Good News from Trump?

June 21, 2017–What does it mean when the President of the United States, faced with a major military decision bequeathed to him by his predecessor, turns around and tells the secretary of defense to make the decision by himself? What does it say when the White House stays silent on the matter and the news appears in a simple Pentagon press release of an afternoon?

In most presidencies the chief executive–the nation’s top politician and party leader too–is anxious to garner the credit for every important development. White House spin doctors are out the gate ahead of agency flacks, and, in fact, the White House often dictates the media roll out strategy for how something will be presented to the public. So far, in this area the Trump administration has exhibited little cohesion. This is not just a matter of the method of employing Sean Spicer. Or of the minimally-informative, mis-spelled, ungrammatical, approach of the White House press office. (Though, hopefully, Spicer’s move to a more strategic role in the White House communications operation may have a positive effect.)

No, the Pentagon press release signified that Secretary of Defense James Mattis will be in the driver’s seat rather than President Trump. The question of whether to send three thousand–or five thousand–reinforcements to Afghanistan has been on the president’s desk since Barack Obama held the office, and Obama did not want to tie the hands of his successor. Now Trump, too, has passed the buck.

Major alternative explanations for this are two. One is that the Trump White House has decided that Afghanistan is headed for disaster and it wants the responsibility for the United States part in that to go somewhere else. The other possibility is that President Trump is conceding that he knows little of military affairs so is willing to outsource the decisionmaking in this area. If the latter is true it may indicate the start of a new method, radically altering the understanding of “cabinet government.” The president as a CEO, essentially cheering on his lieutenants.

Given what we know of Mr. Trump’s sense of self-importance I have to incline to the first alternative. But the other is possible too, and if the cabinet were populated by more knowledgeable, more skillful officials–like General Mattis–that might be good news for Americans. Stay tuned.

Trump’s “Satellites”

June 10, 2017–So, like Nixon at Watergate, The Donald does not mind jettisoning minions to avoid the hammer of justice descending upon his own head. There has already been a good deal of attention devoted to a set of individuals directly involved in the Russia Caper, but what about those people who work for President Trump within his own administration? Who might those “satellites” be?

Jeff Sessions: Let’s start with the Attorney General, both because of his prime position but also because former FBI director James B. Comey hinted during his June 9 testimony before the Senate intelligence committee that the Bureau was aware considerably in advance of things in his record that would oblige Sessions to recuse himself from investigations related to the Russia Caper. Apart from his potential vulnerability to Russia Caper charges, Sessions is open to perjury charges for sworn testimony before Congress. If Sessions did have vulnerabilities that required him to recuse himself, then his participation in the firing of James Comey opens him up to charges of conspiracy plus aiding and abetting illegal activity.

Sean Spicer: The president’s press spokesman of course has stood before the public day after day, effectively spouting lies. Some of those lies may have abetted the illegal activity. Also the degree to which he was witting of the rest, and the political advice he gave, may expose Spicer to conspiracy charges.

Political advice, public posturing, and leaking may expose Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus to charges of conspiracy and of leaking classified information.

Dan Coats, Mike Rogers, and Mike Pompeo, respectively the Director of National Intelligence, and heads of the NSA and CIA, have stonewalled Congress, opening them to contempt charges, since the National Security Act of 1947, as amended, explicitly provides that no order, charge, or other instruction may be cited to justify denying Congress any information necessary for its oversight role. Their stonewalling posture also aids and abets the cover up. President Trump also made an affirmative attempt to recruit Coats and Rogers to pressure the FBI to drop its investigation of Mike Flynn. If these officials either did as asked, or indicated to President Trump that they would do so, they would become active participants in an obstruction of justice. Depending on the advice they gave the president, the spooks may also be open to conspiracy charges.

H. R. McMaster : Here we’ve taken to calling the general “Appropriate Dereliction” McMaster for his excuses made for the Trump campaigners who asked the Russians for a backchannel on Russian communications links, an element of the Russian Caper conspiracy (which I am treating separately). Though that action represents a separate transgression, McMaster’s defense of it as completely “appropriate” is part of the cover up. If Donald Trump ordered McMaster to mount that defense, it would be an unlawful order and, as an active-duty Army officer General McMaster would be liable for carrying out an illegal order (Universal Code of Military Justice, 908– 890 (Art.90[20]); 891 (Art. 91 [2]); 892, Art. [1], [2]). If McMaster did this voluntarily and the conspiratorial act is found to have been criminal, then he is open to charges of aiding and abetting.