A TURNING POINT FOR TRUMP
The reports of the Comey memo have thrust the country into a full Presidential reckoning.
R. McMaster, the national-security adviser, was among those sent out on Monday to deny that Trump had shared secrets with Russia. John Weaver, a Republican strategist, tweeted, “General McMaster spent decades defending this nation, earning his integrity and honor. Trump squandered it in less than twelve hours.”
There is a long tradition of staffers leaving a troubled White House and then helping the public make sense of the dysfunction. A notable recent example is Scott McClellan, George W. Bush’s press secretary, who quit in 2006, after five years in the White House, and published a memoir titled “What Happened,” which offered a blunt portrait of Bush as “authentic” but “terribly off course.” Last week, speaking about Trump staff members who may be weighing their options, McClellan said, “It’s kind of a question of appreciating your own conscience and doing what you believe is right.”
Meanwhile, the F.B.I. and at least one congressional committee have started issuing subpoenas, and, before long, Trump’s lieutenants and associates will have to decide which information to volunteer. In some cases, Trump is making their decisions easier, by humiliating them. “In terms of achievement, I think I’d give myself an A,” the President said on Fox News. He was less generous to his communications staff, giving them a “C or a C-plus.” Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, has borne the brunt of that criticism. Last Thursday, White House reporters noted that Spicer was stepping back from his role in the daily briefing.
The next day, Trump embarked on his first foreign trip—a nine-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, Belgium, and Italy. Many Presidents in crisis savor the chance to escape to distant capitals and stately photo-ops, but Trump hates sleeping away from home, and he knows little about the complex issues and figures he will encounter. More to the point, less than an hour after Air Force One left for Riyadh, Washington was absorbing the latest astonishment: the Times had reported that Trump, in the meeting with Russian officials, called Comey “crazy, a real nut job,” adding that firing him had relieved a “great pressure.” The Washington Post added its own revelation: the F.B.I. is investigating a current senior White House official—“someone close to the President”—as a “significant person of interest” in the Russia case.
With each headline, Trump’s aides are acquiring a strange new power over him, because they will decide when to protect him and when to protect themselves. Washington specializes in theatrical demonstrations of fealty to the boss, but the real objects of dedication are country and self. If Donald Trump has one fundamental commitment, it is to his own preservation, a celebration of personal well-being that he has elevated to a world view—the very world view that made men and women want to work for him in the first place. There is little reason for them to adopt a more selfless creed now. ♦