Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sunday Week in Review, Best People Edition

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He had some trouble with "the best people." 

His new drug czar. Taylor Weyeneth is Trump's deputy chief of staff for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The ONDCP is the agency principally responsible for coordinating the administration's response to the opioid crisis, meaning that Weyeneth has enormous responsibilities. Trump has previously been criticized for dumping that task on two fantastically underqualified appointees--Jared Kushner (his son-in-law) and Kellyanne Conway (his former pollster). 

Weyeneth is a 24-year-old who was recently fired from an entry-level job at a law firm because, as it was reported this week, he simply didn't show up for work. He does have some experience that might endear him to Trump, though--he was a volunteer for the Trump campaign and has helped to organize golf tournaments.

Drug overdoses kill more than 150 Americans every day.

His personal lawyer. Michael Cohen has served as Trump's lawyer since long before the campaign, and is entrusted with sensitive and personal tasks. One of them, the Wall Street Journal discovered this week, was to charter a limited liability corporation in Delaware for the sole purpose of making a $130,000 payment to the porn actress Stormy Daniels. Delaware is a popular choice for single-purpose corporations like this because its laws do not require disclosure of the names of the people involved, but Cohen did not fully take advantage of that privacy, allowing the WSJ to link him to the paperwork establishing "Essential Consulting LLC," as the vehicle was known.

Trump and Daniels had a sexual encounter in 2006, shortly after the birth of Trump's youngest son to Melania Trump, she told In Touch magazine in 2011. The magazine apparently decided that publishing the interview, which included graphic and unflattering details about then-private citizen Trump, was not worth the trouble of having to defend against the inevitable threat of a libel suit.

If there is an explanation for a company being created by Donald Trump's lawyer to pay $130,000 to a porn actress that doesn't involve payment for her silence over his extramarital sex with her, neither Cohen nor Trump seems interested in giving it.

A number of other media outlets had been independently pursuing the Daniels story during the 2016 campaign, but were unable to get Daniels' cooperation because the rights to the story had been bought by the tabloid National Enquirer, which then refused to publish it. The Enquirer's publisher is a personal friend and political supporter of Trump's.

His Russia probe defense lawyer. Cohen was not the only Trump lawyer who stumbled on the job this week. In this week's episode of a CBS News podcast, Ty Cobb said that Trump would likely be interviewed by independent counsel Robert Mueller at some point. This is neither surprising nor especially damning, but what Cobb said next--that he was concerned Mueller would be laying a "perjury trap" for Trump--was.

A perjury trap is when a prosecutor asks a question in the belief that the subject will lie. Since it is illegal to lie under oath or to obstruct an investigation, the lie itself becomes a crime. It is impossible to "trap" someone who is telling the truth, or simply refusing to answer on Fifth Amendment grounds.

In other words, Cobb was saying that he was afraid Trump will not be able to stop himself from lying. He's hardly the only one who thinks so, but it's not clear what benefit saying so publicly will have for his client.

His chief of external affairs for the CNCS. Trump appointed Carl Higbie in 2017 to run public outreach for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Higbie had no experience in the role, but was a campaign surrogate and fundraiser.

He resigned this week after CNN found that he had said that black women "think breeding is a form of government employment," that black people had "lax morality," that he accepted being called a "racist" if that meant not liking Muslims, that Muslims were pedophiles, that military servicemembers suffering from PTSD had "weak minds," and various other statements along those lines.

Higbie also used the word "shithole" in 2013 in almost exactly the same context that Trump used it last week, although this was apparently not enough to save his job.

Why are these bad things?

  • A president who can't be bothered to appoint a competent drug policy team is basically saying he doesn't really care about the issue.
  • Some of the people who voted for Trump might have felt differently if they'd known about six-figure hush money checks to porn stars over extramarital sex.
  • It's not a good sign if a president's defense lawyer doesn't trust him not to commit perjury.
  • A president who can't screen out flagrant, open racists from his administration is either incompetent or not that bothered by flagrant racism.