George Boardman: ‘Deep State’ includes a few good men who saved Trump from himself
It’s an article of faith among supporters of Donald Trump that a deep state composed of bureaucrats and other shadowy types is working behind the scenes to delegitimize his administration and thwart Trump’s policy goals.
The Mueller report suggests there may be some truth to this theory, but it’s not the truth Trump’s supporters visualize.
It turns out there were a few good men in the Trump administration who thwarted the president because of their belief that the chief executive is not above the law, and their unwillingness to lie.
By standing for principle and honorable behavior, these few good men blunted Trump’s worst impulses and may have saved him from the obstruction of justice he insists never occurred. “No collusion, no obstruction,” Trump keeps reminding everybody.
For that he can start by thanking his much-maligned attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who angered Trump by recusing himself from the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a decision that led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump felt betrayed after selecting an AG he thought would do his bidding, and nothing fuels the current president like anger. Mueller reports that former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski resisted efforts by Trump to try to persuade Sessions to unrecuse himself from the investigation and limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation.
Then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House counsel Don McGahn resisted several efforts by Trump to force out Sessions so that Trump could replace him with a new person to oversee Mueller’s probe, according to the report.
It turns out McGahn also rebuffed an effort by Trump to fire Mueller, in the process exposing the lying that is an everyday occurrence in this administration. Let’s start on Aug. 18, 2017, when reporters asked Trump if he was planning to fire Mueller. “I haven’t given it any thought,” he replied. “I mean, I’ve been reading about it from you people … No, I’m not dismissing anybody.”
But he had talked to several people about firing Mueller before then, including Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of NewsMax Media and a long-time friend. Trump called McGahn twice at home in June of 2017, directing him set Mueller’s firing in motion. McGahn refused and threatened to resign instead.
When the New York Times reported in January 2018 McGahn’s rebuff of Trump, he denied it. “Fake news, folks,” Trump told reporters at Davos, Switzerland. “Fake news. A typical New York Times fake story.”
Trump then tried to get McGahn to publicly deny the stories in the Times and the Washington Post. McGahn refused because the accounts “were accurate,” the special counsel’s report stated.
Knocking down stories it knew to be true and concocting others it knew were false became standard operating procedure in the White House. But there were times when a few good men stood in the way.
When FBI Director James Comey was fired in May 2017, the White House put out the story that Comey was fired on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein. When Trump urged Rosenstein to call a press conference to back up the claim, “Rosenstein responded that it was not a good idea, because if the press asked him, he would tell the truth that Comey’s firing was not his idea,” Mueller’s report revealed.
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said agents in the FBI had lost confidence in Comey’s leadership, a statement she later admitted to Mueller’s investigators “was founded on nothing” and was “a slip of the tongue.” (Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani pointed out that nobody told Sanders to lie, but she wasn’t disciplined and nobody made an effort to correct the lie.)
Sanders, who routinely dismisses all news stories critical of the administration, also falsely asserted that Trump “certainly didn’t dictate” a statement about a meeting at Trump Tower that involved his son and a lawyer connected to the Kremlin who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. In fact, Trump dictated a statement that claimed the meeting was only about adoptions, later modified to say it was “primarily” about adoptions.
McGahn worked in other ways to keep the president in line, he told Mueller’s staff in almost 30 hours of interviews. He advised Trump to not communicate directly with the Department of Justice to avoid the perception of interfering in an investigation, and reminded him their conversations weren’t protected by attorney-client privilege.
McGahn may have also been motivated by a desire to avoid jail, according to Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “I think it was naked self preservation,” he said, “an understanding that if he did what Trump asked, he would end up in the slammer himself.”
After the euphoria of “no collusion, no obstruction” wore off, Trump started to vent his anger over the Mueller report. He described his aides’ testimony to Mueller’s investigators as “total bulls–t” and claimed, “No one disobeys my orders. Not even a little bit.”
Trump said he never told McGahn to initiate Mueller’s firing, and right on cue, Giuliani has tried to discredit McGahn’s testimony. “It can’t be taken at face value,” he told the New York Times. “It could be the product of an inaccurate recollection or it could be the product of something else.”
The White House has taken steps to prevent McGahn from testifying before congressional committees, apparently afraid he’ll keep telling the truth. But Mueller concluded that McGahn and others effectively halted Trump’s efforts to influence the investigation, prompting some to call him an unsung hero in the effort the protect the president.
“The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” Mueller wrote in the report.
What should concern Trump’s supporters is that these few good men have either left or are on their way out of the White House.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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