By Robert Reich
“I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” Trump told then FBI Director James Comey in January – even though FBI directors are supposed to be independent of a president, and Comey was only 4 years into a 10 year term.
Comey testified before the Senate that Trump tried to “create some sort of patronage relationship,” based on personal loyalty.
After Comey refused and continued to investigate possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, Trump fired him.
Preet Bharara, who had been the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Trump tried to create the same sort of patronage relationship with him that he did with Comey.
Bharara’s office had been investigating Trump’s secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, and also looking into Russian money-laundering allegations against Deutsche Bank, Trump’s principal private lender.
When Bharara didn’t play along, Trump fired him.
Bharara said Comey’s testimony “felt a little bit like déjà vu.”
In his first and best-known book, “The Art of the Deal,” Trump distinguished between integrity and loyalty – and made clear he preferred loyalty.
Trump compared attorney Roy Cohn – Senator Joe McCarthy’s attack dog who became Trump’s mentor – to “all the hundreds of ‘respectable’ guys who make careers out of boasting about their uncompromising integrity but have absolutely no loyalty … What I liked most about Roy Cohn was that he would do just the opposite.”
As president, Trump continues to prefer loyalty over integrity.
Although most of his Cabinet still don’t have top deputies in place, the White House has installed senior aides to monitor their loyalty. As Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign adviser, explained to the Washington Post, “they’re functioning as the White House’s voice and ears in these departments.”
Last Monday, the White House invited reporters in to watch what was billed as a meeting of Trump’s Cabinet. After Trump spoke, he asked each of the Cabinet members around the table to briefly comment.
Their statements were what you might expect from toadies surrounding a two-bit dictator.
“We thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda,” said Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. “Greatest privilege of my life, to serve as vice president to a president who’s keeping his word to the American people,” said Vice President Mike Pence. “You’ve set the exact right message,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions, adding, “The response is fabulous around the country.”
When I was sworn in as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, I took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” I didn’t pledge loyalty to Bill Clinton, and I wouldn’t have participated in such a fawning display.
That oath is a pledge of loyalty to our system of government – not to a powerful individual. It puts integrity before personal loyalty. It’s what it means to have a government of laws.
But Trump has filled his administration with people more loyal to him than they are to America.
His top advisers are his daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
To run his legal defense and be his spokesman on the investigation into collusion with Russian operatives, Trump has hired Marc Kasowitz.
Kasowitz is not an expert in criminal or constitutional law. His only apparent qualification is his utter loyal to Trump.
He’s been Trump’s personal legal fixer for almost two decades – representing him in his failed libel lawsuit against a journalist, the Trump University fraud case that ended in January with a $25 million settlement from Trump, and candidate Trump’s response to allegations of sexual assault by multiple women last year.
Kasowitz called the New York Times article containing interviews with the women “per se libel” and demanded “a full and immediate retraction and apology” (which the Times refused).
Kasowitz has said he played a central role in the firing of Preet Bharara. Kasowitz told Trump, “This guy is going to get you,” according to a person familiar with Kasowitz’s account.
Now, Kasowitz is taking on a public role. Bypassing the White House Counsel, he instructed White House aides to discuss the investigation as little as possible, and advised them about whether they should hire private lawyers.
The horrifying reality is that in Trumpworld, there is no real “public” role. It’s all about protecting and benefiting Trump.
When loyalty trumps integrity, we no longer have a government of laws. We have a government by and for Trump.