trump Affair NDA; On Heels of Cohen Searches, Likely Wanted to Avoid Providing Confidential Trump Materials During Discovery” (4/18/2019)
This week was big. Former FBI Director James Comey launched his book tour, amplifying all things Trump-Russia, Trump-obstruction-of-justice, and Trump-corruption. Donald’s personal lawyer and self-described “fixer,” Michael Cohen, had comprehensive FBI no-knock search warrants executed on his home, office, and hotel room. Michael, Donald, and anyone Michael might ever have recorded are sweating bullets. House Speaker Paul Ryan gave his nine-months’ notice to his employer, the American people. He wants to “spend more time with his family.” But he has “full faith” that he will be handing over the speaker’s gavel to a Republican in January 2019.
Yes, there is an ever-cresting tsunami of presidential corruption news. And Paul Ryan is lying about his reasons for quitting. But this week I wanted to get back to basics: Donald Trump’s incompetence.
(I know — I wrote “ever-cresting tsunami” in an article a few weeks ago. But it’s so good I had to use it again.)
“You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday, if he hasn’t already.”
(Haley, Nikki, U.S. ambassador to U.N.; CBS’ Face the Nation; 4/15/2018.)
“She got ahead of the curve. She’s done a great job. She’s a very effective ambassador. There might have been some momentary confusion about that.”
(Kudlow, Larry, former Fox News pundit, long-time Trump confidante, recent National Economic Council director appointee; CNN; 4/17/2018.)
“With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”
(Haley, Nikki, U.S. ambassador to U.N.; statement obtained by Perino, Dana; Fox News; 4/17/2018.)
From all the reporting after Nikki Haley’s declaration of new Russian sanctions, there can be no doubt who actually was confused: Donald J. Trump. And there is no doubt who told Larry Kudlow to lie to the press and say Haley made the mistake: Donald J. Trump.
Poor Larry Kudlow. He’s a former Fox News pundit and long-time confidante of Donald’s but new to the slipshod decision-making processes and circus culture of the Trump White House. Larry thought that when the president gives an order, the rest of the administration falls into place behind it. Larry, keep your chin up and your ears open, watch your back, and you’ll learn the Trump White House is like no other organization. And ultimately, your Oval Office association will (further) soil your reputation like it has all the others.
Here’s what happened, based on reporting and between-the-lines reading.
Following the administration’s missile strike on Syria in retaliation for that government’s use of poison gas on its people, Donald was feeling cocky. After standing up to Putin’s warning not to do it, Donald did it. Sometime between Friday’s strike and Sunday morning, the president’s national security team met, drunk with military success. They decided to impose additional sanctions, on Russian companies suspected of supplying Syria with its poison gas weaponry. Everyone signed off, including the president. Nikki Haley went on the Sunday morning shows to spread the good news: “Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those [sanctions] on Monday, if he hasn’t already.” Russia hears this and throws a hissy fit, stealthily reminding Trump that Putin still has the goods on him. Donald freaks out and changes his mind about the sanctions but won’t take the heat for reneging. He orders Larry Kudlow to say Nikki was “confused.”
Problem solved. Except Nikki Haley doesn’t fall into line. She releases a statement on Tuesday saying, “I don’t get confused.” Larry has egg on his face and apologizes to Nikki. The media is left to figure out the obvious: The president again didn’t know what he was doing; he changed his mind; he devised a plan to sacrifice a scapegoat; and that plan failed.
I’ve criticized Nikki Haley for her past presidential obsequiousity (yeah, I made up a new word). But this time she stood up to Trump. In fact, there is reporting that this could cause a rift in their heretofore mutual admiration relationship. See, Nikki was supposed to shut up, accept Larry Kudlow’s false criticism — that “she got ahead of the curve” — and let Trump off the hook for changing his mind, being indecisive, and being uninformed. She was supposed to take one for the team. But Nikki refused to submit. In doing so, however, she not only stood up to Larry, she stood up to Mr. Big. We’ll see how this sits with him after he’s had time to soak it in.
In the sea of reporting about Russian conspiracy, obstruction of justice, general financial corruption, hush money paid to adult film stars and Playboy models, rampant credible accusations of sexual assault, and enrichment of himself and his family through the presidency, Donald’s pure incompetence is often lost in the story.
“There were curse words, a lot of curse words.”
(anonymous White House staffer; as cited by Jaffe, Greg & Hudson, John & Rucker, Philip; “Trump, a Reluctant Hawk, Has Battled His Top Aides on Russia and Lost”; The Washington Post; 4/14/2018.)
Following the Nikki Haley debacle, it was reported widely that President Trump also was indecisive and uninformed in March, when the White House was debating its reaction to Russia’s attempted murder of a former Russian spy on U.K. soil. Aides explained to Donald that the U.S. would expel 60 Russian diplomats and suspected spies, roughly the same number expelled by European allies. Trump was adamant about not exceeding the Europeans: “We’ll match their numbers. We’re not taking the lead. We’re matching.” (Ibid.; Jaffe, Hudson, & Rucker; 4/14/2018.)
When the news broke the following day, however, the president was apoplectic to find out France and Germany had expelled only four Russians each. Apparently, when his aides told him that European allies were matching U.S. numbers, Trump thought each country was matching our 60 expulsions. Donald was enraged that the media was touting his administration as taking the lead on sanctions and that America was being tougher than any other country on Russia. White House staff tried to explain to him that U.S. expulsions were roughly equal to total European expulsions. Donald was inconsolable, rabid: “I don’t care about the total!”
“There were curse words, a lot of curse words.”
This is extraordinary on two levels. First, Donald was so oblivious to national security discussions, issues, and policies that he thought France and Germany were expelling 60 Russians, like us, instead of just four. Second, Donald blew a gasket thinking Vladimir Putin would be angry with him for taking the world lead on sanctioning Russia’s misdeeds.
This begs the persistent question, again: Why does the president care so much about crossing Putin? It’s ironic that one of the few times Trump does the right thing — punishes Russia for its murderous actions — it turns out he didn’t mean to do it and blames aides for tricking him into it. Donald should be basking in media kudos for being the toughest world leader on Russia. But Nooooooo.
“Get Ready, Russia”
“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
(Trump, Donald, R-N.Y., U.S. president; Twitter post; 4/11/2018.)
After President Trump tweeted — yes, tweeted — this out to the world last week, senior White House staff members were surprised and shocked for two reasons. First, Donald warned our enemies that we were about to make a military move against them. Trump has long criticized political opponents for warning our enemies what we might do militarily in a given situation. Second, the president and his team had not made a final decision on retaliatory action toward Syria. Oops.
After being criticized and ridiculed, Trump tried to take it back, sort of:
“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our ‘Thank you America?’”
(Trump, Donald, R-N.Y., U.S. president; Twitter post; 4/12/2018.)
Can’t you just picture a kid in the schoolyard yelling something like that to his grade school nemesis? Trump is the over-exuberant man-boy who can’t keep his mouth shut about a secret. Except he’s the president of the United States. And the secret is about a possible military strike that could lead to war.
“President Trump, in a sharp reversal, told a gathering of farm-state lawmakers and governors on Thursday morning that the United States was looking into rejoining a multicountry trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal he pulled out of days after assuming the presidency.
“Mr. Trump’s reconsideration of an agreement he once denounced as a ‘rape of our country’ caught even his closest advisers by surprise and came as his administration faces stiff pushback from Republican lawmakers, farmers, and other businesses concerned that the president’s threat of tariffs and other trade barriers will hurt them economically.”
(Swanson, Ana; “Trump Proposes Rejoining Trans-Pacific Partnership”; The New York Times; 4/12/2018.)
OK, let’s set the stage here. Trump campaigned on getting out of all trade deals because he had determined that that was what his base of supporters wanted to hear. Donald was particularly keen on getting out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership aka TPP because President Obama had negotiated and implemented U.S. participation near the end his presidency. Soon after the 2017 presidential inauguration, Mr. Trump pulled America out of TPP.
At a meeting with farm-state (i.e., red state) legislators and governors, attendees were expressing concern that American economic isolation — e.g., not participating in the TPP — could be harmful to farms and other businesses in their states. Impulsively, Trump blurted out he’s considering rejoining TPP. He lets loose this reconsideration without having told his economic team or closest aides.
How could this guy ever maintain a paper route, let alone, a multibillion-dollar company? When Obama wanted it, Trump called TPP a “rape of our country.” But now, for purely political advantage, Donald capriciously announces he is considering rejoining. Note that he still hasn’t exerted the effort to learn whether TPP is good or bad for America.
Donald Trump is well-known for undoing every Obama achievement or policy he can get away with. Granted, some Obama policies might have needed modification. But Trump has no knowledge of the inner workings or merits of any of these, only that they have Obama’s stamp on them. (NOTE: Most of Obama’s accomplishments were good for the country.)
Remember that these examples of Trump incompetency are from just the past week or so.
Only 136 more weeks to go, give or take. What could go wrong? ■