Republic Report, which focuses on how money corrupts democracy, has met its abusive dream mate with the kleptocratic administration of President Donald J. Trump. Trump and his lieutenants personify how money and greed, mixed with serious bigotry, disrespect for constitutional freedoms, know-nothing ignorance, and an endless capacity for lying, can really, really corrupt democracy.
Hence, Trump Team Disgracefulness Power Rankings, counting down the week’s 10 most disgraceful figures in the Trump administration.
We said to ourselves last week that five weeks of disgracefulness rankings was it; we don’t have time to do this. But man has it been a disgraceful week, especially for the members of Donald Trump’s own family. So this week, in fact early in the week, welcome to Trump Team Disgracefulness Power Rankings Express ― we’re gonna move quickly to the Top 5.
Permanent spoiler alert: We simply can’t imagine anyone other than Donald J. Trump ever occupying the top spot in the rankings. But we won’t get tired of him winning. Believe me.
This Week’s Rankings
10. Every Cabinet and Senior White House official. Last week’s ranking: ―
Is there not one high-level Trump official with the integrity to resign and question the disgraceful conduct of Donald Trump and his family? For that matter, is there not a single Republican Member of Congress with the integrity to denounce Trump and call for an impeachment investigation?
At least some people in the government are acting as patriotic insiders and providing the media with information about Trump team wrongdoing and abuses.
And at least Mike Pence spokesman Marc Lotter offered this moment of survivor humor, intentional or not, saying of the June 2016 Donald Trump Jr.-Jared Kushner-Paul Manafort meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, “The Vice President was not aware of the meeting. He is not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket.”
9. Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury. Last week’s ranking: ―
For going from Foreclosure King to Deceptive Nominee to Sad Lackey: After President Trump tweeted Sunday morning (see 1, below) that he and Putin “discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded,” Mnuchin, the synthetic Jewish son-in-law Trump would need if he didn’t already have a synthetic Jewish son-in-law, dutifully defended Trump’s ill-conceived remark on ABC’s “This Week” as a “very important step forward.” By evening, after every intelligent person in America had trashed the tweet, Trump pulled the rug out under Mnuchin, saying the shield “can’t” happen.
8. Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education. Last week’s ranking: 3
DeVos on Monday hid in her office, or somewhere, while three nice career officials of the Department of Education sat on the stage of the building’s auditorium and listened to advocates for students (including me) harangue them about DeVos’s announced plan to delay and dismantle Obama-era rules to hold predatory for-profit colleges accountable for ripping off taxpayers and ruining students’ lives. The staff also heard various for-profit college operators get up at the hearing and claim, among other things, that the rules aren’t needed because all the crooked for-profit colleges have shut down, leaving in place only honest mom and pop shops like the University of Phoenix, EDMC, Career Education Corp., and Bridgepoint Education, the former employer of DeVos’s senior counsel Robert Eitel. The entitled owners kept complaining that Department rules governing schools that get taxpayer dollars are too onerous, and I guess proved it when several kept talking after the Department panel told them their allotted five minutes were up.
7. Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President. Last week’s ranking: ―
For this endless dialogue with Chris Cuomo, and for months of spinning fantasies about the greatness of Donald Trump.
6. Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator. Last week’s ranking: 2
Since becoming Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt has pursued an agenda of holding private meetings with fossil fuel industry executives and lobbyists, kicking respected scientists off agency review panels, concealing agency documents, hiding the truth regarding his emails, and, above all, cancelling Obama-era EPA rules aimed at protecting Americans against toxic pollution, catastrophic chemical explosions, and devastating global warming.
Working actively to destroy the Earth, truthfully, is more disgraceful, or least disgraceful at a larger scale, than some of the crap behavior various members of the Trump family engaged in this week (see rankings 2 to 5 below). So sue me.
5. Melania Trump, First Lady of the United States. Last week’s ranking: ―
We’ve left Melania alone in previous countdowns, because she has displayed the demeanor of a hostage. But she is now six months into her announced First Lady campaign to combat cyber bullying ― about the only thing Mrs. Trump said she would do ― and the only known deliverable is Mrs. Trump having her spokesperson endorse President Trump’s grotesque misogynist cyberbullying tweet directed at TV host Mika Brzezinski: “As the first lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.” Bullied children everywhere must feel so much better now. #ThanksMelania
4. Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to the President. Last week’s ranking: ―
We now know that Kushner failed to disclose on his security clearance application at least three meetings with Russians:
- A December 2016 meeting with Russia’s ubiquitous ambassador to the U.S., Sergey I. Kislyak
- A December 2016 meeting with Sergey Gorkov, a former Russian intelligence agent who is now the Putin-appointed head of the Russian state-owned bank Vnesheconombank
- The June 2016 Hillary “dirt” / orphans meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya
Material omissions on security clearance forms are crimes if made knowingly. That it’s hard to spell Vnesheconombank and Veselnitskaya is not a legal excuse.
Additional facts raise further concerns about these omissions. There’s a troubling discrepancy between what Vnesheconombank said their Kushner meeting was about and the White House’s explanation for the meeting. The bank told the Washington Post that the meeting was to pursue its investment strategy by talking with “with the head of Kushner Companies,” while a White House spokesperson said that, instead, “Mr. Kushner was acting in his capacity as a transition official and had many similar discussions with foreign representatives after the election.”
Also, the Times has reported that Kushner did not amend his clearance form to include the Veselnitskaya meeting “until recently,” and Times reporter Maggie Haberman said Tuesday on CNN that Kushner amended his form a second time to add that Trump Tower meeting around the time that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort disclosed the meeting to congressional investigators.
Whenever and why ever it turns out that Jared amended his form to disclose clearly relevant information, it looks like crackerjack work by Kushner’s esteemed Washington super lawyer, mercenary Democrat Jamie Gorelick.
It also seems apparent that Kushner was not an innocent attendee at the Veselnitskaya meeting. In inviting them to the meeting, Don Jr. forwarded the entire email chain to Kushner and Manafort, and that chain included the initial message from music manager Rob Goldstone, telling Don Jr. that the lawyer would “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Also, the email that Jared and Manafort received bore the subject line: “FW - Russia - Clinton - private and confidential.” #JaredKnew
3. Ivanka Trump, Assistant to the President. Last week’s ranking: ―
One thing that shouldn’t get lost, amid all the Trump family lies and potential criminal liability around Russiagate, is the audaciously disgraceful action of Ivanka Trump sitting in Dad’s seat at a closed-door session of the G20 summit meeting in Hamburg.
We know that Ivanka sat for a period next to China’s president Xi Jinping, U.K. prime minister Theresa May, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and German chancellor Angela Merkel, only because Svetlana Lukash, a member of the Russian delegation tweeted (and later deleted) a photo of the spectacle. (Do we think maybe the Russians are messing with us?)
A “senior administration official” proudly anonymously defended the move to CNN: “Ivanka was sitting in the back and then briefly joined the main table when the President had to step out and the President of the World Bank started talking as the topic involved areas such as African development... When other leaders stepped out, their seats were also briefly filled by others.”
Of course we are shocked that President Trump chose to leave the room ― which he tweeted was “for short meetings with Japan and other countries” ― during the African development portion of the meeting, given that we know how deeply engaged Trump is in African development issues. (The Trump organization apparently does not invest in Africa. Yet!)
And we don’t know if Trump directed Ivanka to assume his throne, a move he later tweeted was “Very standard.” But we don’t care. She shouldn’t have done it.
Yes, Trump officially hired Ivanka as a White House Assistant to the President, though many argued that move violated the federal law against nepotism in government hiring and posed genuine dangers. But Ivanka’s decision to sit in Trump’s seat was somewhere between wealthy-entitled and just plain crass. I mean she probably took dad’s chair during presentations on Trump Organization construction delays in Azerbaijan , and maybe she could try to spin it as women’s empowerment.
But on-site at the G20 were numerous Trump appointees and career officials eminently more capable and qualified to assume the U.S. chair while the president was absent.
This is not a monarchy. It remains a constitutional democracy. Princess Ivanka’s ascension to King Donald’s G20 chair illustrated how the kleptocratic Trumps are turning our country into a possession, a piece of real estate they think they own.
2. Donald Trump Jr., son of the President and Executive Vice President of Development and Acquisitions, The Trump Organization. Last week’s ranking: ―
OMG let’s review. Donald Trump Jr., who has consistently yelled that the Trump campaign had no dealings with Russians, concealed from the public for a year that he, Kushner, and Manafort met last June with a Russian lawyer. Then, when caught by the Times, he gave a misleading explanation of the subject of the meeting, then admitted the meeting was instead for the purpose of getting from the Russian lawyer dirt on Hillary Clinton, and then, when he knew the Times was planning to publish them, posted emails showing that the meeting was pitched to him as a session to get dirt on Hillary from the Russian government as part of its “support for Mr. Trump.” Thus Trump Jr., by his own eventual admission, attended a meeting for the purpose of conspiring with Russia to influence the U.S. election.
Trump Jr’s defense of himself Tuesday on Fox’s Hannity show added to his disgracefulness: “For me this was opposition research. They had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I’d been hearing about … so I think I wanted to hear it out.... Someone sent me an email. I can’t help what someone sends me. I read it, I responded accordingly.”
You responded “accordingly”? By responding “I love it,” taking the meeting, and bringing along the Trump campaign chairman? The way to respond accordingly would have been to call the FBI, just as the 2000 Al Gore campaign did when someone sent Bush campaign internal materials. This was not opposition research; it was an effort by a hostile foreign nation, a U.S. adversary, to secretly influence the contest for America’s highest office. The fact that it might help Dad win didn’t make it right. It might well have been a crime, even perhaps conspiracy to commit espionage.
There’s some relief in knowing that crooks and liars have been outed as crooks and liars, so we like Donald Trump Jr. a little bit this week for being such an idiot. Nevertheless, we can’t escape the conclusion that Donald Trump Jr. is a disgrace. Don Sr. is always talking about picking people who seem to come from central casting, and with Don Jr. he made his own: the perfect nasty, low-intellect, evil douchebag son of the president.
1. Donald J. Trump, President of the United States. Last week’s ranking: duh
Minutes after tweeting a heartfelt defense of Don Jr. as he watched “Fox & Friends First” at 5:12 am Wednesday, Trump followed up by telling his Twitter subjects (those he hasn’t blocked), “Remember, when you hear the words ‘sources say’ from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist.” Trump knows his fervent followers will swallow every word, even though the New York Times piece about the Don Jr. meeting was entirely confirmed by Don Jr.’s own emails, as released by Don Jr.
Trump may get jealous that Don Jr. is getting so much attention for at least attempted collusion with the Russians and violation of campaign finance laws. Whether Don Sr. can be goaded into admitting that he wasn’t so far out of the loop and actually knew about the meeting attended in his building by his son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman remains to be seen. What is still clear is that Don Sr. obstructed justice this year by pressing James Comey to let angry General Mike Flynn off the hook and then firing Comey when he didn’t stop the Flynn probe and larger Russia investigation.
It’s also the case that, as the public now considers Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya’s 2016 plea to Don Jr. and the boys to lift the 2012 Magnitsky Act sanctions ― U.S. penalties against Russian officials that Veselnitskaya had lobbied against and that greatly pained Putin ― Trump’s White House is actively working this week to water down legislation that would tighten sanctions on Russia.
Trump also enhanced the Russia narrative this week by being exactly the U.S. president that Vladimir Putin hoped he would be: a fool.
At their face-to-face G20 meeting, Putin played Trump like a fiddle. Whatever Trump said in response to Putin’s denial, in the face of the unanimous findings of U.S. intelligence agencies, that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who was present in the meeting, told reporters that Trump accepted Putin’s denial.
Trump’s own readout of the meeting was equally fascinating: that Sunday morning tweet reporting, “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded.” After that announcement ― that the U.S. would protect itself by forming a shield with the crafty adversary that hacked it ― was met with concern and derision by commentators all day, Trump that night issued a hilarious denial of his own statement: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t...” Maybe Putin sold Trump on the idea of the shield by noting that one of the “negative things” happening was the cyber-theft from Trump hotels of guest credit card and personal information for seven recent months. Maybe Putin might even have some insights into whodunnit.
Apart from the Putin meeting debacle, and Trump’s grotesque attempt to defend the placement of Ivanka in his G20 chair by lashing out at Chelsea Clinton, Trump fundamentally failed to protect America’s interests at the meeting. He positioned the U.S. as a reckless rogue nation, refusing to accept the need to address climate change, as the other nineteen participants committed to press ahead with the Paris agreement. He also failed to get from Russia, China, and others present a commitment to action, or even a statement, on the urgent threat from North Korea.
Content to deny or cheer obvious wrongdoing in his administration, attack the media, engage in celebrity feuds, and degrade our country on the global stage, Trump has little time to consider the actual details and impacts of the policy agenda his administration is pursuing, which largely consists of allowing former corporate lobbyists, ex-Goldman Sachs executives, and Koch brothers-tied ideologues to dispense with important consumer, financial, health, safety, and environmental regulations all across the government, while pursuing tax cuts for the rich on Capitol Hill. While he promised to drain the swamp and stand up for the forgotten man and woman, the Trump administration’s actual agenda is exactly the opposite: a handover of policy to America’s oligarchs, just as he uses the presidency to enrich his own business empire.
Trump is again this week’s number one in Republic Report‘s Trump Team Disgracefulness Power Rankings. Trump is not merely a disgrace; he’s a total and complete disgrace.
Wayback Wednesday - vintage disgracefulness:
This article also appears on Republic Report.