President Trump’s zeal for extreme vetting has one glaring exception: his own administration.
If you’re a bedraggled sixth-grader from a beleaguered country where the Quran is a popular text, he will stop you at our border. If you’re a retired lieutenant general who hallucinates an Islamic terrorist behind every last garden shrub in America, he will welcome you to the White House.
The fall of Michael Flynn as national security adviser was foreordained, predictable by anyone with the time, patience and fundamental seriousness to take an unblinking look at his past, brimming as it was with accusations of shoddy stewardship and instances of rashness.
This is a man who once claimed that Arabic signs along the Mexican border pointed terrorists toward the United States – and who never provided any corroboration of that.
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Trump sold himself to Americans the way almost everyone who tries to make the transition from the private sector to public service does.
Supposedly, he knew how to manage in a way that government bureaucrats don’t, because he was from a realm of ultimate accountability.
But I can’t imagine any levelheaded chief executive having the most delicate of conversations about his enterprise out in the open, as Trump did Saturday night when he discussed North Korea’s missile launch.
And the cornerstone of management is the assembling of a team that’s competent and trustworthy. Trump put his together in a cavalier fashion, enchanted by people who were high on energy even if they were low on sanity, decency, discretion, humility or some combination of the above.
And so we got Flynn, senior adviser Stephen Miller and others whose stridency makes for a good show – Trump relishes a good show – but is a recipe for precisely the kind of recklessness that did in Flynn, who played footsie with the Russians and then lied about it.
With this president there’s a surfeit of provocation and a dearth of due diligence.
Where was the vetting, extreme or otherwise, of Mick Mulvaney, the congressman tapped for the Office of Management and Budget? Oops: He had a nanny for whom he’d failed to pay more than $15,000 in taxes.
Where was the vetting of Steve Mnuchin, just confirmed as treasury secretary? Oops: He had all this offshore wealth and nearly $100 million worth of real-estate assets that he initially failed to mention in financial disclosure forms.
Where was the vetting – or, more to the point, the preparation– of Betsy DeVos, our new education secretary?
Or how about Andrew Puzder, who was forced Wednesday to withdraw his nomination for labor secretary?
But at least the Flynn nightmare is over. It lasted all of 24 days. It wouldn’t have lasted one if our president cared about the most important kinds of vetting.
Frank Bruni writes for the New York Times.