May 19, 2020 at 8:30 a.m. CDT
President Trump is such a menace to the country’s health, to its institutions and to its democracy that it is easy to forget he is just as dangerous to his own political survival and to his advisers.
Trump remains a threat to public health because of the reckless behavior and contempt for science he demonstrates daily. On Monday, Trump bragged about taking the drug hydroxychloroquine, which has not shown to be effective against covid-19 and which the Food and Drug Administration has warned can be dangerous. As he said at a roundtable event at the White House: “I asked [the White House doctor], what do you think? He said if you’d like it. I said yeah, I’d like it. … A lot of front-line workers are taking hydroxychloroquine.”
If he was actually given that advice, he might consider getting a different physician. But it is distinctly possible Trump is lying. “The best-case scenario to Trump’s admission Monday is that he is, in fact, taking a risky medication with his doctor’s consent for which he’s not seeing repercussions and which his supporters will not see as a green light for seeking it out themselves,” my colleague Philip Bump writes.
“The worst-case? Trump claimed to be taking the medication to make a point, inadvertently triggering a new embrace of the medication among those who take his words at face value — putting lives at risk.” In either event, he once more proves he is the worst person possible to be leading us during a pandemic in which science is our only salvation.
Trump was also back to making entirely incoherent accusations against President Barack Obama. “Obama knew everything that was happening," Trump said to reporters about the cockamamie non-scandal he likes to call “Obamagate.” “I don’t think Obama knows where he, where he, uh, you know, is in a lot of ways,” Trump said. I would strongly suggest the Trump campaign not bet on an effort to paint former vice president Joe Biden as mentally feeble. The comparison will not be kind.
Trump further made a mess of matters when asked about his firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, as reports circulated that Linick had been investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s alleged misuse of government funds and the administration’s greenlighting an $8 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia that Congress attempted to block. Trump first said he didn’t know anything about it but simply fired him at Pompeo’s request. (He thereby confesses to his own lack of interest in governance and puts the onus on Pompeo.)
Would it be a conflict of interest if Pompeo asked Linick to be fired for investigating him? Nah, said the man who repeatedly wanted to fire former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and already fired three other IGs. “I think maybe he thinks he’s being treated unfairly,” Trump said in an unintentional accusation of his secretary of state. Trump went a step further, confessing that he told his Cabinet officials to get rid of IGs a long time ago, since they were Obama appointees. In fact, IGs serve in administrations of both parties and are there specifically to act as quasi-independent investigators, rooting out corruption, waste, incompetence and abuse.
Pompeo later insisted he did not know he was being investigated. (Really?! Didn’t he refuse to cooperate with an investigation into his role on pushing forward on the Saudi arms deal?). He claimed that Linick was not performing in an “additive” way.
Linick’s job is not, of course, to serve Pompeo’s or Trump’s ideological or partisan missions but to act as an ethical and legal check on misconduct. Pompeo recited, as any believer in the “unitary executive theory” would, that IGs serve at the pleasure of the president. Well, not quite. A president is required to give Congress 30-days’ notice and to show “cause” for firing one of these watchdogs. Not being “additive” does not sound like it qualifies. Democrats in Congress vow to investigate. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who used to be a fierce advocate of IGs, sent a letter (oh my!) to Trump demanding to know the president’s rationale for firing Linick.
Both Trump and Pompeo now cavalierly demonstrate their conviction that the government and its resources are there to serve their own agendas. They seem indifferent if not actively hostile to the notion that others have higher moral, professional and constitutional obligations. “L’etat c’est moi!” has always been the guiding principle for this crowd. Their corruption is so brazen, they no longer try to conceal it.