Dis­cre­tion needed

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - John Brum­mett John Brum­mett, whose col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette, was in­ducted into the Arkansas Writ­ers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrum­mett@arkansason­line.com. Read his @john­brum­mett Twit­ter feed.

You have two per­son­ally reck­less men, out­sized in per­son­al­ity, per­sua­sive, suc­cess­ful, loose with the truth and elected ane­m­i­cally and al­most ac­ci­den­tally.

Soon into their pres­i­den­cies they came un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tions they blamed on par­ti­san­ship and that drove them to dis­trac­tion.

But there are dif­fer­ences. Clin­ton was trained in pol­i­tics and adept in it. Trump is trained in real es­tate and shal­low celebrity, and adept in both.

By July of his first year, Clin­ton had passed a bud­get that would set the na­tion on a course to­ward sur­pluses and debt re­duc­tion. It’s now July for Trump and he hasn’t passed did­dly.

Then there is this fac­tor: Clin­ton was a se­rial se­ducer, able to con­nect gen­uinely with peo­ple in a mo­ment that soon passed. Trump seems ever con­nected to, and se­duced by, only one per­son: him­self.

Clin­ton could be han­dled. He’d sub­mit to it. Trump is not White House-bro­ken. His be­foul­ing the place is be­gin­ning to seem un­cor­rectable.

It may be as sim­ple as that Clin­ton wasn’t, and isn’t, off his gourd, and Trump is.

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That brings us to the Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon mad­ness.

Trump had just fin­ished an im­pres­sive meet­ing with the Repub­li­can Se­nate cau­cus. It prob­a­bly was too late as a tac­tic, but, still, Trump read well and force­fully from an ex­pertly pre­pared text in which he com­manded Repub­li­can sen­a­tors not to fail on their quin­tes­sen­tial prom­ise to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare and to stay in ses­sion as long as it took to get the job done.

That was 180 de­grees from where he’d been the night be­fore, but that’s Trump, who is sel­dom found in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture in the same place he was in the im­me­di­ate past.

That brings us to what hap­pened when the meet­ing with the Repub­li­can Se­nate cau­cus ended.

It turns out Trump had sched­uled an in­ter­view with three re­porters from the world’s great­est news­pa­per, the New York Times, which he has de­scribed as fail­ing, and as fake. It seems he’d been in free-form dis­cus­sions over a few weeks with a Times edi­tor about hav­ing things to say. The Times edi­tor had replied that his White House re­porters would be the right folks to re­ceive those things the pres­i­dent wished to say. Trump was joined for the in­ter­view only by a young press aide. That was odd, per­ilous and, pre-Trump, ir­reg­u­lar. I was no threat to Clin­ton when I in­ter­viewed him in the Oval Of­fice in June 1993, but, even so, chief of staff Mack McLarty and top aide Ge­orge Stephanopou­los sat by alertly.

Trump had no se­nior aide or lawyer, even though the in­ter­view would be un­re­stricted and free­wheel­ing and ex­tend in­evitably to the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sia’s med­dling in the elec­tion and its con­nec­tion, if any, to Trump, his cam­paign and his fam­ily.

Trump wound up say­ing he would never have named Jeff Ses­sions at­tor­ney gen­eral if he had known that Ses­sions would turn around once in of­fice and re­cuse in mat­ters hav­ing to do with the Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the FBI, which an­swers to the at­tor­ney gen­eral.

He called Ses­sions’ re­cusal “ex­tremely un­fair to the pres­i­dent.”

Let’s be clear: Trump was say­ing that he ex­pected his nom­i­nee for at­tor­ney gen­eral to pro­tect him in the Rus­sian af­fair, not to ad­here to pro­fes­sional ethics ad­vice on con­flicts of in­ter­est in the course of at­tend­ing to the trea­sured post-Water­gate in­de­pen­dence of the law en­force­ment re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

Trump ex­hib­ited ei­ther a breath­tak­ing ig­no­rance of pro­pri­ety or a breath­tak­ing dis­dain for it. Maybe both.

The hero in this epic nar­ra­tive, ousted FBI direc­tor James Comey, had told us un­der oath that Trump was that way—ig­no­rant or dis­dain­ful of the in­de­pen­dence of law en­force­ment and in­ter­ested most of all in oth­ers’ loy­alty to him.

Trump said spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller would be go­ing too far to in­ves­ti­gate his per­sonal fi­nances. Let me ask: What was White­wa­ter? It was per­sonal fi­nances, at least un­til Clin­ton re­ceived oral sex and Ken­neth Starr made White­wa­ter about that.

Even a ded­i­cated de­fender of Trump told me the prob­lem wasn’t what Trump thought but that he lacked the dis­cre­tion not to ut­ter it.

I’ve been told that, in his pri­vate mo­ments in the 1990s, the tem­per­a­men­tal Clin­ton some­times went off on At­tor­ney Gen­eral Janet Reno.

Go­ing off in pri­vate mo­ments is healthy. Ram­bling with­out in­hi­bi­tion to three re­porters from the New York Times is un­healthy, both for the ram­bler and the coun­try that needs a pres­i­dent with self-con­trol.

Ses­sions, ap­par­ently hav­ing mis­placed his pride and self-re­spect as a syco­phan­tic Trump backer last year, de­clined the next day to send the pres­i­dent a res­ig­na­tion let­ter giv­ing him in­struc­tions as to where to place the let­ter.

That’s prob­a­bly a good thing. A neutered Ses­sions on Rus­sia is in­fin­itely bet­ter than what Trump and his Repub­li­can Se­nate en­ablers might give us next.

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