Friday, January 05, 2018


The New York Times reports that in March President Trump ordered the top White House lawyer, Don McGahn, to prevent Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the Russia investigation. McGahn, of course, didn't succeed. The Times story also reveals that deception was used to try to prevent Trump from firing FBI director James Comey:
... Mr. Trump began to discuss openly with White House officials his desire to fire Mr. Comey. This unnerved some inside the White House counsel’s office, and even led one of Mr. McGahn’s deputies to mislead the president about his authority to fire the F.B.I. director.

The lawyer, Uttam Dhillon, was convinced that if Mr. Comey was fired, the Trump presidency could be imperiled, because it would force the Justice Department to open an investigation into whether Mr. Trump was trying to derail the Russia investigation.

Longstanding analysis of presidential power says that the president, as the head of the executive branch, does not need grounds to fire the F.B.I. director. Mr. Dhillon, a veteran Justice Department lawyer before joining the Trump White House, assigned a junior lawyer to examine this issue. That lawyer determined that the F.B.I. director was no different than any other employee in the executive branch, and that there was nothing prohibiting the president from firing him.

But Mr. Dhillon, who had earlier told Mr. Trump that he needed cause to fire Mr. Comey, never corrected the record, withholding the conclusions of his research.
This is not normal:
Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas School of Law, called the episode “extraordinary,” adding that he could not think of a similar one that occurred in past administrations.

“This shows that the president’s lawyers don’t trust giving him all the facts because they fear he will make a decision that is not best suited for him,” Mr. Vladeck said.
Which makes me wonder: What else are White House staffers deceiving Trump about? Are they deceiving him, for instance, about what it takes to launch a nuclear strike?

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted a taunt to Kim Jong-un:

Of course, there is no button. The president has a red button on his desk in the Oval Office, but it summon a valet -- Trump uses it repeatedly during the day to order Diet Cokes. A president who decided to order a nuclear strike would have to use the football, a briefcase carried by a military aide that follows the president everywhere.

Do you think they've told Trump that he can order a nuclear strike with a button that doesn't actually work? But if that were the case, they'd have had to install a dummy button, right? And what would they tell him the procedure is when he's at Bedminster or Mar-a-Lago, or on a foreign trip? They can't install dummy buttons everywhere, can they?

So I don't think they're lying to him about the button. But I wouldn't be surprised if they're lying to him about the procedure for using the football. James Schlesinger, who was Richard Nixon's last secretary of defense, acknowledged long after Nixon resigned that he'd told military commanders to check with him or Secretary of Stare Henry Kissinger before executing any order from Nixon to launch a nuclear strike -- presidents can launch such strikes at their sole discretion, but Schlesinger didn't trust the embattled and increasingly erratic Nixon.

Even in an impaired state, Nixon had a normal president's ability to process information. He'd been told how to launch a nuclear strike and we can assume he understood how the process is supposed to work.

When it comes to Trump, we can assume no such thing. He might have learned -- probably from Fox & Friends -- that the football is the key device if he wants to go nuclear and that no one can stop him if he decides to use it. But I assume that the process has never been described on Fox in full detail, and I also assume that when it was described to Trump in full detail by an actual government briefer, he wasn't paying attention.

So do you think they've now told him that there are a lot of additional steps that aren't part of the process? Steps that will give aides a chance to intercept the order and prevent a calamity?

I sure hope so.

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