Pres­i­dent Trump’s flawed ver­sion of dis­rup­tion

The Mercury News Weekend - - OTHER VIEWS - By E. J. Dionne Jr. E.J. Dionne is aWash­ing­ton Post colum­nist.

WASH­ING­TON » On the same day that Pres­i­dent Trump reck­lessly pulled the United States out of the nu­clear deal with Iran, the lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels fired the in­for­ma­tional equiv­a­lent of a heat-seek­ing mis­sile at the Trump pres­i­dency.

Taken to­gether, these events clar­ify the na­ture of what Trump has in­flicted on our coun­try.

Trump is reg­u­larly de­scribed as a “dis­rupter.” Those who praised him for this be­lieved he would dis­rupt ways of do­ing busi­ness in Wash­ing­ton that have frus­trated the cit­i­zenry for decades. The po­lit­i­cal sta­tus quo was so aw­ful, the idea went, that blow­ing up the sys­tem would in­evitably be bet­ter than keep­ing it in­tact.

But we are dis­cov­er­ing that Trump is de­stroy­ing the very as­pects of gov­ern­ing that pre­vent rash mis­takes and hold abuses of power in check. Trump chooses to roll the dice on nu­clear weapons, and rather than “drain the swamp,” he is on his way to­ward giv­ing us one of the most cor­rupt pe­ri­ods in our his­tory.

Of all the de­ci­sions Trump has made, aban­don­ing the Iran agree­ment is the most danger­ous and con­se­quen­tial. Trump has slapped our clos­est Euro­pean al­lies in the face and walked away from de­fined lim­its on Iran’s ca­pac­ity to de­velop nu­clear weapons on the empty hope that, as the Great Ne­go­tia­tor, he could se­cure a bet­ter deal. In the process, he has brought us sig­nif­i­cantly closer to war in the Mid­dle East — the very sort of con­flict Trump re­peat­edly said the United States should avoid.

What ties to­geth­er­many of Trump’s choices (the knee-cap­ping of the Af­ford­able Care Act and the with­drawal from the Paris cli­mate ac­cord and the Iran deal) is a de­sire to erad­i­cate Pres­i­dent Obama’s achieve­ments. Alas, another of Obama’s achieve­ments on his chopping block is the for­mer pres­i­dent’s suc­cess in run­ning an ad­min­is­tra­tion re­mark- ably free of cor­rup­tion.

Even be­fore Daniels’ at­tor­ney, Michael Ave­natti, re­leased his ex­plo­sive chron­i­cle of firms that paid money into a shell com­pany run by Trump’s lawyer/fixer Michael Co­hen, the pres­i­dent had torn down the guardrails against ve­nal­ity. It be­gan with his re­fusal to re­lease his tax re­turns and to sep- arate him­self com­pletely from his own en­ter­prises. There have been re­ports about mem­bers of Trump’s fam­ily mix­ing per­sonal busi­ness with govern­ment busi­ness, and some of Trump’s Cabi­net mem­bers — EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt heads the list — seem to take their eth­i­cal guid­ance from the top.

The Ave­natti memo, the re­li­a­bil­ity of which was con­firmed by jour­nal­ists’ in­quiries and pub­lic state­ments from some of the en­ti­ties on it, raises the is­sue of po­ten­tial cor­rup­tion to a newlevel. And the fact that one of the firms that paid into Co­hen’s shell cor- po­ra­tion was Colum­bus Nova brings the money ques­tion into di­rect con­tact with Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion.

The big­gest client of Colum­bus Nova, which paid about $500,000 to Co­hen’s Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants LLC, is a com­pany con­trolled by Vik­tor Vek­sel­berg, a Rus­sian oli­garch with close ties to Vladimir Putin. In a state­ment, Colum­bus Nova in­sisted that this con­sult­ing fee had noth­ing to do with Vek­sel­berg, al­though ex­actly what Co­hen has to of­fer be­yond his re­la­tion­ship with Trump is, to be very po­lite about it, un­clear.

And sev­eral cor­po­ra­tions with busi­ness be­fore the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion also made pay­ments into Co­hen’s de­light­fully named (“Es­sen­tial” to what?) op­er­a­tion. They in­cluded No­var­tis In­vest­ments, a sub­sidiary of the Swiss phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal gi­ant; Korea Aerospace In­dus­tries; and AT&T. Again, it’s hard to imag­ine they were bowled over by Co­hen’s ge­nius. Per­haps it’s a trib­ute to en­trepreneur­ship that Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants, formed on Oct. 17, 2016, to fun­nel a pay­off toDaniels, has en­joyed such rapid growth.

Yes, there is much more to learn here, and we know by now never to as­sume that any de­vel­op­ment in this saga can be seen as the be­gin­ning of the end. We have no idea yet how this story will end or who, ex­cept per­haps for Mueller, will write its con­clu­sion.

But we know enough to con­clude that (1) the Rus­sia con­nec­tion to Trump World runs very deep and Mueller is no doubt ex­plor­ing its many trib­u­taries; (2) if Trump is pro­foundly al­ter­ingWash­ing­ton, it is tomake the most old­fash­ioned forms of in­flu­ence ped­dling more com­mon and more bla­tant; (3) we need to fig­ure out if any of the money slosh­ing around has found its way to Trump; and (4) Trump will play as fast and loose with fun­da­men­tal changes in pol­icy as he does with ethics and the truth.

All four are wor­ry­ing. The last is also scary.

The big­gest client of Colum­busNova, which paid about $500,000 to Co­hen’s Es­sen­tial Con­sul­tants LLC, is a com­pany con­trolled by Vik­tor Vek­sel­berg, a Rus­sian oli­garch with close ties to Vladimir Putin. In a state­ment, Colum­busNova in­sisted that this con­sult­ing fee had noth­ing to dowith Vek­sel­berg, al­though ex­actly what Co­hen has to of­fer be­yond his re­la­tion­ship with Trump is, to be very po­lite about it, un­clear.

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