WASHINGTON — How on earth does President Donald Trump find them? All the worst people, I mean.
You will recall that as a candidate he promised to bring to Washington all “the best” people. Don’t hurt yourself laughing. It’s astounding how thoroughly Trump has managed to do the polar opposite, surrounding himself with incompetents, mediocrities, sycophants and grifters.
Exhibit A would be Lev Parnas, the Soviet-born Florida businessman who reportedly was drowning in debt in Boca Raton — from “a movie deal gone bad,” according to The Washington Post — before finding his way into Trump’s circle via Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. Every time Trump denies even knowing Parnas, who is under indictment for making illegal campaign contributions, Parnas and his lawyer post another photo or video proving otherwise.
Parnas is in the news for his claim to have worked “on the ground” in the Ukraine bribery scheme for which Trump is being impeached. Leave aside for a moment whether Trump is guilty. (Spoiler alert: He totally is.) How could it be that a person like Parnas was apparently running around Europe, conducting foreign policy on behalf of the president of the United States?
And look at Giuliani, once considered “America’s mayor,” now more like “America’s embarrassment.” According to the Post, Parnas and his friend, Igor Fruman, would “drop anything to join him (Giuliani) at his favorite haunts, stay out late while he drank scotch and pick up the tab.” Parnas says he now believes he was being “recruited” by Giuliani because he had connections in Ukraine.
Giuliani, of course, was also running around Europe, conducting foreign policy as the president’s “personal” representative. Giuliani is reportedly under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan for possible violations of campaign finance and lobbying statutes. Any other president surely would have felt the need to distance himself from someone facing such legal peril, if only for appearance’s sake. Trump seems to care only about Giuliani’s appearances on Fox News.
Speaking of the president’s favorite cable news network, it often seems that Fox sets the administration’s agenda. Other presidents have counted distinguished scholars among their “kitchen cabinet” advisers. Trump has Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs.
If you look at Trump’s top-level officials, he has installed a secretary of education who gives no indication of believing in public education; a secretary of commerce who, like Trump, has routinely overstated his net worth; a secretary of housing and urban development whose only qualification for the position was, and remains, that he lives in a house; and an administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency who, contrary to the scientific consensus, does not believe climate change presents an “existential threat.”
Trump’s first two press secretaries, Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have acknowledged telling lies to the media and the public — Spicer about the crowd size for Trump’s inauguration and Sanders about FBI reaction to the firing of James Comey. Both told countless other lies that they have not owned up to. The woman who now holds the job, Stephanie Grisham, has been criticized for not even giving press briefings, but I applaud her decision. If you’re not going to speak truth, why speak at all?
The U.S. diplomatic corps and the think tanks of Washington are teeming with Middle East experts. Trump, however, decided to assign the task of forging peace between Israel and the Palestinians to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose most significant previous negotiation led him to grossly overpay for a New York office building. Any day now, we keep hearing, The Peace Plan will be announced. I’m not holding my breath.
Trump also relies on advice from his daughter, Ivanka. You’re right to perceive that there’s a pattern here. Trump is trying to run the White House just like he ran the Trump Organization, a mom-and-pop business that leading New York banks and real estate developers refuse to have anything to do with.
Just as jailed lawyer Michael Cohen helped Trump pay off a porn star and a Playboy model to prevent disclosure of Trump’s alleged affairs with them, Giuliani tried to muscle the Ukrainian government into publicly smearing Trump’s potential opponent in the coming election, Joe Biden. And Attorney General William Barr obediently tells Trump he can do anything he wants. Plus ca change. (The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.)
Trump doesn’t want aides with principles and values. He wants servile minions who will do what he says, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong. “All the worst people” is a feature of the Trump presidency, not a bug.
Robinson writes for the Washington Post. His email address is email@example.com.