Posts Tagged ‘Tillerson’

A 70-year-Old Rookie in the White House

Monday, June 12th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Trump says it ... Ryan excuses it: "He's new."

Trump says it … Ryan excuses it: “He’s new.”

“Give the kid a break; he’s new on the job.”

Of all the excuses Republicans have come up with for the words and actions of Donald Trump, leave it to feckless Paul Ryan to come up with the dumbest. And Ryan is two heartbeats from the presidency.

Ryan’s excuse (I paraphrased for emphasis) came, of course in response to questions about his reaction to the narcissist-in-chief’s (NIC’s) pressuring former FBI DIrector James Comey to drop an investigation of Michael Flynn, whom Trump had just fired as his national security adviser. “He’s a good guy,” Comey said the NIC told him in a private meeting. Testifying to a Senate committee, Comey said he agreed with Trump. But he also knew Flynn had neglected to mention several meetings with Russian officials while he was part of the Trump transition team. So, no, Comey, said, he could not “let it go.”

More to the point, Comey told the senators he was uncomfortable that the NIC had even asked the then-FBI director — traditionally an independent official — to drop an investigation and, furthermore, asked for a pledge of “loyalty” from him. All in private conversations. Inappropriate in spades. Possibly illegal.

Rookie mistake, as far as Ryan is concerned. To quote him precisely: “He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this.”

Is that an appropriate excuse for the president of the United States? Ryan was asked. Perhaps not, he acknowledged, adding, “It’s just my observation.”

FIne. Here’s my observation, Mr. Speaker of the House. I like to know that the person widely regarded as leader of the free world has at least some working familiarity with the rules of the road — the protocols of the office, diplomacy, a sense of history, the basic do’s and don’ts of the job. Also, respect for the law of the land. Stuff like that.

“Let’s Make a Deal’’ was a TV show, not a meeting of NATO countries. “The Godfather” was a novel, then a movie in which Marlon Brando asked a bunch of people for “loyalty,” but they weren’t in an Oval Office darkened by closed blue curtains, which, on other occasions, might afford a wary FBI director a place to try to hide from the NIC.

There are certain times when “he’s new on the job” doesn’t cut it. I recently underwent surgery for fractures of my left knee and right wrist. Same accident. The surgeons said they were going to perform the operations simultaneously, since they were on opposite sides of the body and they wouldn’t get in each other’s way. Only one anesthesia that way, they said.

Sounds good, I said. You guys ever do this before? I asked. Sure, the knee guy reassured me. Is he any good? I asked the nurses. He operates on the Mets’ pitchers, they said. OK, I said. No rookie. Knee and wrist are mending well.

A little more personal history from the other side of the issue. As a new court reporter early in my career I made what could have been a serious rookie mistake. After talking to the local district attorney about his most recent grand jury, I wrote an article about the indictments, including someone who was named in a sealed indictment. Sealed indictments are not made public so the people don’t know they have been charged with a crime. (For example, some reports have suggested the NIC himself has been named in a sealed indictment.)

“I think you may have broken the law,” the DA told me after he read the article in the paper. He was smiling, but I was mortified. My inexperience might have tipped someone off, blown the DA’s case … put me before a grand jury?

I was lucky. The DA had his guy and was understanding. He knew I was “new on the job” and had no malicious intent. Still, I was embarrassed and apologized profusely and paid close attention to the rules of the road from thereon. I did not deny or excuse what I had done. I learned a lesson.

This was in a small town in upstate New York, not in the White House. I was maybe 25 years old, fresh out of college, six months of infantry training and a year as a police reporter. Trump is 70 years old and, to hear him tell it, a successful man of the world. The artist of the deal. A brand name. President of the @#$%# United States!

His response to the Comey meetings? He went to Twitter to accuse Comey simultaneously of being a liar and leaking classified information, meaning the conversations. Apparently he’s not sure which desperate excuse would work. Mea culpa? Trump doesn’t speak Latin. Learn from a mistake? Trump was relentless in stalking Comey for ‘loyalty.”

That whole learning the ropes argument is, of course, just a way for Republicans to avoid admitting the man in the Oval Office is not only frighteningly unqualified for the job, but doesn’t seem to regard learning about it as especially important. And consequences? Not his concern.

The rookie president went to Europe to meet with our NATO allies. He figured he could shame them into spending more for defense. After much debate, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other advisers managed to get a sentence included in Trump’s speech reaffirming the United States’ commitment to mutual defense — the core function of NATO. Trump left it out. On purpose. Out of spite.

Several days later, at a press conference with the president of Romania, which can’t afford to spend any more money on its military, the NIC said the U.S., of course, remains committed to NATO. But he had another surprise for Tillerson.

Just 90 minutes earlier, Tillerson had said the United States was willing to help negotiate in the escalating conflict in the Middle East with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and several other Arab nations closing borders and setting up blockades on Qatar, accusing their neighbor of supporting terrorist groups. Tensions in the region had become heightened after Trump, who is fond of dealing with the Saudis, also blamed Qatar for supporting terrorists, thereby taking sides, encouraging the Saudis to get more aggressive and, by the way, ignoring the presence of 11,000 American troops in Qatar, which is a major launch site for U.S. military activity in the region.

Tillerson’s comments about negotiating thus were seen as an effort to cool things off. Cover up for the rookie. Yet less than two hours later, Trump was again pointing the finger at Qatar.

I happen to think the Middle East is no place for a president to be learning the ropes. Yes, all new presidents have to learn things, especially in the area of diplomacy where blurting out whatever is on your mind is generally not a good idea. But, again, presidents’ words and actions have wide-reaching consequences. At the very least, someone who was serious about learning the job would seek — and take — advice from those with more experience. It’s a sign of maturity. He would admit misstatements. It’s a sign of humility.

If you’re a reporter, you don’t publish the names of people named in sealed indictments. If you’re a president, you don’t repeatedly ask the FBI director to “let go” of an investigation and ask for a pledge of loyalty and you don’t keep throwing your secretary of state under the bus. At some point, if you’re serious about the job, and especially if you’re a rookie, you study and read and discuss and learn. Maybe you don’t play golf every weekend — unless you’re really more interested in just playing at being the president, rather than doing the work.

Kind of like Paul Ryan playing at being speaker of the House.

rjgaydos@gmail.com