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Jailed Birds of a Feather May Sing Together

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

From childhood we learn that you can know somebody by his or her company. Our present president, Donald Trump, values loyalty.  He favors people who like what he likes and who think like him.  For his closest helpers, he has chosen people who have appeared devoted (or related) to him and who have endorsed goals he has championed. Many, however, have landed in jail and more may be on the way to the same destination, including even the man for whom they were backers or fixers.

Now in the third year of the Trump presidency, we can tote up some of the results.  Many of Trump’s cabinet picks have been accused of serious ethical breaches such as using government planes for private entertainment ventures.  It now appears that the current EPA administrator, then lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, consulted secretly with then Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in 2017 on omitting areas rich in coal and uranium (plus sacred Native American sites and unique dinosaur fossils) from the redrawn borders of two national monuments in Utah.

Whether those whom Trump gave major jobs were actually competent for their assigned task seems to have been irrelevant.  The only apparent rationale for choosing a  brain surgeon to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development was that he had lived in one or more homes. As HUD secretary, Dr. Ben Carson has done little except to sign off on some expensive office furniture allegedly ordered by his wife. On the other hand, some appointees do know their assigned domain, if only from the perspective of an industrial owner or lobbyist.  The ex-governor of carbon-rich Texas, Rick Perry, was notorious for vowing to demolish the Department of Energy even before Trump asked him to head it.

But here is the crux:  the Special Counsel’s probe has indicted six individuals associated with Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and deputy chairman Rick Gates; also, some twenty-six Russians whose hacking and social media campaigns probably hurt Hillary Clinton and helped Trump to win the electoral college. The president’s daughter and son-in-law may also be charged with criminal abuses of power. Trump’s personal lawyer and long-time fixer says that just before the election, acting on Trump’s instruction, he paid two women to be quiet about their intercourse with The Donald. Using the language of a Mafia don, Trump denounced Michael Cohen for being a “rat.”

The man has an almost unerring faculty for bad judgment. His first choice for National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, let go early in 2017,  has just finished working in March 2019 with Justice Department investigators looking into Russian electoral interference, and will soon be sentenced for lying to the FBI and other offenses. Meanwhile, the president says that all seventeen U.S. government intelligence agencies are wrong about Russia, North Korea, and China.

We do not know yet if Russian agencies have blackmail or other leverage over the current U.S. president. But Trump’s frequent apologias for Kremlin actions and his secrecy about one-on-one meetings with Putin suggest he owes something to Moscow.   Besides,  the U.S. and Russian presidents seem to like at least two of the same tough guys, Xi Jinping and Rodrigo Duterte, though they part ways on Nicolás Maduro and Bashar al-Assad.

Where there is this much smoke, there is surely fire.  The fire comes from the president himself.  Apart from possible conspiracies with Russia, still being examined, there is considerable evidence that Trump has broken campaign finance laws; bribed possible accusers; obstructed justice; and violated the emoluments clause of the constitution.  The president’s practice of spouting false or misleading  information several times a day is surely unethical if not criminal.  In the next two years or soon thereafter, Trump too will probably face justice over his actions. He and his birds of a feather may not stick together,  but they may soon sing a jangling cacophony of recitatives.

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Walter Clemens is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Boston University and Associate, Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. He wrote Complexity Science and World Affairs (SUNY Press, 2013).

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