On 5 September (that read “yesterday” when I began this post!) the New York Times published an anonymous op-ed from a senior Trump official. He or she said they were part of a group of senior officials within the administration who are doing their best to thwart Trump’s worst excesses, and why.
There have been multiple responses to this. Obviously, a lot of these depend on a person’s own opinion of Donald Trump. (I think it’s most likely a man, so I’ll refer to the person that way throughout, but we actually don’t know whether it’s a man or woman.) Some think he’s a hero, others a coward. Some think he’s right to keep his identity a secret, others think he should stand up for what he believes publically.
Wherever you stand, chances are you want to know who he is. I have a group of five I think it could be, but I obviously have no idea.
Why Is He Doing It? Option 1.
Why he’s doing it partly depends on who it is of course. Some think Vice-President Mike Pence could be the author, and point to Pence’s frequent use of the word, “lodestar.” (I’m not entirely sure why because I can’t find that word in the article.) However, I don’t think this action goes with Pence’s character. There is a chance, though, that it is someone with very similar values to Pence.
The reason I say that is the timing of this action. This White House has proven brilliant at distracting the media. Recently there was open admittance that stories about removing security clearances were released to distract from other stories. The writer of the op-ed says he strongly supports a conservative Republican agenda. That means the appointment of conservative judges to the Supreme Court.
Last week the hearings into Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment as a Supreme Court justice began. His appointment will effect the US for decades to come. It is hugely important. The GOP is clearly hiding something about Kavanaugh’s past, but we’re not talking about it because our attention is elsewhere – this op-ed.
Reasons to be Suspicious of Kavanaugh’s Appointment:
1. The GOP are withholding 100,000 pages of documents relating to Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush (43) White House.
2. Another 42,000 pages of documents were given to the Democrats only the night before the hearing. Clearly, that’s not enough time to read and analyze them.
3. Kavanaugh has stated in the past that he does not believe that a president can be investigated under any circumstances. He refuses to say if he is still of that opinion. This could be extremely important if the issue of serving a subpoena on President Trump were to go to the Supreme Court.
4. Kavanaugh supported the initial decision of judges who refused an illegal immigrant an abortion. Trump chooses potential justices from a list provided to him by the ultra-conservative Federalist Society. The judges are expected to support Trump’s campaign promise to overturn abortion rights in the US.
There is little chance of stopping the appointment of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court without overwhelming public opposition. There has been a great deal of protest at the hearings, but there has been little coverage in the media. The anonymous op-ed is a juicier story.
Why Is He Doing It? Option 2.
For some time it appears Trump is Teflon-coated when it comes to things that would bring any other politician down. Throughout the primaries, the election, and his presidency, it didn’t seem to matter what he did, his support stayed strong. The last couple of weeks we’ve had indications that might finally be changing. Most commentators have said that before. However, that was usually based on their own horror at Trump’s latest actions. At the same time, Trump’s
base cult continued to show support for him.
Here’s why I think Trump may really be losing support this time:
1. Although 90% of Republicans continue to express support for Trump, the percentage of USians self-identifying as Republicans is dropping. At the same time, the percentage of Independents is noticeably increasing, and the percentage of Democrats is rising too.
2. Trump’s job approval is at its lowest rate ever.
3. More importantly, Mueller’s approval rating is rising sigbificantly.
4. On top of that, a majority now believe that the Mueller investigation will find that Trump was engaged in activity for which he could be impeached.
If the op-ed writer is seeing some of the same signals, he may think it’s time to go on the record as someone who wasn’t as close to Trump as he appeared.
Why Is He Doing It? Option 3.
The death of John McCain. More specifically, the funeral of John McCain. Multiple people of integrity of all political stripes spoke out at McCain’s funeral against the atmosphere of prejudice, violence, hatred, and division that is US politics today. They all noted that Trump is stoking and spreading division not just in politics, but in the country at large. McCain, on the other hand, despite having strong disagreements with people politically mostly tried to bring people together, as a president should.
McCain asked that George W Bush and Barack Obama, both men who had defeated him on the campaign trail, spoke at his funeral. He specifically asked that Trump not be invited.
The most played video clips relating to McCain in the days after his death were two where he contradicted his own supporters to stick up for Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. Those weren’t the only occasions when he did that either. Whatever you thought of his opinions, and I mostly disagreed with them, he was a man of integrity.
This option is one that relates especially to some of the men on my “potentials” list.
Three of the men on my list of possible writers of the op-ed are James Mattis (Secretary of Defense), Mike Pompeo (Secretary of State), and James Kelly (White House Chief of Staff). All three, like McCain, are former military officers, and Mattis in particular was close to McCain. He stood next to and supported McCain’s wife Cindy as her husband’s casket arrived at Joint Base Andrews. (Mattis on McCain’s death.)
I think McCain’s death might have made someone who saw himself as staying in the Administration for the good of his country feel the need to speak out. It is my opinion that all three of these men at the very least are serving for this reason. I believe all are part of the Trump Resistance within the administration.
Why Is He Doing It? Option 4.
The fourth option is the release of the Bob Woodward book Fear about the internal workings of the Trump White House. This is probably the most likely option, especially if the writer of the op-ed is not one of the three men I mentioned above.
As always, Woodward’s book is scrupulously sourced. He has multiple people on tape, telling their experiences of working in Trump’s White House. The op-ed is in some ways a précis of the book. With the book coming out, it would be clear that the writer wasn’t a lone wolf. Further, there was someone of integrity backing up what he said.
Woodward’s description of the atmosphere and some of the goings-on in the White House aren’t new. We heard the same thing from Michael Wolf in his book, Fire and Fury. However, he was dismissed as partisan.
Then we got the same thing from Omarosa Maingault in Unhinged. She’s a Republican and was initially a Trump supporter. She was dismissed as a disgruntled employee. Further, she’s made a career out of being controversial and that hasn’t done her integrity and trustworthiness any good.
But there’s not really any way to dismiss Bob Woodward although Trump tries of course. Woodward is one of the most respected investigative reporters in the world, and has been for decades. He’s been a household name since he and Carl Bernstein outed President Nixon’s crimes in early- and mid-1970s. Woodward has written books exposing aspects of every White House since then, so can’t fairly be dismissed as partisan.
Is it Real?
It should be clear to everybody that the op-ed is real. Trump’s initial attack against it was to accuse the “failing” New York Times of writing it themselves to make money. There may be a few conspiracy theorists who believe that, but any reasonable person can work that’s a laughable suggestion. The Times simply wouldn’t risk their credibility that way.
As for the content of the op-ed, that appears real too. Apart from the fact that we can trust that the New York Times will have investigated all claims, there have been several instances where it’s clear that there is at least some management of Trump. He makes statements, especially in the foreign affairs context, that have to be walked back.
Major recent ones occurred when Trump, in that unbelievably stupid and naïve move, met privately with Putin. Among other things, Trump agreed:
1. That former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul (2012-2014), be handed over to Russia for investigation;
2. That Russian FSB agents should assist the FBI with the FBI investigation into election tampering by Russia.
The Administration was walking these promises back as soon as they were able.
(Another person on my list of people who may have written the op-ed is current Russian ambassador, Jon Hunstman.)
Saving Us From Trump
There is a scary thing about all this. I say over and over again that nothing more Trump does could surprise me, or things couldn’t get any worse. And then something more outrageous than ever happens, or things do get worse. But as Trevor Noah points out below, because this anonymous official says that a group of them are managing the president, what we’re getting is “Trump-lite”. Just imagine what it would be like without the babysitting.
The writer of the op-ed says we should take a level of comfort that there are grown-ups in the room. He put it thus:
It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.
There are two ways to take this. It is comforting that when Trump calls for the US to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran, there are people who will make sure it doesn’t happen. There are people that are saying though, that these people weren’t elected, and Trump was. However, as I’ve also said before, the US people actually didn’t elect Trump either. The Electoral College did. The presidential candidate who got the most votes was Hillary Clinton. She got almost 3 million more votes than Trump. And whatever you think of her personally, I would hope you can see that she was eminently qualified to be president.
Who is it?
At 8pm Thursday US ET (Noon Friday NZ time), CNN had received denials from the following senior administration officials that they were not the op-ed’s author. Most of the denials were spontaneous i.e. not sought by CNN. It seems these people were very keen to stay out of the spotlight of a president of whom they are fearful. (The next day there were even more people on CNN‘s Denial List.)
Mike Pompeo, James Mattis, Jon Huntsman, and Dan Coats are on this list, and all are people I think may have written the editorial. Although another of my suspects, John Kelly, is not on the list, he was travelling with the president at the time.
Despite all these denials, we need to remember that Mike Phelps (aka “Deep Throat”) continued to deny he was the source of Woodward and Bernstein regarding Nixon’s crimes until 2006. However, I doubt we’ll have to wait over thirty years to find out this time. We’ll find out within weeks or months of the end of the Trump presidency, however that happens.
Investigating the Writer of the Op-Ed: The Republican Leadership
The Democrats are calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to begin an investigation into who wrote of the op-ed is. However, he says he does not think Congress should do that. USA Today reports:
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday he doesn’t see a role for Congress in investigating the identity of the author of a New York Times op-ed blasting President Donald Trump as amoral, despite outrage from the president and his allies over the essay.
Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, replied, “Not that I know of,” when asked by a reporter if Congress should try to identify the anonymous author of the essay …
However, Ryan said the author was “living in dishonesty” and should consider whether they want to stay in their role. “That doesn’t help the president. So if you’re not interested in helping the president, you shouldn’t work for the president, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Investigating the Writer of the Op-Ed: Donald Trump
Trump’s response to the op-ed is not that of a good leader or manager. Of course, this wouldn’t be happening if he was a good leader. He’s tweeting about it FFS!
First there was a series of tweets, including this one referred to above, in which he announced he’d exposed both the op-ed and Fear as all lies:
Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost. Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2018
To be fair, Kelly (who is No. 5 my list of suspects) and Mattis (who’s at No. 4) have both issued strong denials relating to the Woodward book. (So has Sarah Sanders, though I doubt anyone ever though she was part of a Trump Resistance in the White House.) Trump Retweeted Kelly’s denial twice, and that of Mattis four times. I guess he wanted to be sure people saw them!
The saga continues, and Trump exposes some of the reasons he’s unfit to be president.
Then, as I said above, he began accusing the New York Times of writing the op-ed themselves:
Does the so-called “Senior Administration Official” really exist, or is it just the Failing New York Times with another phony source? If the GUTLESS anonymous person does indeed exist, the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2018
That suggestion is completely outrageous, and with it Trump exposes two of the reasons he’s unfit to be president. He doesn’t understand that the country he leads guarantees press freedom in its constitution, or that the judiciary isn’t there to do his bidding.
Then, there was this, which I’m not even going to comment on.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2018
Senator Rand Paul, in his attempt to suck up to Trump (i.e. get Trump to campaign for him) is suggesting that all White House staff undergo lie detector tests! Isn’t he a libertarian? Trump, naturally, thinks that’s a great idea.
What Happens Next?
Trump currently has the status of unindicted co-conspirator in relation to the Cohen case. In my opinion, the only thing that is currently saving him from the famous New York institution – the perp walk – is the fact he’s president. Legal opinion can’t seem to agree whether he will be charged when he’s out of office, or whether he will just get away with his crimes.
Then there’s the Mueller investigation. There are no leaks from this investigation, which is a good thing. But it appears it’s getting closer to the president all the time. Public opinion in the US is now on the side of Mueller in two ways. There is approval of the way he’s doing his job, and a majority are of the opinion that Trump may have committed an indictable crime.
That will again depend on whether Trump can be charged while he’s president. There doesn’t appear to be a definite rule, and would probably depend on how bad the crime was. For example, if he really did shoot someone in Fifth Avenue, surely that would be bad enough to see him charged.
The Problem is the US System of Government
Trump is not going to be impeached as long as Republicans are in charge of at least the Senate or Congress, and currently they have both. The Republicans are more interested in retaining power than doing the right thing.
Trump wanted the Mueller investigation wound up by now. That way there was a guarantee he would beat impeachment. Now he’s going to do all he can to make sure Republicans retain both the Senate and Congress for as long as possible. He knows that’s the only was he keeps control.
The trouble is, it’s really hard to get rid of a president. The 25th Amendment, in which the president is declared unfit, is really hard to use. Trump himself can just say, “Yes, I am fit to serve.” That’s exactly what he would do, of course, and then things get even more difficult. He’s never going to do the honourable thing and resign.
It was a stupid system that got Trump into power in the first place, the main issues being:
1. Gerrymandering is possible.
2. The voting system is vulnerable to outside interference and in some places no paper record of voting is kept.
3. The Electoral College means not all votes for president are equal. The system favours rural voters over urban voters.
Now that the system gave the country Trump, he’s virtually impossible to get rid of.
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