UPDATE: There are firings, and then there are firings, and former FBI Director James Comey was informed of his by Donald Trump’s favorite messenger: television. Comey saw the news flash on screen as he as giving a speech to FBI employees in Los Angeles, and he thought it was a prank, at first. But a letter was hand-delivered by Trump’s personal bodyguard to FBI headquarters informing Comey that he was indeed out. It was a classic Trump firing, and also a deeply disconcerting one, as a third offense should be added to our list: investigating Russian connections to Donald Trump.
At the one-month mark, we now have a working theory of what makes an employee fireable (or not even hireable) in the Trump administration. There are two main types.
Fireable Offense Type #1: Be Drop Dead Scandalous
1. In December, Jason Miller, who was tapped to be the White House communications director, quit after another transition official, A.J. Delgado, tweeted her jilted love at him. Miller and his wife were expecting a new baby, so, via Twitter, “Delgado congratulated ‘the baby-daddy’ on his promotion,” ominously adding: “The 2016 version of John Edwards.”
“When people need to resign graciously and refuse to, it’s a bit … spooky,” Delgado then wrote. When an old law school friend asked on Twitter to whom she was referring, Delgado replied: “Jason Miller. Who needed to resign … yesterday.”
Delgado then deleted her Twitter account and, after Politico reported on the rumored affair, privately disclosed the details of the relationship to the transition team.
If you reach back into the deep part of yourself where you catalog other people’s misbehavior, you may even recall that Page Six reported back in October that, the night before the last presidential debate, Delgado and Miller, along with several journalists, were spotted together at the world’s largest strip club.
2. In January, Monica Crowley similarly backed out of her appointment to the National Security Council after CNN revealed she had plagiarized extensively in a book she published with HarperCollins. Politico followed up with a report that she had plagiarized parts of her doctoral dissertation. She had been accused of plagiarism before, by the Wall Street Journal. Crowley never admitted any wrongdoing. Here’s an example of a passage that popped fully formed into her head years after it popped into someone else’s, varying by a mere 18 words:
“[…] the benefits and prospects of success against the likely and actual costs and then reaches a determination as to whether the likely outcome is worth the sacrifice. As new events occur or objective conditions change, they are interpreted by political leaders and experts, and the ends and means are reevaluated. Traditionally, U.S. military operations have been explained and justified both in normative terms (stressing the importance of the principles and interests at stake) and pragmatic terms (stressing the good prospects and reasonable costs of the involvement.) Further, a focus on the particular objectives of the operation and the perceptions of the principles and interests that are involved establishes a connection between the objectives of the operation and the larger purpose behind it.”
3. In early February, Vincent Viola, the nominee for Army Secretary, withdrew because of insurmountable conflicts of interest. The Wall Street billionaire was making an effort to untangle himself from his many business ties, but, as the New York Times put it, “if his nomination had continued, he would have faced certain scrutiny for potentially becoming a government official who benefits from federal contracts.” Of course, there’s also the fact that it had just been revealed that, last August, Viola was “accused of punching a concessions worker at a racehorse auction.”
“Mr. Viola loves his wife and regrets the incident,” the spokesman said in a written statement in response to several questions.
4. Michael Flynn resigned from his post as head of the National Security Council after it turned out he had lied to Mike Pence about discussing Russian sanctions with the Russian ambassador, thereby exposing himself to potential Russian blackmail—plus, every time someone lies to Mike Pence, a fairy’s light goes out forever and an angel loses its wings.
Later it was revealed Flynn had also lied to the FBI.
5. Trump’s pick for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his nomination after Oprah gave the Senate a VHS tape of his ex-wife Lisa Fierstein appearing in disguise on Oprah’s show for an episode called “High Class Battered Women.”
“Most men who are in positions like that don’t leave marks,” Fierstein said. “The damage that I sustained you can’t see. It’s permanent. … They don’t hit you in the face. They’re too smart. They don’t hit you in front of everyone.”
Puzder had also, like the high class man he is, employed an undocumented immigrant in his home.
6. Last week, six staffers were booted out of the White House after they failed FBI background checks. Trump’s director of scheduling, Caroline Wiles, resigned before the background check was completed, while several others were walked out by security. “The intensive background check… includes questions on the applicant’s credit score, substance use and other personal subjects.”
7. And, not that he’s part of the administration or anything, but the president did threaten to cut funding to UC Berkeley in his honor, so let’s throw it out there anyway: the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) threw internet troll Milo Yiannopoulos under the bus after video resurfaced in which he defended pedophilia. The next day he resigned from Breitbart News.
There are two takeaways here. The first is how low the low bar has dropped. So many things that used to be scandals—being racist, being absurdly unqualified, just actually hating the agency you’re in charge of—aren’t scandalizing anymore, at least not for Republicans. Steve Bannon provided a media platform for white supremacists. Jeff Sessions is pretty darn racist. Betsy DeVos hovers somewhere between not knowing what an IEP is (cue the public school teachers rolling their eyes) and thinking it’s great when voucher schools make kids sign away their federally guaranteed right to one. Poor Ben Carson. Rex Tillerson was literally just now the CEO of ExxonMobil, a corporate name synonymous with “sinister.” Scott Pruitt hates all life on planet earth more than you hate Donald Trump. And, if you strain your memory way back to Day Zero, you’ll recall that even the appointment of James “Pretty Reasonable Guy” Mattis (as I’ve taken to calling him, since it’s become apparent that “Mad Dog” is the new normal) was a disquieting breach of the important American tradition of civilian oversight of our military.
The second takeaway is that Donald Trump is made of Teflon. He has been accused, at various points, of each of the scandals mentioned above, and yet nothing has stuck to him. Melania plagiarized Michelle at the RNC; Trump has massive, almost incalculable conflicts of interest; Trump lied to Mike Pence about the same thing Flynn did (another angel gone); Trump has also been accused of sexual assault and wife battery; Trump hired undocumented workers; Trump has even been accused of pedophilia; and it probably goes without saying at this point, but Trump definitely would not pass an FBI background check. His credit score alone would kill him. He’s so uncreditworthy that no major banks will lend to him (except for Deutsche Bank with its shadowy Russian—there’s that word again, “Russian,” it just keeps coming up!—money laundering). To quote a great man, SICK!
The only good news is that at least Trump’s immunity does not seem to extend to anyone in his orbit. Which would make you think he must be scouting for less scandalous replacements for all these fallen Trumpists—a canny assumption after he replaced conspiracy theorist Flynn with upstanding citizen H. R. McMaster and domestic abuser Puzder with really quite normal Republican guy Alexander Acosta. (Well, normal except for one little thing, which is, and really you can’t make this stuff up, that Acosta was the federal prosecutor who gave convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein a sweetheart plea deal—that is, the same convicted pedophile in whose company Trump himself has been accused of raping a 13-year-old girl.)
But, if you think that, you are ignoring one crucial factor, and that is:
Fireable Offense Type #2: Not Having Always Wanted Donald Trump to Be President (or Kind of Hating It Now)
You see, when it comes to hiring less scandalous people, the catch is that it’s hard to find people who aren’t a little bit—what’s a nice word for this? “eccentric”?—who have also never, at any point, publicly voiced the opinion that maybe Donald Trump wasn’t the best candidate for President of the United States of America. But those people—true believers—are the only people Trump wants! Loyal people! The best people!
This has caused some problems!
Not only are the true believers perhaps a bit more scandal-prone than the average American (my survey above seems to imply a lot of punching, both on the face and not on the face, in that demographic), but one must also consider all the messy purging that purity entails.
1. Earlier this month, Trump suddenly and unilaterally rejected Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision to make Eliott Abrams his own second in command—and not because of Abrams’ involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, which apparently falls under the rubric of scandals that are no longer scandalous. Rather, Trump axed Abrams “after reading news reports about their meeting, which included references to Abrams’ criticisms of Trump during last year’s presidential campaign.” Abrams was never even a Never Trumper, a group that has been blacklisted by the administration.
2. Last week, Ben Carson’s longtime aide and friend Shermichael Singleton was fired when the White House realized he had written an anti-Trump op-ed for The Hill in October. Carson was left speechless and baffled. Singleton was escorted from the building by security. In his op-ed, Shermichael wrote:
We must all search the inner depths of our conscience and ask: Is this what we really want?
3. Over the weekend, the White House forced the resignation of NSC aide Craig Deare after he criticized Trump in a private meeting at a think tank. Apparently Deare complained about the administration’s dysfunction, about Steve Bannon, about a lack of access to the president—and, hilariously, he “gave a detailed and embarrassing readout of Trump’s call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.”
4. And, of course, acting attorney general and Obama-era holdover Sally Yates was fired for refusing to enforce the Muslim travel ban.
It’s so hard to find true believers that the White House is sailing with a skeleton crew. There’s nobody home and no one in charge. We don’t know if they’ve figured out how to turn the lights on yet. As Gertrude Stein put it, there’s no there there. Staffing is such a problem that Steve Bannon had to bring his own Bannon to work. (And he brought in Jeff Sessions’ own Bannon, Stephen Miller, too—everyone has a Bannon now. You’ll soon see that you have one yourself. If, on the night of the new moon, you stand before the mirror in the light of one flickering candle, and regard your own reflection with malice in your heart, the grim outline of the devil on your shoulder shall appear, and its heinous whispers become audible.)
So, what will happen next? Will Trump be forced to let reasonable (if still somewhat unconventional) people do normal jobs, like Acosta and McMaster, or will Trump staff the entire government with “alt-right” radicals, like Julia Hahn and Steve Miller, so the government stops functioning in any way except as a white supremacist propaganda machine? Will he do both things at the same time?
I have no idea! But, as Gertrude Stein also said, “It is natural to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes to that siren until she allures us to our death.”