President Donald Trump asked two of his top intelligence officials to publicly knock down the idea that his 2016 presidential campaign had colluded with the Russians in the days after then-FBI Director James Comey revealed a federal investigation was underway into the matter, according to reporting by The Washington Post and CNN.
Both men — Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency head Mike Rogers — were uncomfortable with the request and turned it down.
This latest episode is not an isolated incident. It’s part of a broader pattern of the Trump presidency where the chief executive seems to violate protocol willy-nilly in pursuit of his own political agendas.
According to the reporting of a memo penned by Comey documenting a February 14 meeting, Trump asked him directly to find a way to end the FBI investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Trump, according to his own retelling, asked Comey three times — twice on the phone and once in person — whether he was under investigation in the Russia case.
Trump disclosed highly classified information to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a recent meeting in the Oval Office. He also described the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling and collusion as a «witch hunt» on Twitter.
You get the idea. As Post reporters Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima write in their piece Monday night:
«Current and former officials said that Trump either lacks an understanding of the FBI’s role as an independent law enforcement agency or does not care about maintaining such boundaries.»
That’s absolutely right. And my belief is, Trump’s cavalier attitude about who he talks to (and what about) is born of years spent atop a business empire that bore his name. In that role, if Trump wanted something done, he told someone to do it. If he — or his company — had a problem that needed solving, Trump reached out to a friend or a fellow CEO and had a conversation.
Those conversations are typically of the «you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours» variety. Trump clearly prided himself on this sort of horse-trading throughout his career — from his bestselling book «The Art of the Deal» to his 2016 presidential campaign in which he promised that he knew how to make better deals than anyone currently in office.
What Trump appears to not have learned is that what works in business isn’t always what works in politics. The US president is much more than simply the head of a company of 300 million people. They are the public’s representative — a status reflected in the fact that their salary is paid by the American public.
Because of the power and responsibility that comes with that job, there are lots and lots of rules about how you can — and can’t — act. Trump seems to either have not been briefed on those rules or simply has decided they don’t apply to him. In instance after instance, Trump seems blithely unaware (or uncaring) that what he is doing puts people who work for him in very, very uncomfortable and at-times compromising positions.
When you are the CEO of a company, asking for favors — and giving them in return — is a near-daily occurrence. When you’re president, you simply can’t do that sort of thing — or at least in not such a blatant and direct way. (Horse-trading has happened for centuries in politics. But Trump’s blunt force approach is different in kind.)
Trump’s flouting of how a presidential candidate needed to act in public was a key to his electoral success. His flouting of how a president needs to act in private is, on an almost daily basis, now hamstringing and endangering his first term.