Lots of tweets, and responses to tweets, not to mention the ebb and flow of our daily lives, distract us from keeping close watch on actions and policy pronouncements of the current administration. An essential part of our role as citizens now is to stay awake and keep from being distracted.
In addition to Steve Bannon, Mike Pence, Jared Kushner, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, KellyAnne Conway, Stephen Miller, and other presidential advisors, there are a host of players around the current president who merit consideration and attention. Not just Cabinet secretaries, which is a whole other category representing epic potential damage to our national functionality. Some of the players are people whose names are known and whose histories can be searched. Such as Marc Short, a Legislative Affairs Director whose resume seems to feature more service to conventional far-right politicians (Oliver North, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, the Koch brothers, Mike Pence), than demonstration of legislative policy crafting. Loyalty above relevant skill set is a persistent theme.
One of these players is the White House Counsel Donald McGahn. He is apparently quite smart and accomplished, and his skill set may in fact be relevant to his position. A former Federal Election Commission (FEC) Chair, he has moved through various professional permutations including becoming a ‘campaign lawyer’ for the current president. Among his achievements is a history of challenging and undermining government oversight of political campaigns. Given what we now know – and what we have still to learn – about the 2016 campaign, McGahn may prove pivotal. McGahn at the FEC seems to have expressed his ideological opposition to the commission’s investigative and oversight functions by working overtly against the stated purpose of the group he chaired. Sound familiar? A chilling quote from Leon Neyfakh in Slate:
“But there’s a more consequential irony in Trump’s decision to bring McGahn on as White House counsel: A man who has spent his career coming up with creative and aggressive ways to defy rules he did not believe were constitutional has been placed in charge of warning the president whenever he is about to cross an ethical or legal line.“
Among the varied tasks in McGahn’s current portfolio have been instructing White House staff to retain records related to the campaign, election, and administration which might be sought by investigators into Russian interference, and writing a memo to clarify that the (1st) illegal travel ban did not actually apply to Green Card holders, which had not been clear in the initial instructions. As White House Counsel, McGahn was one of the first administration officials to hear then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ concerns and objections to the now-dismissed National Security Advisor. As such, he was a major player in the delayed action related to those concerns. Apparently he is one of the White House voices contending that executive authority includes exemption from conflict of interest charges, which may explain in part the current president values his legal opinion so. He has also spent time pursuing the previous administration’s imaginary surveillance of the current president when he was a candidate.
In addition to being a consummate DC insider thanks to his years of professional work on election law, McGahn is also a profoundly inside player within the family circles of the current president. His uncle served to facilitate several lucrative moves by the then-real estate manipulator who now sits (occasionally) in the White House.
There is an additional layer of players, many of whose names are not yet known, whose histories cannot yet be searched. The current executive branch has taken up a new policy, of sending a “liaison” to every Cabinet meeting, in addition to the Secretary approved by the Senate. The liaison is a person to whom meeting attendees are accountable and who reports back to the White House. One such person is Jason Hairston, who comes to his role by way of hunting with the current president’s oldest son. This network of personnel echoes the commissars of the Soviet administration, or the internal security function of the SS of the Third Reich. It is terribly concerning. Stay tuned.
Take care of yourselves, in order to keep paying attention, and to keep holding our government and our representatives accountable. To us. We are the only ones who can.
Stay awake. Keep in touch. Keep the faith.