Read the Mueller Report and weep as it dawns on you that the president is now really home alone.
I know we’ve thought this before when Generals Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly left. Those were more innocent times.
Trump, convinced he alone outwitted the deep state, is now unleashed to be a purer version of himself. He will listen even less to his aides, except the most servile, like the recently appointed Attorney General William Barr who followed directions perfectly with his No Collusion, No Collusion Summary of the Mueller Report, stopping just short of his boss declaring it “bulls***.” To all those who thought Trump would have brought in a lawyer who hadn’t passed his Roy Cohn test for abject loyalty, think again.
What Barr doesn’t realize yet is that the White House is not Hollywood producer Mark Burnett’s "Apprentice" but his other hit show, "Survivor," in which a group of strangers in an isolated setting compete for rewards and pray not to be eliminated. Trump stars in the presidential version in which he is always the Sole Survivor. Everyone else is voted off the island, soiled by the experience, and hard-pressed to re-enter polite society. All ye who work there might observe the job search of former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and consider getting out.
Those left in the administration are the ones who give in to Trump’s worst impulses. This week saw an outpouring of nostalgia for former White House counsel Don McGahn for doing no more than what your run-of-the mill courthouse lawyer would in taking notes like a “real lawyer” despite Trump’s scolding, and refusing to fire Mueller. That was enough for Rudy Giuliani to emerge from the rock he’s been placed under to dismiss as fake news McGahn’s testimony under oath.
Oh, for the good old days. It’s a sign of just how much trouble we’re in that we make such a big deal over anyone who shows the slightest bit of spine. Those inside must dance with Trump in the end zone or look for a job on pre-dawn cable or a think tank funded by the Mercers.
The current acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, is almost enough to induce nostalgia for those bygone co-chiefs Reince Priebus, the wimpy operative who felt “blessed” to be in the White House, and Steve Bannon, the angry white supremacist driven out for bad grooming. Mulvaney is a step down, debased like so many are under this president by the qualifier “acting” in his title, Trump’s management innovation that makes every day audition day for a permanent job.
Trump approved the dress rehearsal when Mulvaney kneecapped Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which in its pre-Mick days restored $12 billion to 300 million defrauded consumers. No fear of that happening on Mulvaney’s watch. For an encore, he removed pesky regulations from payday lenders whose business model is to bankrupt workers living from paycheck to paycheck.
Mulvaney whimpered to ABC’s Jonathan Karl when asked when he’d get the real job that Trump “enjoys having me” around. In that same interview we learned why. He parroted Trump as if hoping for a cracker. He railed against Mueller, cheered Trump’s impulsive decision to kill Obamacare, and was on board to shut down the southern border, such a potentially staggering blow to the economy other enablers in the Administration threw their bodies in front of it. At Trump’s behest, Mulvaney had dutifully defended cutting the Special Olympics out of the budget. When the outrage grew intolerable, Trump acted like he’d nothing to do with such a boneheaded idea.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders remains every bit as pliant as Mulvaney. A smoother liar than her predecessor Sean Spicer, who had the decency to wince slightly when he said Trump had the biggest inaugural crowd ever, Sanders told whoppers daily until Trump decided he could tell them much better himself. With his impromptu driveway pressers, he’s become his own press secretary.
But she will always have a place in Trump’s heart for eluding Mueller. Sure, under penalty of perjury she had to own up to her whopper about how she knew everyone from Congress to rank-and-file FBI agents were thrilled that Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey. But she couldn’t help but tell a lie about the lie, blaming her slip of the tongue on the “heat of the moment.” A review of the briefing tape shows Sanders at the podium coolly telling that tall tale from prepared notes. Mueller couldn’t charge all the lying liars or we’d still be awaiting his report.
Still at work is Stephen Miller, the bootleg telenovela border hawk who will never refuse an order and sometimes gives them. He’s all in on Trump’s desperate attempt to appease wall enthusiasts Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, with whom Trump played a celebratory round of golf Friday.
Without adult supervision, Team Miller just got approval from Justice to hold those trying to make an asylum claim outside ports of entry until their hearing, which could be years, or corral them in Mexico. He’s aiming to flood Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco and other so-called sanctuary cities with Central American immigrants. Not to scare anyone, but the troops Trump ordered to the border are still there. General Mattis at least ordered them not to shoot anyone who didn’t shoot them first, but that’s not how Miller rolls.
Just this week came news that armed vigilantes calling themselves United Constitutional Patriots have been rounding up migrants at gunpoint. Don’t expect Trump to do anything about it having pardoned famous Vigilante-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who forced imprisoned immigrants to wear pink underwear while picking up trash on Arizona highways.
Barr may have already done the one job he was hired for, but he remains the attorney general of Trump’s fevered dreams, one who puts Trump first, America second. He already proved that with his shocking talk of a coming investigation on imaginary spying on Trump during his 2016 campaign.
You’d never know Mueller and Barr worked for the same Department of Justice, as Barr argued only for Trump; that Mueller didn’t charge Trump with obstruction of justice, not because Justice Department guidelines say he can’t, but because the president didn’t obstruct, which Mueller proves he did. And in the alternative, if there was any obstruction, it was justifiable because Trump was understandably “frustrated,” at the unfairness of it all, a novel defense not found in law school or nursery school.
Barr’s branding of the Mueller report that produced cover headlines like the New York Post’s “Trump Clean” is the moment in the movie when you find out the police captain is on the take but why? Like Rudy Giuliani, does he miss the klieg lights, was he bored by his corporate clients, or could he possibly believe it was all a witch hunt perpetrated by fake news and the deep state?
The White House promised a written rebuttal of the Mueller report only to abruptly cancel it. Who needs it when Barr did it for them?
With “Trump Clean” and 2020 looming, we’re finally going to see the president unbound. This is the start of his presidency and, as he said when he thought Mueller meant the end of it, we’re f***ed.
Margaret Carlson is a columnist for the Daily Beast. She was formerly the first woman columnist at Time magazine, a columnist at Bloomberg View, a weekly panelist on CNN’s "Capital Gang" and managing editor at the New Republic. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.