President Donald Trump’s willingness to use the levers of official power in Washington as his personal playground combined with his utter disdain for truth and facts create a toxic culture that seeps into all levels of his administration, producing often troubling real-world consequences.
This week makes that point in stark terms. Consider:
* Corey Lewandowski, who managed Trump’s 2016 campaign and is considering a run for the Senate from New Hampshire in 2020, went before Congress and admitted, unapologetically, to lying to the press. “I have no obligation to be honest with the media,” Lewandowski said straight-faced.
* The acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is refusing to turn over the contents of an August 12 whistleblower complaint regarding troubling instances of communication between Trump and a foreign leader. While Maguire is legally bound to turn over such a complaint to the intelligence committees in Congress within a week of receiving it, he has not done so – citing legal opinions offered up by the Justice Department and the White House.
* On Thursday night, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani first denied then almost immediately admitted to CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he had asked the Ukrainians to look into connections that Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, had in the country. Here’s the unreal exchange:
Cuomo: “Did you ask the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?”
Giuliani: “No, actually I didn’t. I asked the Ukraine to investigate the allegations that there was interference in the election of 2016 by the Ukrainians for the benefit of Hillary Clinton, for which there is already a court finding.”
Cuomo: “You never asked anything about Hunter Biden? You never asked anything about Joe Biden and his role with the prosecutor?”
Giuliani: “The only thing I asked about Joe Biden is to get to the bottom of how it was that Lutsenko, who was appointed, dismissed the case.”
Cuomo: “So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?”
Giuliani: “Of course I did.”
You can’t make it up!
Trump himself got into the action Friday morning via Twitter. Tweeteth Trump:
“The Radical Left Democrats and their Fake News Media partners, headed up again by Little Adam Schiff, and batting Zero for 21 against me, are at it again! They think I may have had a ‘dicey’ conversation with a certain foreign leader based on a ‘highly partisan’ whistleblowers statement. Strange that with so many other people hearing or knowing of the perfectly fine and respectful conversation, that they would not have also come forward. Do you know the reason why they did not? Because there was nothing said wrong, it was pitch perfect!”
Which, in case you missed it, is the President engaging in a bit of character slander on a still-unknown whistleblower to his 60+ million Twitter followers. In a photo op with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday, Trump decried the whistleblower as “partisan” although in the next breath he acknowledged he had no idea who the person was.
Now, take a deep breath – and consider that all of that happened in just the last 96-ish hours.
None of it is by accident or without an obvious and traceable cause. From the start of his political life, Trump has prized total loyalty to him over everything else – including facts, truth and the standards by which all of the men who have held the White House before him have adhered. And that has had – and will continue to have – serious impacts not just on his administration but on the broader body politic.
When the boss acts the way Trump does – fuming about an alleged “Deep State” conspiracy within the Justice Department, pressuring the Fed to do what he wants, bullying his own attorney general out of office and always, always, always saying things that are provably false – he provides not just cover but incentive for those around him to act the same way. The best way to get ahead in Trumpworld is to make the boss happy and the best way to do that is to act like the boss.
So, Lewandowski gives the House Judiciary Committee what amounts to the middle finger because he a) knows Trump will be watching and b) wants Trump to be happy so that the President will support his potential Senate bid. The acting DNI consults with the White House and the Justice Department on a whistleblower case – and then follows their guidance not to turn over the required information to Congress. And Giuliani openly admits he asked Ukraine to look into a situation that touches on Hunter Biden – after first sort of hedging on whether he did exactly that.
This is what Trump has wrought. A culture in Washington in which this sort of behavior, which would have been considered waaaaay out of bounds even a few years ago, is now transformed into the new normal.
What’s important to remember is that this is not normal. None of it.