When You Govern It Is Not Like When You Campaign

When You Govern It Is Not Like When You Campaign

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Donald Trump is learning, perhaps too late, some cardinal facts about being President. The arrogance and authoritative style with which he could run the privately held Trump Organization does not work when you are the head of the U.S. Government. Presidents are accountable and cannot hide their activities and actions. Presidents not only have the appointed members of their staff and Cabinet, but as many Presidents have learned as well through difficult experience, you cannot fool the Congress, the Courts, the press or the American people forever. 

Admittedly the appointees or elected officials like their jobs and their careers, and the elected officials will face re-election. This transcends their personal loyalties. They believe in the principles of democracy. Presidents cannot lie and expect to get away with it.

In addition, Presidents are accountable to the invisible Government as well.  Government bureaucrats are committed to the smooth and honorable functioning of the Departments or Agencies. They are the ones who serve while Presidents come and go.  These bureaucrats operate regardless of the existence of any differences or disagreements over substance or policies. These civil servants respect the institutions of the Government they serve. This is why the Trump Administration is in such serious trouble.

It is becoming more and more obvious every day that the President’s relationship with Russia in general and Putin in particular is hardly a trivial matter. It could eventually cost Trump his job. Whatever are the President’s connections with Russia, Trump is discovering that even he cannot keep a possible cover-up from unraveling.

The number of Trump appointees who had significant prior relationships—largely commercial ones—with high-level Russian officials is staggering. They include Rex Tillerson at State, Steven Mnuchin at Treasury, and Wilbur Ross at Commerce. There are also other Trump officials–former business people–and former Members of Congress (not only Attorney General Sessions) who probably also had non-social contacts with Russia.

It not certain at this point what Trump himself knew and when he knew about any specific conversations or subjects that were discussed at various points of the campaign or during the transition. It has become clear that many people associated with the President–including apparently even his own son-in-law—at a minimum had inappropriate conversations during which they indeed might having broken the law through their actions or through a subsequent cover-up; lying, perjury, etc. Even more important is the fact that eventually it may well be demonstrated that Trump himself covered up their activities.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department investigations of the 2016 election and possible Russian efforts to manipulate the results–following on the heels of the dismissal of Michael Flynn as presidential national security adviser for inappropriate contact with the Russians—may become only tip of the iceberg.

Why Trump has such a warm soft spot for the Russians remains a mystery and is subject to extended speculation. Eventually, U.S. intelligence sources will enlighten and inform the Congress and the American people. Neither the Intelligence community nor the F.B.I. will be constrained from disclosing what they have learned.

Ironically, Trump’s only savior may well be Vladimir Putin who probably will do all he can to keep Trump in office, as all alternative political options may be much less likely to sustain the inexplicable coziness between Trump and Putin. 

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