I know that my liberal friends are up in arms over every decision made by the Trump administration and now are demanding that there be an investigation into the issue surrounding the resignation of General Michael Flynn as the National Security Director. I will also admit that there are some major questions that need to be answered on this issue but we cannot allow the opposition to bog down the administration on its policy initiatives by forcing everyone to focus on a misstep. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already indicated that the Intelligence Committee will look at the issue in some detail. This has not appeased Democrats who have taken to the airwaves to demand multiple investigations and want they to have a wide blanket of both authority and scope.
From my perspective the Trump White House is suffering from a lack of strong leadership. I think some of this is a reflection of Donald Trumps personality and business experience. In his business life he was an active participant in all major decisions and relied upon multiple staff members to keep him advised. From a political perspective this may not be the right model. As I look at the White House staff I see the power scattered between multiple people and nobody seemingly having the ability to take control and be the “Chief of Staff.”
Lets look at the major players. First is the actual Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus. On paper he should be the center of power for all people employed in the Administration. But he seems to be unwilling or unable to take the bull by the horns and assume the role of a strong leader. I think there are mitigating factors for this confusion but in the end to be an effective leader he will have to step up and take charge. When you add into this equation the rumors that friends of the President are complaining that he is a weak leader and should be replaced it only serves to further undermine the power that should reside in the position.
The next major player is Stephen Bannon who has the title of Assistant to the President, Senior Counselor and Chief Strategist. Now that title alone confers on Mr. Bannon a level of power that puts him either equal or close to equality with the Chief of Staff. His background is controversial and some of his views are definitely outside the mainstream. I am not saying he is not qualified to be an advisor but it seems, from the outside, that he has set up a separate power structure and competes with the Chief of Staff for influence and power.
Next up in our list of characters is Kellyanne Conway, Assistant to the President and Counselor. Ms. Conway has to be given a lot of credit as the first woman to lead a campaign that resulted in the candidate winning the Presidency. Even President Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, had a man managing her campaign. The media basically ignored this achievement in their zeal to attack Trump from the get go. But lets be honest, she has not distinguished herself with her appearances on TV shows and her comments about buying Ivanka Trump’s line of clothing while standing in the White House briefing room is a clear ethics violation. Even Republicans such as Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the Chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, has called for some form of investigation and punishment. She is a true loyalist to the President and defends both the President and his policies with an unmatched vigor. The day before General Flynn offered his resignation she assured everyone on TV that he enjoyed the full trust of the President. The next day the White House announced the resignation because he had lost the trust of the President. I suspect she will become a liability at some point and her influence will wane.
Stephen Miller is another Assistant to the President and Senior Policy Advisor. He is certainly included in the Stephen Bannon circle. Having watched him on TV interviews he appears very articulate and knowledgeable but allows himself to be led down the rabbit hole on subjects where his claims are simply not believable. A classic example of this was last weekend where he clearly laid out the legal justification for the President’s Executive Order on the travel ban and they diverged onto the specious claim of millions of illegal voters casting ballots in the November election.
The final player in the White House leadership team is the most intriguing. It is Jared Kusner, the husband of Ivanka Trump. It is said that he is one of the closest confidents of President Trump. He has remained largely in the background to this point in the Administration and I am under no illusion that he would ever leave the White House unless he personally made the decision to go. He is family and that will trump all other issues.
As I was writing this blog the news broke that several news organizations had been provided information detailing contact between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officers. Of course those accused are denying they were contacting Russian intelligence people and we don’t know if they did not know they were intelligence people or not. But I am honest enough to admit that if you are talking to anyone of any importance in Russia you should assume they are either connected to Russian intelligence or they are reporting what your conversations are about to Russian intelligence. Failure to do so could be detrimental to themselves and their families. If the United States intelligence in intercepting these calls you can be assured that Russian intelligence is doing the same.
The three other people named in these contacts are Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page. Both Manafort and Stone are long time political operatives and have been in and out of campaigns for years. Mr. Stone has a checkered past. Mr. Page is a businessman and was a part time policy advisor to candidate Donald Trump.
The New York Times, one of the media outlets breaking this story, in a sidebar to the story on line wrote the following:
“The officials said that, so far, they had not seen evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia on the hacking of the Democratic National Committee or to influence the election.”
So what should happen with all of this new information? First, it is incumbent on Congress to investigate any connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. I think the American people deserve to have a bipartisan panel look at this issue and get to the bottom of what may or no may be a major issue. I should point out that all three of these individuals have done business in Russia and Eastern Europe so we don’t really know what was discussed.
Second, and the more long-term serious issues in my mind, is the leaks coming out of the American intelligence service. It started in the campaign and Democrats were outraged when emails between Democrat political operatives were being leaked to the media and the public. I noted at that time their outrage was over the leaks and “hacking” and not over the content of the messages. Now they are outraged that these phone calls were taking place and they seem to no longer care that someone is leaking them. We know that only a few, some estimate it to be up to nine people, would have access to this information. Anyone that has been employed at either the FBI or an intelligence agency knows that they are routinely given polygraphs and acceptance of these tests is a condition of employment. I believe that anyone that had access to this information should now be given a polygraph. If they fail they should immediately be suspended and charges filed. They will have their day in court to defend themselves.
I make this second point and state it is the larger danger for a simple reason. If unelected people in the intelligence community can leak damaging information about this President and his administration what is to stop them from doing it to the next President and ones that follow. During the course of a term in office every President will have conversations with world leaders that are both sensitive and highly classified. If the transcripts of those calls are suddenly appearing in the media because someone in the community disagrees with that particular administration every American citizen should be demanding changes be made to ensure this does not occur. Lets be honest, there are holdovers in the intelligence community who favored President Obama and Hillary Clinton. But we cannot allow them to abuse their position by leaking damaging information. I criticized the leaks about Clinton and I will criticize them now.
To the Democrats on Capitol Hill I would suggest that you go back and read your comments about those email leaks. If you were outraged then you should be outraged now. To Republicans, if you were demanding investigations into what was contained in the emails you should be demanding investigations now. Neither can suddenly switch gears and exchange talking points. There needs to be some consistency in their demands and arguments. I am heartened to see several key Republicans calling for an investigation into all of this. This is the direct opposite of Democrats last year who unanimously attempted to stonewall any investigation and denounced it daily in the media.
One final point on this issue needs to be made. We live in a world of 24 hour news and the Internet is a wonderful source of information but it is also a cesspool of false information. Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi went in front of the national new media yesterday and made a great deal about a statement made on Twitter by General Michael Flynn that suggested he was being made a scape goat in this affair. She even went so far as to give us a lengthy definition of what a scape goat is and I am sure she can thank some staffer who looked it up and provided her with the information. But what her staff, and herself, failed to do was to verify that what they were commenting on was actually true. It turns out that this was a fake account and not Gen. Flynn making these comments. That is the danger of the 24 hour news cycle and the Internet. People don’t check things out anymore. How many reading this believe that Nancy Pelosi will come out in front of the cameras and apologize today for commenting on “fake news” and admit she should have checked the facts before speaking. If it were me that clever staffer would be looking for a new job today after embarrassing me in front of the nation.
Now back to my summary of the White House staff. I suspect that before the end of the year there will be major changes in the staff as President Trump begins to realize that in politics people often have their own agenda and it might not coincide with yours. I believe that this time next year we will see at a minimum three of those five people will not be working at the White House.