We all knew it couldn’t last. But nobody expected the Trump administration to fall apart as soon as it has because, no matter how unorthodox his campaign, nobody anticipated the level of ignorance and incompetence Donald Trump would actually bring to the White House.
As columnist E.J. Dionne writes in the Washington Post, the quandary we all suddenly face is: “What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States?” Tough words, but true.
Consider: Only four weeks into his presidency, Trump has created a constitutional crisis that is worse than Watergate. Nixon’s scandal, as serious as it was, only entailed one president ordering a band of criminals to steal documents from the DNC headquarters – and then lying about.
According to intelligence sources, Trump’s scandal, far more serious, entails multiple associates of a presidential candidate colluding with a foreign government and a sworn enemy of the United States, during his campaign, to influence the outcome of the presidential election; and during his transition as president-elect, conversations which Michael Flynn, Trump’s designated national security adviser, had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – and then lied about.
Nothing demonstrates the frightening disarray at the Trump White House better than the circumstances surrounding Flynn’s departure. It’s bad enough to have your national security adviser forced out after less than four weeks. It’s worse when you handle it so poorly. For those of us in the White House press corps, it was impossible to follow.
On Monday, Feb. 13, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway declared that Gen. Flynn enjoyed the “full confidence” of the president. A short time later, press secretary Sean Spicer said the president was “evaluating the situation” with Flynn. And, shortly after that, the White House announced that Flynn, regretting that he had become a giant distraction, had submitted his resignation.
End of story? Not quite. At his briefing on Tuesday, Spicer dropped the bombshell that Flynn had not resigned, after all. Trump had fired him because, after learning that Flynn had, in fact, lied to Vice President Mike Pence and others about discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador, the president felt he could no longer trust him.
End of story? Still not quite. The very next day, at his news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump never acknowledged his firing of Flynn. Instead, he praised him as a “wonderful man” and blamed the media and intelligence agencies leaks for his downfall. As if Trump had nothing to do with it and Flynn had done nothing wrong.
End of story? Hold your breath. As bad as the fact that Flynn was apparently trying to make a secret, and perhaps illegal, deal with Russia, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As reported by the New York Times, Flynn’s Russian meddling came as the culmination of ongoing contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials, including Russian intelligence officials, during the presidential campaign. All of which is the subject of an FBI investigation, already underway.
End of story. You wish. On top of that, again as reported by the New York Times, the FBI is assigning more credibility to the report prepared by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele – on which both President Obama and then-President-Elect Donald Trump were briefed – alleging that the Russian government has enough dirt on his business and personal activities in Moscow to blackmail Trump.
And, remember, all of this takes place the same week that Russia tested a new cruise missile, in violation of a 1987 arms treaty; that Russian bombers and fighter planes twice buzzed American warships; and that a Russian spy ship cruised down the East Coast of the United States.
A constitutional crisis? You bet. And one that demands nothing less than a full investigation by a special Joint Select Committee of Congress to probe all the ties between the Trump operation and the Russian government. What deals were made? What was their impact on the November election? And, most importantly, what did the president know and when did he know it?
But it’s more than a constitutional crisis. It’s a governing crisis. After only four weeks, it’s clear that Donald Trump is not up to the job. As a nation, we can’t go on this way for four years. Members of both parties had best start thinking about “Plan B.”