Trump’s Orbit

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

From the beginning of his presidency it has been obvious that Donald Trump doesn’t tolerate being contradicted, which is the standard attitude of someone with narcissistic personality disorder who believes that he knows everything better than anybody else.  The turnover of the president’s cabinet members and aides so far allows us to identify three kinds of people who have worked or still work for him with regards to personal ethics and respect for the law.  The first kind operated both on ethical standards and with respect for the legal system.  These are the people who stayed in their positions in spite of – or rather because of – Trump’s mental instability and ignorance, to protect the country as well as they could from its fallout.  Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis belong in this category.  The second kind operated without any ethical standards and would do anything Trump asked except breaking the law.  Jeff Sessions and Kirstjen Nielsen fit this profile.  The third kind consists of people without any ethical standards and respect for the law like Stephen Miller and Mick Mulvaney, who with their advice encourage Trump to establish a modern fascist dictatorship.  They are still in the White House.

In the next couple of weeks we’ll find out in which category William Barr and Steven Mnuchin belong.  So far the Attorney General is playing Trump’s game, keeping the Mueller report away from the general public and even from Congress, and only promising to release a heavily redacted version, in his own words ‘a first pass.’  The only ‘ethical’ standard Barr seems to respect is protecting the president at all cost and keeping the myth of Trump’s ‘complete exoneration’ alive as long as possible, but he knows that the House Judiciary Committee will subpoena the unredacted version of the report and his response will tell us if he’s still on speaking terms with the law.  The Treasury Secretary is facing a similar choice, although Mnuchin’s obligations are even clearer:  the relevant statute says that the IRS ‘shall’ provide tax returns upon a request from the House Ways and Means Committee.  The Secretary’s authority in these matters has been delegated to the Commissioner of the IRS and can only be reclaimed on 30 days’ notice.  Mnuchin’s involving himself and consulting with the Department of Justice and probably the White House is therefore already illegal and puts him in the third category.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Barr surprised friend and foe by referring to the origins of the Mueller probe as ‘spying’ on the Trump campaign, not only repeating the false narrative Trump has peddled since his election but also throwing it at his base as fresh red meat.  In spite of a half-hearted attempt to walk his statement back it was obvious that Barr deliberately disregarded the role of FISA-judges in the approval process for FBI surveillance on behalf of a president he obeys like a trained circus elephant.

Wednesday night, when the deadline set by the House Ways and Means Committee expired, Mnuchin released a statement that he could not comply because he was still reviewing the request in consulation with the Department of Justice.  However, there is a little know article in the statute that says that any government employee who does not follow the tax law can be fined up to $10,000 and emprisoned for up to five years.

We may soon see Mnuchin comply with the request, not because he respects the law but because he fears for his freedom, which will undoubtedly lead to his being fired by the president.  Barr is rapidly sliding into the third category, and it is to be expected that from now on only people without ethical standards and respect for the law will work for Trump.

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