Dana Milbank: President has trouble finding good help
WASHINGTON — It’s hard to find good help these days.
During his campaign, President Trump boasted that he would “surround myself only with the best.” But by his own account, his administration attracts rather the opposite.
On Saturday, Trump publicly mocked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, imitating his Southern accent: “The attorney general says, ‘I’m gonna recuse mah-self.’”
In the same speech, Trump discredited departing Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein by saying the Trump-appointed official, whom the president accused last month of “planning a very illegal act,” had “never received a single vote.”
Last week, Trump said that soon-to-be-jailed Michael Cohen, once a “good person” and Trump’s personal attorney, had not only turned out to be a “failed lawyer” and a liar but was, by testifying to Congress about Trump, also partially to blame for the breakdown of nuclear talks with North Korea.
Meanwhile, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats may soon be replaced because he caused Trump “disappointment” by expressing (accurate) doubts that North Korea would cooperate with overtures to denuclearize, Trump confidant Christopher Ruddy told CNN. Coats may find himself in the unemployment line with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who has at times incurred Trump’s dissatisfaction over her work on the border.
The result of so much unhappiness with so many hires? After two years in the White House, Trump appears to be running not a country but a temp service.
He has found himself, for example, filling and refilling the roles of White House communications director six times, deputy national security adviser five times, national security adviser and health and human services secretary four times each, attorney general and White House chief of staff three times each and secretary of state, defense secretary and press secretary twice - among many other such moves, including the staffing of a rotating cast of defense lawyers.
Even “The Apprentice” didn’t cycle through contestants this fast. The only constant: With few exceptions - chiefly daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner - everybody disappoints Trump.
Those vying to add “former” to their titles include U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer (he contradicted Trump’s view that a “memorandum of understanding” doesn’t “mean anything”) and national security adviser John Bolton (who declined to embrace Trump’s view that Kim Jong Un is trustworthy and that the North Korea summit was fruitful).
Now comes Ty Cobb, a former Trump lawyer, telling ABC News that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is an “American hero” and “I don’t feel the investigation is a witch hunt.” Presidential harassment!
If only Trump could hire a thousand Stephen Millers. Instead, he has suffered a turnover rate in senior jobs of 65 percent, according to the Brookings Institution. Twenty-nine percent of those positions have turned over multiple times. Then there are the six former Trump advisers either indicted or convicted.
It’s a personnel problem of incalculable dimensions, but with a common denominator: Trump. Either he’s a bad judge of talent, or nobody with talent wants to work for him, or he’s a terrible boss - or all three.
“He is fundamentally disloyal,” Cohen testified last week.
If only his appointees could be loyal and capable. Like Kim. Or Mohammed bin Salman. Or Vladimir Putin.
Instead, they leak his schedule to Axios, place anonymous quotes or an op-ed, and disparage him publicly before taking the job (acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney called him “a terrible human being”), on the job (Gary Cohn), on their way out (Jim Mattis, Nikki Haley) or after departing (Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson, Omarosa Manigault Newman). At least 10 (including “gofer” Cliff Sims, “sick” James B. Comey and “deranged” Andrew McCabe) have written books.
Et tu, Mike Pompeo? The loyal secretary of state hired editorialist Mary Kissel, who had criticized Trump’s “frightening ignorance.”
Just about everybody lets down the boss. Trump complained that Mulvaney botched border-wall negotiations, Mattis botched Afghanistan, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell botched the bull market - and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin screwed up by suggesting Powell for the job.
Trump blamed the Mueller probe on former White House counsel Donald McGahn, and he faulted acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker for failing to rein in the Cohen prosecution. But it doesn’t end there.
During confirmation hearings for Whitaker’s replacement, William P. Barr, Trump was reportedly startled to learn of Barr’s close friendship with Mueller. Trump’s third attorney general had better finish decorating his new office soon — before Trump’s fourth attorney general inevitably shows up.
Dana Milbank is a syndicated columnist. You can follow him on Twitter, @Milbank.