The very latest reports out this morning have it that Jared Kushner was a major voice pushing to fire James Comey. And the President is “angry” over the backlash to his decision. A shadow of uncertainty must hang over every report like this. We’re hearing these details through interested parties, a yacht basin Lord of the Flies, with different faction leaders gouging each others’ eyes out as the executive branch descends into chaos.
What I want to focus on for this moment, however, is the recurring insistence on treating these decisions as matters of inexperience or flawed press strategies or – somewhat more credibly – impulse control. No one is so inexperienced or naive as to fail to understand that when you fire someone who might discover your crimes or misdeeds that you’re doing something wrong. I read in one of the seemingly limitless number of reports that Trump’s immediate reaction to the Comey backlash was anger at his communications staff for allowing the story to go wrong.
There are so many levels on which we can understand this: the helpless, hapless and ridiculous White House communications staff, the fact that the White House is openly interviewing possible replacements for Spicer and having those replacements talk to the press, this 70 year old man’s complete inability to take responsibility for his own actions. The major thing though is a simple misunderstanding of what a communications staff is or can possibly do. There was no communications strategy, no preparation that could have prevented the massive backlash at Comey’s firing because the act itself was an abuse of power of the highest order. Preparation could have made the press strategy less comical; it could not have made it more effective. But the President, at some essential level, appears not to be the only one who fails to realize this.
Reporters sometimes have a difficult time looking beyond the procedural realities of government, if only because the procedural realities are less charged than the substantive ones when the substantive ones get this bad. But it’s not just press strategies versus the facts of what actually happened. It’s also this matter of “inexperience” – particularly with people like Jared Kushner. As I said above, no one is that experienced. When you do things to cover up your wrongdoing or crimes, you do it because you are aware of your wrongdoing and crimes and want to evade exposure or punishment. When I saw this report about Kushner this morning even I mocked his reputation as a ‘moderating influence’ on the President. But that doesn’t really cut it. We can’t be certain of the accuracy of this particular report. But assuming it is true and – more importantly – because we have numerous other confirmed reports of similar behavior, we should draw the obvious conclusion: Kushner himself is a bad actor, performing the same abuses of power by proxy.
My only uncertainty is whether Kushner is committing these bad acts to cover up his own wrongdoing along with his father-in-law’s or whether it is only his father-in-law’s. In practice, I suspect that both on the political and business front they are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. Of course, people are innocent until proven guilty. There is also a huge amount of factual information we don’t have yet. But in any other case, we would interpret these kinds of actions as showing consciousness of guilt and constituting prima facie evidence of bad acts. That should be the default assumption – backed up, let’s not forget by a good deal of factual information as well – in this case too.