Two weeks ago, deranged and driven by political spite, President Donald Trump declared that he was revoking ex-CIA Director John Brennan’s government security clearance. It isn’t altogether clear, though, whether the results of the president’s order are real.
Brennan went on MSNBC yesterday and he explained that he has not heard from any US officials, in any capacity, telling him about his clearance status. “Whether or not my clearances have been stripped, I’m still uncertain about,” Brennan said.
Politico had a piece that summarized the dynamic.
The president is not known for his follow-through. Many of his proclamations and promises, which are beamed to his supporters in the form of early-morning tweets or off-handed comments in interviews, eventually fade from view, never to be brought up again after Trump has made a political point. Administration officials are often befuddled by the president’s statements, uncertain how to interpret and implement them.
So, the amateur president of a superpower just says things, and nobody – including the White House officials – knows what to make of his insane orders or whether anybody intends to act on them at all.
As we talked about a few weeks ago, that issue comes up with disturbing regularity. For example, Donald Trump announced back in June that he “instructed” U.S. government officials “not to endorse” a G-7 communique negotiated by the diplomats from the member nations. Officials did not care about that tweet and they ignored Trump’s idiotic online instructions.
Back in April, the president said via Twitter that Russia better “get ready” because he was about to launch a big military offensive in Syria. The White House officials found Donald Trump’s declaration “distracting,” and then proceeded “as if nothing had happened.”
Months earlier, President Trump asked the Defense Secretary James Mattis for military options for Iran. Mattis reportedly “refused“.
“What is most remarkable is the extent to which his senior officials act as if Trump were not the chief executive,” wrote Jack Goldsmith, who was a leading Justice Department official for President George W. Bush, last summer. “Never has a president been so regularly ignored or contradicted by his own officials…. The president is a figurehead who barks out positions and desires, but his senior subordinates carry on with different commitments.”
But that’s the point: we aren’t supposed to be uncertain, but it is impossible to have any confidence in Team Trump following through on the stupid president’s strange demands. This is the only presidency in which the president may declare, “We’re doing x,” just to leave everyone on Earth wondering, “Yeah, but are they really doing x?”
The excellent Politico piece quoted Benjamin Wittes, who is a Brookings Institution senior fellow, saying, “In any other administration, the words of the president are presumed to have intrinsic actionable meaning – that is, they are themselves policy and agencies will respond to them as such. With this president, there is an almost total disconnect between what the president says in public and the actions of the executive branch.”