One Lie Leads to Another

A team made uncomfortable by the truth.

“How many people have to say ‘that there’s nothing there’ before you realize there’s nothing there?”

~ Sean Spicer — February 27, 2016

Do you really want the answer to that question Mr. Spicer?

The current White House press secretary, who is doing the best he can with the material he has to work with, has been trying hard to convince the press and the American people that there are no ties between President Trump, the Trump family, the Trump campaign and the Russian government. When he asked his rhetorical question during a briefing back in February he exposed the fundamental problem created by the president’s non-existent relationship with the truth.

The answer to the question, sadly, is that we can never accept the word of the Trump White House, because the president has made it clear he is willing to lie to achieve his ends and he is willing to send others out to lie for him. That includes Mr. Spicer and even the vice president.

Spicer’s ironic question came just five days before Trump made the explosive charge that former President Obama had ordered the phones tapped at Trump Tower during the final days of the 2016 campaign. He offered no evidence, has offered no evidence since, and a number of people who would know if Trump’s claims are true have said they are not true. So without provocation it appears, Trump woke up one morning and lied to the American people. It was a huge lie in that it was much more than a denial of facts. This appears to be a story made up from beginning to end like a work of fiction, which itself raises questions of mental stability.

The next morning, Trump sent his loyalists out to face the cameras and cover for him, because he is not decent enough to do the hard work himself. This is the man we are told over and over again is charming and kind in private. He is only concerned about the future of the country because he loves America. He has a funny way of showing it.

Trump has destroyed his own credibility and severely damaged the credibility of the Office of President. From Republicans on Capitol Hill to foreign leaders around the world, all are wondering what this mad man will do next. The false argument that Trump’s outbursts and erratic behavior are part of the strategy of a master negotiator are nothing more than wishful thinking.

In the days following Trump’s tweetburst we saw how one lie leads to another. Spicer, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders were sent out to argue that Trump’s charge against Obama was so serious it required a congressional investigation. Only a congressional investigation would do. To protect the integrity of that investigation, the aides said, they could say no more about the president’s claims. They falsely said that major news organizations like the BBC and the New York Times had previously reported details of the same set of facts. The Trump team refused to answer questions about what evidence the president had and hid behind his higher level security clearance. Trump’s protection squad wants us to believe there is intelligence the president has, that he can’t share with his own staff, but he can Tweet to the world on a random Saturday morning.

The call for a congressional investigation was severely tested during a White House briefing at mid-week when a reporter from NBC News asked, if the president has proof that President Obama ordered wiretapping at Trump Tower, why do we need a congressional investigation to uncover it? The elegant question threw Spicer off for a moment as he brought up issues of security clearances, staffing and separation of powers. In other words, a congressional investigation makes no sense, because there is nothing to investigate.

Let’s agree for a moment that in the alternate universe these political operatives live and work in their job is to protect the president from negative news coverage no matter what. They are team players and it is in their job description to take one for the team on a regular basis. The real damage of Trump’s dishonesty goes deeper and ranges much wider than his relationship with the press or Congress. President Trump’s character flaws have an impact on the perception of America around the world, in part, because even cabinet secretaries feel a need to protect the boss at the risk of their own integrity.

John Kelly, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, appeared on CNN on March 6th and in a few minutes peeled away several layers of his hard earned professional credibility trying to explain why the president would make an unsubstantiated claim against his predecessor in public. It is important to point out that before joining the Trump administration Kelly had a highly successful career in the U.S. Military. He is seen as one of the most qualified members of the administration. Yet on CNN he was forced to give the following weak and implausible answers to simple questions from Wolf Blitzer.

He began by telling Blitzer, “I don’t know anything about it[the alleged wiretapping]. If the president of the United State said that, he’s got his reasons to say it.” This answer requires us to believe that the secretary of Homeland Security has no access to information that would prove or disprove the president’s claims. If this is the case then the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and other relevant agencies are highly incompetent. Kelly’s first answer forced him to dig the hole deeper when pressed further. “He[Trump] must have some convincing evidence that took place” Kelly continued, “I don’t pretend to even guess as to what the motivation may have been for the previous administration to do something like that.”

By mid interview Kelly, a previously credible person, had been forced into a series of statements that seemed to back up Trump’s claims and question why President Obama would break the law. Indeed, why? Why would Obama do such a thing? For emphasis let’s consider what Kelly said again: “I don’t pretend to even guess as to what the motivation may have been for the previous administration.” So now Secretary Kelly’s credibility has been placed in the same strata as counselor Conway, whose truthfulness is so challenged that even the Trump administration felt compelled to pull her off the field for a few weeks.

The corrosive effect of Trump’s lying was on clear display at the announcement of the administration’s second attempt to institute an anti-Muslim travel ban. Secretary Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson(the quiet one) and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, walked into a room and stood like stooges on pieces of masking tape staff had stuck to the floor, and one by one stepped to the podium to read prepared statements, before scurrying out of the room without taking any questions — all while the president hid out at the White House. The reason they took this approach to the announcement is clear, the administration was in shock from the effect of the charges Trump had made two days earlier. Kelly, Sessions and Tillerson could not take questions on the issue without either publicly contradicting the president or lying themselves. This is how Trump’s Twitter outbursts and general lack of knowledge about the functioning of government is hurting his ability to get things done and damaging the country’s standing around the world.

A veteran politician once told me that “in this business (the business of politics) all you have is your integrity.” This may seem hard to believe for most Americans who cynically view politics as a field filled with people who will say and do anything to get a vote and then quickly go back on their word once they are in office. But the truth is, for the most part, there is honor among thieves and the only way to get things accomplished in government is to conduct yourself with integrity. Trump lacks integrity and the behavior of the people who work for him reflects that fact.

It seems only a matter of time before this corrosive environment begins to eat away at the administration from the inside. How long can someone like Spicer or Secretary Kelly, or a long list of others who took jobs with the administration hoping to accomplish something good on behalf of the country, continue to put their own professional reputations on the line for a president intent only on protecting his own brand at the expense of everyone else and with no regard for America’s standing in the world?