Lest we forget the right and appropriate role of military officers, lawyers, senior government officials and others caught up in the various investigations swirling around President Trump, his campaign and then his transition into the presidency, we should remember that honesty and integrity must be and, up until now, have been at the heart of actions by people in high office and those who advise them.
This is not a partisan perspective; this is an observation of individuals who were elected as president and those who supported them over past decades. And, I am certain that my shock about the behaviors that many around Trump engaged in is not unique. While those who serve in the White House have differing philosophies and political views, there are shared values across both parties and several administrations. Each day it becomes increasingly clear that the Trump organization operated in a value- and integrity-free zone.
Understanding what happened is critical to bring an end to such aberrant behavior. Those who seek to govern, prepare to govern and hold public office must operate openly and honestly, and an unwillingness or some genetic inability to do so should sound alarms to the electorate in the future, making such lapses disqualifying in an election.
This brings us to how we should view those who are culpable.
While generally compassionate and understanding, I think those who engaged in a pattern of questionable and possibly illegal behavior and then lied about it publicly (and eventually to federal investigators) deserve the proverbial “perp walk.” Not only are they deserving of the spectacle, the treatment is necessary as a deterrent to others.
It is high time for lawyers to say, “We no longer can represent you.” Or, for aides to say, “We no longer can assist you along a path with which we fundamentally disagree.” And, it is time to understand that whatever fallout these principled actions might cause, it is far less consequential than potentially committing federal crimes.
Of course, all this assumes that the people wrapped up in all of this were operating out of some kind of motivation based on their personal view, however perverse, of public service. However, the increasing problem of sustaining such an assumption is that it does not offer a rationale for conduct by those indicted by and cooperating with federal prosecutors.
Even if the notion of an initiative to improve relations with Russia is the basis for questionable behavior, why try to cover it up with serial misrepresentation? That’s something that was at the heart of what Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn reportedly conveyed to the Russian ambassador when he suggested not responding to the sanctions applied by a sitting U.S. president. Though naïve, there would have been nothing illegal about early outreach to Russia once Trump and his team were in office. Then, their approach and foreign policy initiatives could be supported or opposed on their merits.
If there is a “rat” in the middle of all this, it may well rest with the simultaneous commercial and campaign activities engaged in by senior advisers. Dialogue about hotels, towers and other commercial ventures with Russian representatives is a growing dark cloud. And to the extent people around candidate Trump had their eyes on a very different ball than the election, a rationale for obfuscation after the election begins to crystalize. If the campaign for the highest office in the land was even partially a commercial venture, the motive of the candidate would and should be called into question.
Smart, experienced people have engaged in inexplicable behavior, considering their years of experience. Something caused them to do this — and that something, when we discover it, might better fit the characteristics of a rat.
Craig Fuller served President Ronald Reagan from 1981-85 as assistant to the president and head of the Office of Cabinet Affairs, and then became chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush from 1985-89. He co-chaired President-elect Bush’s transition office and chaired the Republican National Convention in 1992. He then led two major associations and was a consultant in Washington. He now runs his own firm, The Fuller Company.