Undercutting Mueller: Are Trump’s Lawyers Abandoning America?

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Via for Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare

We don’t yet know why Mark Corallo, the spokesman for President Trump’s personal legal team, resigned yesterday. Politico, citing anonymous sources, provides a host of possible reasons:

  • He had “grown frustrated with the operation [of the Trump legal team] and the warring factions and lawyers.
  • He “was concerned about whether he was being told the truth about various matters.
  • “He didn’t like the strategy to attack [Mueller’s] credibility.”
  • He “no longer needed the money.”

That runs the gamut.  And it raises the related question about the proper criteria for resignation when one works in senior governmental positions for a President who displays disdain for truth-telling, the rule of law, norms of investigatory independence, and respect for the decisions of the senior Justice Department officials he appointed.

I’ve written on this before, here and here.  Resignation is an intensely personal decision.  The mix of factors include one’s commitments to public service and principle, and concern for one’s reputation before various audiences.  The “degrees of geographical and personal independence the official has from the president” also matter, since the closer one is to the President on these dimensions, the more one is dirtying one’s hands in propping up his apparent efforts to destroy American institutions.  It also matters whether one’s resignation will do more harm than good, and whether one can tell oneself (and others, especially later) a plausible story about why continued service for such President constituted important service to the American people.

I had these criteria in mind when I argued yesterday against the resignations of Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein in response to Trump’s attacks on them.  Yes, they would be justified in resigning.  But their resignation at this moment would deepen rather than alleviate concerns about investigatory independence.  They are not propping up the President.  These men have thus far—at least in Sessions’ recusal and Rosenstein’s appointment of Robert Mueller—served Justice Department independence and integrity at a time when those things are under attack by the President.  (Rosenstein’s enabling role in Trump’s firing of Comey over the Russia investigation is of course another matter.)

I continue to believe, however, that such arguments are harder to make for “senior political and legal appointees in the White House.”  As I argued a few months ago:

These officials seem to be in the worst position of all.  Their primary mission is to serve the nation by serving the president directly.  Yes, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus can tell himself that he is helping the Republican Party and the American people by helping the President.  And White House Counsel Don McGahn and his team can tell themselves that they are serving the nation—for example, in their important work selecting judges and enforcing ethics rules—beyond just helping the President.  But much of the work of these officials amounts to little more than enabling and protecting the President, personally and politically.  That becomes a problem when the enabling and protecting comes in the service of mendacity or in a way inextricable from mendacity.

A good deal of the daily work by these officials in the White House, in other words, is a lower-key version of the work of Sean Spicer, who compromises himself daily in order to prop up the president’s lies and destructive actions.  I imagine that these officials have the hardest time telling themselves (and others) a story about why their services are needed to minimize the damage Trump is causing, for these are the officials whose jobs are largely devoted to empowering the President.  (I imagine it is especially hard for the young, super-accomplished line attorneys in the White House Counsel’s office to work in support of a truth-defying President who incessantly trashes courts and the legal system in ways that Neil Gorsuch finds “disheartening” and “demoralizing.”)  These are the jobs that are hardest to serve in if one disrespects the President.  These jobs will likely grow harder and harder if the Trump presidency continues to accomplish so little, especially if the FBI investigations begin to absorb White House political and legal attention.  And these are the jobs about which it will be harder to explain later why one continued in the job after it was clear that the President one worked so hard to support was so unworthy of his office.

These thoughts have new salience in light of the stories this morning in the New York Times and Washington Post that “lawyers and aides” are gathering information to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  Neither story makes clear whether these lawyers and aides are part of the President’s governmental staff or his personal legal defense team.  If these are White House lawyers and aides, however, then they are government officials directly helping the President in his efforts to sow distrust in the integrity of the Justice Department and in law enforcement more generally.  To me that seems like a choice of loyalty and political expediency over principle and service to the American people.    

If White House staff are indeed involved in these discrediting efforts, they may well see things differently than I and others do from the outside.  They probably see the President’s situation more sympathetically, and their service as more vital to the legitimate aims of the presidency.

They may be right.  But they may not be as well. 

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15 thoughts on “Undercutting Mueller: Are Trump’s Lawyers Abandoning America?

  1. If Trump used an enemy of the US as an enabler of his election as President, it isn’t much of a leap to think that he would commit equal or greater criminal and unethical acts to stay in office – just as he is. That the Republican leadership continues to support, aid, abet and enable Trump’s illegal acts has the potential to bring them under prosecution further down the road in some of the current Trump investigations. Joe Scarboro is right, Trump is not only killing the Republican Party – he’s well on his way to having their leadership indicted as his accomplices.

  2. Another Trump attack beginning with the words “anonymous sources” and “possible reasons”. Signature phrases for biased conjecture. I don’t care what this fool says either!

      • It is easy to understand why sources would wish to be anonymous; many of us sign confidentiality agreements with employers and ‘whistleblower’ laws don’t help much. This does not mean the reports are true; or false just that they should not be dismissed simply because they are anonymous.

    • PHILIP AND JACK: you two must be kidding yourselves! I lose count almost every day of how many times we hear your cult leader saying something like “People are saying….” or “someone told me ……” or “I just heard……” and other such phrases that fall out of his mouth! It is his way of putting forth a lie or a distortion or manipulating the truth! There are already several similar articles published that report the reason(s) that Corallo has resigned. Seems to be a combination of reasons and he reached his limit!

      One easy word, scruples — a moral or ethical consideration or standard that acts as a restraining force or inhibits certain actions. Clearly something that your cult leader does not have, does not know, and most likely cannot even spell. I suspect there will be other resignations as the orange jackass continues to attempt to discredit decent honest people as well as the entire United States of America.

      – Murphy

      • Yet, voters preferred him over Hillary. Imagine what voters thought of her. Send your definition of scruples to your former leader,Bill Clinton, and Monica.

  3. SORRY, JACK: Voters did NOT prefer him. Hillary had 3 million more votes than orange ass did. You are obviously a dickhead, incapable of accepting truths. And your juvenile bullshit of throwing in Bill and Monica has absolutely nothing to do with orange ass not having any scruples. p.s. Bill was not MY former leader. He was your average lying cheating lowlife — gee, same character as the thrice married cheater currently in the White House. Imagine that.

    – Murphy

    • You sound mad. Makes the victory that more enjoyable. Your mom should put soap in your mouth. Hang in there only 7 1/2 yrs. to go.

      • hahaha! No, not mad at all….. laughing at you as I typed my note. My mom passed away many years ago — I am in my 7th decade so most likely a lot older than you are …. and clearly smarter than you are! You are out of your mind if you seriously believe he will be in office even thru one term! BIG LAUGH ON THAT ONE! 🙂

        – Murphy

  4. Well it is nice to have a couple of friends from Trumpland weigh in on these important issues. Gloating at people who dislike “Mein Fuhrer” is not really a discussion, just as me calling your savior, “Mein Fuhrer”. So in the spirit of discussion lets call him our president for now. Questions. What do you really think our president for now is going to do for you personally? How about our country? How about our middle class? How about our sick people? How about our elderly? How about our economy and humongous DEBT? How about our entanglements in the Middle East? How about our racial issues? How about our climate issues? On and on these issues and your concerns are not going away any time soon and we are not working on any of them. Because our president for now is embroiled in problems of his own making. His problems are our problems for now. Got any opinions for now?

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