Sunday, February 26, 2017

Frum: Risks of Working for Trump

David Frum considers the risks of working in the Trump White House in The Atlantic.

So how should a public-spirited person respond to an invitation to serve the country during the Trump years?

Let’s start by assessing the four basic risks:

1) This administration has begun its career by shredding post-Watergate ethical standards. Trump has not effectively severed his connections to his business interests. He will not release his tax returns. The Trump Organization seems—at best—indifferent to appearances of commercial exploitation of the presidency. Anybody in the vicinity of Trump's finances, or those of his family, stands in danger of being caught in some future scandal, including tax and corruption investigations.

2) There remain disturbing unanswered questions about the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russian spy services. The new national security adviser, Michael Flynn, accepted payments from RT, the Russian state propaganda network. (He has refused to disclose the amount.) The legal hazards presented by clandestine contacts with hostile foreign governments are even more alarming than those connected to financial wrongdoing.

3) This administration lies a lot. Lying by public officials is usually unethical, but not always illegal. As White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway said during the Trump transition: “Nobody on TV is ever under oath.”  But there are times when administration officials do speak under oath. Lying then becomes perjury. Lying to Congress is always illegal, whether under oath or not. People who habitually lie, lie habitually. Those who work with them can face trouble, even possibly obstruction of charges if they enable such lying: President Clinton’s White House counsel Bernie Nussbaum had to resign under fire in 1994 after other government officials alleged that his legal advice in the Whitewater matter amounted to the organization of a coverup.

4) Sometimes new administrations find themselves obliged to execute laws they disagree with. Changing the law can be slow. Ignoring the law takes much less time—but also opens the door to trouble. Ronald Reagan’s first EPA chief, Ann Gorsuch, entered history in 1982 as the first agency head to be cited for contempt of Congress. Gorsuch believed that the Carter administration had imposed excessive regulatory burdens. So she simply disregarded them. Convinced, for example, that the inherited rules on lead standards in gasoline were too onerous, she assured one refiner that she would leave the rule unenforced until such time as it could be amended. Gorsuch not only ended in disgrace herself, but embroiled two of her subordinates in perjury investigations.

So maybe the very first thing to consider, if the invitation comes, is this: How well do you know yourself? How sure are you that you indeed would say no?

And then humbly consider this second troubling question: If the Trump administration were as convinced as you are that you would do the right thing—would they have asked you in the first place?

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