Trump demands simply ignored
Something strange has been happening lately in Washington when the most powerful man in town, the president of the United States, makes a headline-grabbing declaration on some new policy.
The recent response has been: Nothing.
Some recent presidential statements have been simply ignored, tuned out as meaningless noise by the federal apparatus he runs. Sunday provided the latest example of the Trump administration ignoring Donald Trump.
It came after the president suggested at a partisan rally last week that the Justice Department should be investigating his defeated election opponent: “What the prosecutors should be looking at are Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails,” Trump told a crowd, prompting chants of, ”Lock her up!”
No way, said his deputy attorney general.
Rod Rosenstein not only rejected the idea that public statements from the president should be viewed as an order — he made clear that even if such an order were delivered explicitly more formally, in a private setting, he would refuse it as improper.
“No,” Rosenstein replied, when asked about the presidential demand, in a Fox News interview. “I view what the president says publicly as something he said publicly. If the president wants to give orders to us in the department, he does that privately.”
He went one step further: “The president has not directed us to investigate particular people. That wouldn’t be right. That’s not the way we operate.”
That back-of-the-hand dismissal followed a similar event a few days earlier.
The president triggered an avalanche of attention with a headline-grabbing announcement on Twitter: After consulting with his generals and military experts, the president said, the U.S. military would no longer accept or allow transgender people.
The blunt, clear statement prompted questions about what procedures might be implemented; what would happen to the transgender people already serving; what financial conditions might apply to any discharges; and whether the order might be fought in court.
But then a considerable wrinkle developed: The military said it wasn’t happening.
It shrugged off the announcement from its commander-in-chief. In an internal communication published by Politico; a statement issued by the Secretary of Defence; and in an exchange with reporters, the military made clear it did not view Trump’s statement as official policy.
“What you saw in the form of a tweet represented an announcement,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told Pentagon reporters, according to the Washington Examiner. “Orders and announcements are different things, and we are awaiting an order from the commander-inchief to proceed.”
One well-connected military official, chatting off the record, said this discord could occur in the most urgent, life-and-death matters. If the president issued an ill-advised order for a military strike, against North Korea or elsewhere, he predicted the military might push back under a four-word justification: ”If it’s not legal.”
That definition of an illegal order, he said, might include a military strike that doesn’t get congressional authorization. He said there was already widespread anxiety last spring, among military brass, over the order for a limited strike against Syria. That order was ultimately carried out.