Three weeks away from his next election, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had developed an invincible nuclear weapon. America shrugged. There is so much craziness happening in US politics right now that it simply didn't register.
Even the most pessimistic of observers assumed that President Donald Trump's White House would have gotten at least a little bit better at this by now. But we're over a year into the Trump presidency and it's only getting more chaotic. There's a desperate quality to it that hasn't been there before and people are beginning to wonder if the administration is even minimally functional.
An astounding number of people have now left -- a nearly 34 percent turnover rate in the first year. It's unknown how many people have left the government since Trump took over, but the number is also quite likely high. And that's not even counting the number of vacancies that Trump and the Republicans just aren't bothering to fill in the first place.
From the moment Trump reluctantly let his good pal Michael Flynn go just three weeks into his presidency, it's been a series of resignations, firings, hirings and overwhelming disorganization. Apparently, the great businessman Donald Trump isn't a very good judge of talent. Nor can he manage his way out of a paper bag.
This week alone we learned that his most trusted aide, communications director Hope Hicks, is resigning -- a move that was apparently something that had been in works for some time but just happened to come on the heels of her embarrassing involvement with the accused domestic abuser Rob Porter, both on a personal and professional level. But it is also widely assumed that she may be legally exposed in the Russian investigation and is getting out before it gets any worse. Politico reported that yesterday:
President Donald Trump’s lawyers have urged him not to discuss details of the unfolding Russia investigation with anyone outside his legal team, warning of a conversational "bright line" that could put aides and associates in legal jeopardy, according to current and former Trump aides. But Trump often ignores that legal advice in the presence of senior aides -- including his departing confidante and White House communications director, Hope Hicks.
"I think the president has put her in a very precarious position," a senior Trump administration official said in a recent interview.
Hicks is not alone. Current and former Trump aides describe a president who often fails to observe boundaries about the Russia probe and who calls staffers into his office and raises the subject without warning.
That's typically selfish of Trump. He's putting staffers at legal risk and there's no way in the world that they won't be stuck with the legal bills. If he follows his usual pattern, Trump probably won't even pay his own.
Hicks isn't the only staffer to announce her resignation this week. According to BuzzFeed News, there are many more who are unhappy. And Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's personal spokesman Josh Raffel also put in his papers. Who knows what he's been dragged into with the ongoing revelations of conflicts of interest and corruption by his bosses?
After all, this week we also learned that Kushner's top secret clearance had been downgraded to the point where most experts insist that he can no longer do the job he was supposedly hired to do. Evidently, American intelligence got word that foreign countries knew a sucker when they saw one and were plotting how to take advantage of Kushner's conflicts and naivete, so chief of staff John Kelly finally pulled the plug. Unfortunately, the word is that Kushner is one of the few who has no plans to leave. But perhaps that's understandable, since he's mainly been meeting with people who later gave his family business half a billion dollars in loans to help bail them out of their crushing debt.
According to CNN, FBI counterintelligence is also looking into Ivanka's business concerning a Trump Organization branding and management agreement with a Malaysian developer for a hotel in Vancouver, Canada. It's yet another of their complicated financing entanglements that is making it impossible for the members of this family to receive security clearances. (Why Ivanka needs one in the first place remains a mystery.)
Aside from dealing with a very, very difficult president who is clearly in way over his head, much of the tension in the White House stems from the Jared and Ivanka faction vs the Kelly faction. Kelly was on thin ice just two weeks ago over the mishandling of the Rob Porter affair but won a round with the downgrading of Kushner's security clearance. Nonetheless, Kelly seemed disillusioned on Thursday when he spoke at the 15th anniversary of Department of Homeland Security. He wryly joked, "The last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of homeland security, but I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess."
One suspects that John Kelly may not be long for the Trump administration either. But he will probably last longer that national Security Adviser H. R. McMaster. Nicolle Wallace at NBC reported that he's leaving a soon as the end of this month. He and Trump don't get along well to begin with but Trump treated him like he was no better than a lowly Jeff Sessions after he said that the Russian interference was incontrovertible:
General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
Speaking of Sessions, Trump is also still lashing out at him publicly apparently hoping that he'll quit, a transparent gambit that now has Robert Mueller possibly seeing it as part of the cover up. Sessions seems to be staying put, even going so far as to put out a statement defending the integrity of the DOJ that almost sounded defiant. Then he went out to dinner with Trump's other nemesis, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which had to make Trump blow his top. After all, Trump wants Sessions gone but knows Senate Republicans would not be pleased. Whether that will ultimately stop him from doing what he clearly wants to do is unknown.
Trump and his White House are unraveling. The chaos and corruption are getting worse and there's no end in sight. On Thursday, after an embarrassing lack of preparation or planning, and against the advice of his economic team, Trump announced that he's going to slap big tariffs on steel and aluminum, sending the stock market into a steep nosedive. Apparently his top economic adviser Gary Cohn has said he will resign if this goes into effect.
So the exodus will not be ending any time soon. And nobody knows who they can find to replace all these people. What competent person would want to put on their resume that they worked for President Donald Trump?