Where’s John Kelly when you need him?
President Trump’s chief of staff, cast aside like so many of Trump’s advisers, irked the president with his efforts to bring some discipline to him and his operation. But if there’s one thing that’s obvious from the Ukraine controversy, it’s that the president could use more “no men.”
During Roman triumphs celebrating military victories, a slave was supposedly given the task of riding behind the conquering general and constantly whispering in his ear, “Remember, you are mortal.” The White House needs someone constantly whispering in the president’s ear, “There’s no freaking way we’re doing that.”
Anyone who had taken Government 101 would have told the president that going down the path of asking for investigations from the Ukraine president in the context of a discussion of military aid would certainly bring more headaches than upside.
If press reports are to be believed, plenty of people in the White House realized this. They tried to keep Trump from doing it but were outmaneuvered by Rudy Giuliani, who volunteered for double duty as an amateur sleuth and diplomat and has honchoed arguably the most harebrained foreign policy scheme since Ollie North delivered a cake to the Iranians.
It’s not that there aren’t legitimate questions about Ukraine and the role of various players there in the 2016 election and aftermath. But they are appropriately handled by the Justice Department, which is currently looking into the sources of the Russia investigation.
As for Hunter Biden, he, too, is a fit subject for investigation and an apt symbol of one of the worst aspects of American life, namely, how easy it is for people with proximity to power to get rich. Hunter had no evident talent worthy of a $50,000-a-month gig with a Ukrainian energy company, except for being the vice president’s son.
There’s a reason, though, that oppo-research firms exist. No one could claim an abuse of power if the Trump campaign hired such an operation to thoroughly vet Hunter Biden’s various ventures, and spread damaging material to media outlets. If the campaign wanted to be just a little clever, it could take a page from Hillary Clinton 2016 and use a law firm as a cut-out.
Did no one think of that? Trump is, obviously, responsible for his own decisions and conduct, but it’s truly bizarre that it was the president’s counsel, of all people, who has his fingerprints all over this.
Giuliani was a great mayor of New York City and an accomplished prosecutor but somewhere along the line lost sight of such basic axioms as a lawyer should keep his client from needless risk, not expose him to it; a lawyer should tap the brakes on, not jam the accelerator for, dodgy plans; a lawyer should calmly explain issues, rather than blow them up in extravagant media appearances.
It’s hard to think of another president who has so desperately needed good lawyering, and who has been so flagrantly failed by someone who is supposed to be his attorney.
One of themes of the Mueller report was Trump’s advisers ignoring him when he asked for foolhardy things or dissuading him from risky schemes. This, in itself, was discomfiting, but it kept Trump on the right side of the line. For all that the president scorns, say, Don McGahn, the former White House counsel’s prudence and professionalism kept Trump from unnecessary peril.
Trump finds his current crew more congenial. That doesn’t mean it’s better for him. Let the record show that the same people who are most enthusiastic about “letting Trump be Trump” also may be about to let Trump be impeached.
There’s an argument among pundits that Trump might welcome impeachment proceedings. Certainly, he’d relish the fight more than any other politician. But Trump has given every indication that he hates the idea of being impeached. He, or at least people around him, might think about how he got here.
Trump disdains stories in the media about his being minded by “adults,” but that should be less annoying than the fallout from a plan that any serious lawyer or competent foreign-policy professional would have warned had a good chance of ending in tears.