And one thing their account makes clear is that there are only two kinds of people in Trump’s orbit: the utterly morally compromised, and the slightly less but still profoundly morally compromised.
Let’s consider this absolutely horrifying story that Leonnig and Rucker tell from early in Trump’s term. Concerned about Trump’s shocking ignorance and repugnant ideas about how the United States should conduct itself in the world, a group of his chief advisers — including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — brought Trump to a secure room inside the Pentagon known as “the Tank.”
A group of military officials in attendance then attempted to give the president a tutorial on things such as the role of NATO and the function of overseas military bases.
Characteristically inattentive and resentful, Trump grew increasingly agitated, complaining that allies weren’t paying us enough for their security, that we hadn’t looted Iraq’s oil, and that the Afghanistan war was still going on. “You’re all losers,” he said. Things only got worse:
Trump by now was in one of his rages. He was so angry that he wasn’t taking many breaths. All morning, he had been coarse and cavalier, but the next several things he bellowed went beyond that description. They stunned nearly everyone in the room, and some vowed that they would never repeat them. Indeed, they have not been reported until now.
“I wouldn’t go to war with you people,” Trump told the assembled brass.
Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, “You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”
One person eventually decided to stand up to Trump. “The men and women who put on a uniform don’t do it to become soldiers of fortune,” said Tillerson. “That’s not why they put on a uniform and go out and die. . . . They do it to protect our freedom.”
It was after Trump departed that Tillerson, during a conversation with other officials, called the president “a f—ing moron.”
Reading this account, one is tempted to honor Tillerson for his courage in standing up to the president. The story recounts that others thanked the secretary of state for doing so, and he did it again at a subsequent meeting.
But here’s what Tillerson didn’t do. He didn’t call a news conference to announce that he was resigning and explain that he could not in good conscience work for a president who had such dangerous ideas about how to wield power and held the military in such contempt. Instead, he stayed on the job for another eight months — until Trump fired him.
And ever since, Tillerson has been practically silent. So too has Mattis, who stayed in Trump’s employ for nearly two years, then resigned and sealed his lips shut. We’ve heard stories about how Mattis tried to calm Trump down or, at times, simply ignored the president’s more erratic orders, such as the timeTrump called him after Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack and said “Let’s f—ing kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the f—ing lot of them.”
It’s certainly a good thing that Mattis, like others in the administration, at times quietly kept Trump from acting on his most abhorrent impulses. But Mattis chose not to take an extraordinary opportunity — and still makes that choice.
Mattis could provide as much detail as anyone about how dangerous Trump is, and anything he had to say would be front-page news. He could do an extraordinary amount to educate the public about the nature of this president, but he doesn’t. Neither does Tillerson.
So even if Mattis and Tillerson might have acted to restrain Trump’s worst impulses while they served in the Trump administration, they have two indelible marks against them: Not only have they remained shamefully silent since they left, but perhaps more importantly, they went to work for Trump in the first place.
It’s not like they didn’t know who he was. We all knew. Let me refer you to a passage in a column I wrote in June 2016:
As one Republican who served in the George W. Bush administration tells me, “The vast majority of Republicans I know — the foreign policy specialists — are incredibly depressed and a little embarrassed. Most of all, we’re concerned about what a Trump administration would mean for U.S. interests and the security of our nation. I have not yet met a Republican who says they would work for a Trump administration.”
But with only a small number of exceptions, they decided to work for him after all.
So yes, we very much need to know about the catastrophes that were averted, the ways Trump has attempted to poison American institutions, and what those around him have done to mitigate the damage.
But let’s be clear: There are no heroes in Donald Trump’s employ. The moment they went to work for him they forfeited any claim that their integrity is intact.
And I’ll bet every last one of them knows it.
Paul Waldman,Opinion Writer, Washington Post