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Only the Very Best People, Trump Style

President Donald Trump frequently vowed during his improbably successful campaign that he would hire only the very best people, rather than the “political hacks” that he accused the past several administrations of picking, but so far it’s a promise he’s had much trouble keeping. On Wednesday alone there were four more problematic front page stories about Trump’s old and recent hires.
The most prominent story featured Admiral Ronny Jackson, Trump’s pick to replace his previous pick to head the vast and troubled Veterans Affairs Administration. Jackson has been the non-controversial White House physician since President George W. Bush’s administration, and won Trump’s admiration with a suspiciously effusive report about the current president’s health, which anew seems to have added an inch to Trump’s height and taken off a few pounds of his weight, but critics in both parties immediately argued that’s hardly a qualification to run a complex and long screwed-up bureaucracy with 370,000 employees spread out over all 50 states.
That was before more than 20 active and retired military personnel started telling Congress that Jackson’s management style in his much, much smaller office is abusive and demoralizing, that he tends to get inebriated at inopportune times, and hands out sleeping pills and wake-up potions so freely that he’s known around the White House as “The Candy Man.” After that Trump told the press he’d told Jackson that he’d fully understand why Jackson might decide to withdraw his nomination rather than face such scurrilous accusations and “be abused by a bunch of politicians who aren’t thinking nicely about our country,” and after the press seized on that Trump insisted he was sticking his by man. After that Jackson told the inquisitive press corps he would answer all the allegations at the confirmation hearings, but the latest report from The Washington Post has him telling his friends that he might withdraw from the nomination before those postponed hearings get underway.
If he’s not at all the mean and drunk Dr. Feelgood that more than 20 current and retired military personnel describe, we’d advise the telegenic Jackson to forthrightly answer their allegations at the confirmation hearings, and then admit that there’s bound to be somebody in a nation of more than 330 million people who’s better suited to cleaning up the Augean stables sort of mess that has been piling up at the VA over the past several administrations.
Just below that headline is the ongoing tale of Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, and after the Jackson story inevitably fades into the distance that will regain prominence. Cohen has publicly admitted that one of the “fixes” he did for Trump was making a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop talking about a sexual encounter she claims she had with Trump not long after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and it looks as if he made a similar arrangement with a Playboy centerfold model through Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer, which has recently settled it’s own case. Because that all happened while Trump was running for president and involved some suspicious bank transfers he recently had his office and home and hotel room raided by agents from the Justice Department’s southern New York district, which was the big story a while back. The latest update is that Cohen intends to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the ensuing investigation.
Cohen has every right to do so, and Trump and his apologists will argue he has good reason given the vast Deep State conspiracy out to get him, but back when the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices during the campaign they had a different view of the long forgotten Clinton campaign’s information technology guys who pled the Fifth. Even erstwhile “chief strategist” for the Trump campaign and administration Steve “tweeted” Trump’s past statements about how only mobsters take the Fifth, and there’s no shortage of audiotape of Trump’s talk radio defenders saying the same thing. Invoking Fifth Amendment rights seems a sound legal move for Cohen, which we’ll ascribe to the presumably more capable lawyers he’s hired, but it doesn’t do much to help with Trump’s political problems.
Cohen was also involved with Trump’s efforts to build one of his branded Trump Towers in the Russian capital of Moscow, negotiations for which were ongoing during a campaign when Trump was promising the American electorate he had no deals in Russia, and was on board during all sorts of suspicious meetings between the Trump campaign and various Russians, so of course all the information seized from his office and home and hotel room are bound to be of interest to the special counsel investigation into that even more problematic “Russia thing.”
Meanwhile, although it’s less titillating, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt is headed to Congressional hearings amid criticism from both parties. The left hates Pruitt for reigning in the agency’s zealous overregulation, but although even such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves appreciate there’s a bipartisan concern about the way Pruitt lives high on the taxpayer dollar with first class tickets and traffic-stopping motorcades and $43,000 soundproof booths straight out of “Get Smart,” and a sweetheart apartment deal he got from some lobbyists. Stalwart Republican and fellow Oklahoman Sen. James Inhofe said he has been pleased by Pruitt “rolling back regulations and restoring EPA to its proper size and scope, but these latest reports are new to me. While I have no reason to believe them, they are concerning and I think we should hear directly from Administrator Pruitt about them.”
Deeper in the news, interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney boastfully told a meeting of bank executives that as a South Carolina congressman he had a strict policy of never meeting with an out-of-state lobbyist until a significant campaign contribution had been paid. The CFPB was created during President Barack Obama’s administration by Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and bunch of other far-left types to protect consumers from predatory banks, and there are sound Republican reasons for reducing its size and scope, but a guy who openly brags to bankers about he’s open for business probably isn’t the best choice for the job.
And that’s just Wednesday’s headlines. Already long forgotten are the reality star who ran the communications department, the guy who didn’t get to replace her because of a profanity-laden rant to a New Yorker writer, the national security advisor who’s since pleaded guilty to perjury charges, the former campaign chairman under indictment for a whole lot of “Russia thing” stuff, the recently little-seen son-in-law in charge of everything from the opioid crisis to Middle East peace and reinventing government, and so many others that Rachel Maddow giggles uncontrollably whenever the list of small type departures fills the screen on her MSNBC show. Not to mention all the past employees of the New Jersey General and Trump Airlines and Trump Casinos and Trump University and numerous other failed Trump enterprises who didn’t prove the very best people.
Which is not to say that Crooked Hillary would have done any better at draining the swamp, which Trump and all of his apologists will surely note, but still.

— Bud Norman

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Just Another Manic Monday

President Donald Trump was largely out of the news over the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but he made up for with it a manic Monday of mostly embarrassing headlines.
The day began with Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director showing up at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take control as acting director, which was already being contested in federal court by the woman who was tapped for the job by the outgoing director. Although Trump has every legal right to appoint a permanent director to the bureau, the specific law that created the bureau spells out that until the appointment is confirmed by Congress the the outgoing director’s choice is in charge, so there’s a good chance that the courts will quickly bring more embarrassing headlines about the matter over the next few news cycles.
Which is a shame, because there’s a strong case for the changes Trump is clearly eager to bring about at the CFPB. The bureau’s defenders can rightly point to cases where it’s helped out average folks, even if the big one is the Wells Fargo fake-account scandal that the bureaucrats first found out about by the reading the free press, but all those too-big-to-fail banks it was meant to combat keep getting bigger, and so do the fees they charge their customers, and the acting director Trump appointed rightly pointed out that the agency’s quasi-governmental status and non-congressional funding give it power that anyRepublican should fear a Democrat wielding, and any Democrat should fear a Trump appointee weilding
The smart move would have been to quickly appoint a permanent director to make the necessary changes and have all his good friends in the Republican majorities in Congress quickly confirm, and quietly suffer whatever indignities some President Barack Obama administration holdover might cause in the brief interim, but that’s not Trump’s style.
Later in the day Trump had a photo opportunity with three aging Navajo “code talkers,” who were one of the great stories of World II, and the smart move would have been to act solemn and grateful and not cause any racial controversy, but that’s also not Trump’s style.
The youngest of the nonagenarian Marine veterans was only 15 years old when he signed up for a bloody war in Guadalcanal and Iowa Jima and the worst of the Pacific theater, and was able to give an eloquent account of how he and his Navajo colleagues helped win that war by sending in-the-middle-of-it radio reports in their indecipherable-to-the-Japanese native language, and how it proved that America is invincible when all sorts of Americans are truly united. Trump was so moved that he said wasn’t going to use the speech that had been written for him, which he handed to one of the veterans as a gift, which would have been a moving gesture if he’d left it at that, but in his extemporaneous remarks he wound up slipping into his campaign rally insult comic mode with an oft-used joke about “Pocahontas.”
“Pocahontas” is of course ¬†Trump’s nickname for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth, who was largely responsible for the creation of the CFPB but has nothing whatsoever to do with Navajo code talkers’ heroism, and he couldn’t resist the opportunity of having Indians on hand to bring up his favorite Indian joke. During her first Senate campaign it was revealed she had long claimed some small amount of American Indian blood and counted herself among some group of Native American scholars or another, which was widely ridiculed at the time by such conservative outlets as this, so Trump has always responded to her frequent criticisms by taunting her as “Pocahontas.” The wittier wags used to call her “Faux-cahontas,” but that’s either too subtle for Trump’s tastes or he figures that hard-core fans wouldn’t get it.
By the now the joke is pretty much played out, and at a ceremony that was supposed to be about Navajo code talkers and a united America’s invincibility it didn’t play nearly so well as it used to at the campaign rallies. The honored guests couldn’t have looked more unamused if they were made of wood and standing outside a cigar shop, the National Congress of American Indians the president of the Navajo Nation was offended by the remark, so was Oklahoma’s Chickasaw and Republican Rep. Tom Cole. White House press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders assured her interrogators that the president didn’t indent any offense to American Indians, and that everyone should be more offended by Warren’s unsubstantiated claims “which should be constantly covered,” but no one in that audience found it convincing.
Trump had already “tweeted” routine gripes about the “fake news” media, this time singling out the Cable News Network, writing with his characteristically random capitalizations that “@FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN is still a source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!” The fans still love this familiar routine at the campaign rallies, but elsewhere the timing was once again a bit off.
Trump’s tweets came just after Russian dictator Vladimir Putin announced his intention to start restricting such foreign media organizations as CNN, and while the governments in Poland and Turkey and the Philippines and other countries that Trump has a similar affinity for are increasingly threatening their own independent journalists, so Trump’s media critiques have an ominously authoritarian tone. They also come at a time Trump’s Department of Justice is challenging a complicated merger of a couple of big-time media giants that involves CNN, and although it’s too complicated for us to say who’s right we can’t blame any court that suspects the administration is pursuing a political vendetta against a perceived enemy among the free press.
There were also stories about Trump telling friends that the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape with him talking about grabbing women by the wherevers and all the rest of it ¬†is also fake news, even though he not only owned up to but actually apologized for it way back when it came out, with all the links to the related story about the credibly accused child molester he’s backing in an Alabama senatorial race. Not to mention the ongoing speculation about why his former national security advisor’s legal team has stopped sharing information with Trump’s legal team regarding a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” which seems likely to generate a lot of future embarrassing headlines.
Today is Tuesday, though, and the rest of the week should be clear sailing.

— Bud Norman