The new administration’s Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, may be on the bridge steering a sinking ship of state. Priebus, who reportedly was already on thin ice, the subject of rumors that he might be replaced, now presents another problem for the White House, with a new set of apparent lies.
In three appearances on Sunday morning news shows, the Chief of Staff denied that his boss had any knowledge of anyone acting on behalf of the President having contact with Russian agents prior to the 2016 election. During his appearance on the administration’s favorite cable news network, Priebus asserted that he had been assured by high level, but unnamed sources, that the claims were “garbage” saying that,
“Top U.S. intelligence officials have told him that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign did not collude with Russia.”
These claims by Priebus now appear to be false. As reported by CNN, shortly after February 14, 2017 when news reports began appearing of repeated communications between the campaign and officials of the Russian government, Priebus contacted deputy FBI director, Andrew McCabe, seeking to persuade him to publicly deny the administration’s alleged contacts with Russia, and to essentially make the Investigation go away. The request was refused, as Director James Comey,
“Rejected the request for the FBI to comment on the stories, according to sources, because the alleged communications between Trump associates and Russians known to US intelligence are the subject of an ongoing investigation.”
This overture to the FBI by the Chief of Staff clearly seems to have violated the 2009 memo by then Attorney General, Eric Holder, which limits the contacts between the White House and the Department of Justice concerning ongoing investigations. The memo limits these communications to the White House Counsel, the Deputy White House Counsel, the President, or the Vice President,
“When—but only when—it is important for the performance of the President’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.”
This is a continuation of the rules reinstated by Attorney General Michael Mukasey following the Bush Administration’s scandal over the firing of US Attorneys for partisan political purposes.
General Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor to the President, resigned on February 13, 2017. Flynn was caught on recorded conversations with officials of the Russian government, and he may have intentionally mislead the FBI when interviewed about those conversations. It is possible that Flynn had those conversations on his own. It is also possible that he was directed to do so, and that the administration lied when telling the public that General Flynn did not have those conversations, or when they repeatedly told the public they had no knowledge that Flynn talked about the issue of sanctions, after the public became aware that Flynn admitted he had done so.
The administration’s change in position on Flynn also began after it became known that former Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, had warned White House counsel, Donald McGahn, in late January, that Flynn had misled the FBI and was subject to possible blackmailing by the Russians. Recall as well that Sally Yates was fired on January 31, 2017 allegedly for instructing the Department of Justice not to defend the administration’s now failed Muslinhttp://www.cnn.com/2017/01/30/politics/donald-trump-immigration-order-department-of-justice/ travel ban executive order.
The administration’s denials of contact with the Russians, and the ever changing accounts on the nature of the Russian contacts that are now known, have come through Priebus, the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, Vice President Pence, and the President himself. For example, after denying that General Flynn discussed sanctions, Press Secretary Spicer told the nation at a press briefing that the President did not instruct General Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russians. Both Priebus and the Vice President denied the allegations of Flynn’s pre-inauguration talks with Russia on sanctions on January 15, 2017 on several Sunday morning news show appearances.
Most troubling is the President, himself, who repeatedly denied during his February 15, 2017 press conference that he instructed General Flynn to discuss lifting the Russian sanctions with the Russian Ambassador. However, the President curiously added that,
“It certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it.”
The new administration has shown a pattern of ineptitude, willful ignorance, or simply a refusal to care about the law, rules, and procedures pertaining to the administration of the Executive Branch. Six administration hires have been fired because they could not pass background checks. The CIA dismissed a General Flynn aide from the National Security Council for failing to pass a background check.
The United States Code sets forth who should be the members of the National Security Council. It has been argued that the President’s chief advisor, Steve Bannon, named last month by the President as a permanent member, is not eligible. The administration is now reconsidering Bannon’s membership. It has been reported that the President has blamed General Flynn for not fully advising him on the significance of giving Bannon a seat on the NSC.
And now, we know of actions by the Chief of Staff, who either on his own, or at the direction of the President of the United States, attempted to put pressure on the FBI intended to either stop the ongoing investigations, or mislead the public that there is nothing to see here. The administration may not have known about these rules. There has been no public announcement by the Jeff Sessions headed Department of Justice pertaining to any changes to the rules. It would not be appropriate for Attorney General Sessions, to be involved with the investigation or changing rules that relate to investigations into activities of the campaign and transition team of which he was a member.
There are multiple federal agencies investigating the activities of the campaign, the transition team, and possibly the administration and the Chief Executive himself. Congress is also looking into these matters. Given these investigations and the information made public to date, it appears that this administration may be engaged in an ongoing cover-up that violates federal obstruction of justice statutes. It was the cover-up by the administration, not any crimes related to the break-in by the President’s men into the DNC offices at the Watergate Hotel, that eventually took down Nixon, once the House Judiciary Committee issued its first Article of Impeachment on July 24, 1974, based on obstruction of justice. Similarly, it may not be any crimes related to the cyber break-in to the DNC that takes down this administration, but the resulting cover-up.
This is an administration led by an incompetent, with far too many incompetents as key advisors. The parallels with events that took down the Nixon administration in 1974 continue to helm. Mr. Priebus just may be steering a sinking ship of state filled with gaping, unrepairable wounds from which this administration will not recover.