The Mueller report is a deterrent to government service

The Mueller report is a deterrent to government service
© Greg Nash/UPI

The release of the Mueller report has only whetted the Democrats’ appetite for ensnaring President TrumpDonald John TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' MORE in some illegal activity, even if they cannot muster the votes to convict him in the event they successfully impeach him. With the issues arising from the report not going anywhere any time soon, it will be even more difficult to entice people outside the government to join the Trump administration.

Even before Donald Trump took office, the disincentives for seeking a Senate-confirmed government position had been growing to the point of being insurmountable for many of the most talented potential candidates for senior office, especially in the national security sphere. Obtaining a clean bill of health from the FBI’s background investigation, which seemed to lengthen with the onset of every new administration, has been only the first of multiple hurdles that a potential presidential appointee had to overcome.


In addition, decades of ever more onerous White House restrictions on post-government employment have made it less likely that upwardly mobile, mid-career executives would risk their future earnings for a post they might hold for two years or less. That the members and staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in particular, have imposed additional restrictions that call for a candidate to divest him- or herself of all holdings involving firms doing business with the Department of Defense — thousands of companies large and small, ranging from Boeing  and Lockheed to Disney and Coca Cola — has become a further deterrent to government service.

Once a candidate clears all of the foregoing hurdles, he or she has had to pass muster with the relevant oversight committee and the entire Senate.Yet, if a single senator were to choose to put a “hold” on the candidate for whatever reason, often having little to do with the person in question, the nomination could well die in Congress. The exercise has become so onerous that a senior academic would send a t-shirt with the inscription “I survived the confirmation process” to everyone who successfully did so.

Enter President Trump, whose campaign pronouncements alienated many veterans of previous Republican administrations, and who in turn would not accept the appointment of anyone who as much as breathed a negative word about him before, during and after his nomination and election. The population of candidates for the incoming Trump team, particularly those who would hold national security-related positions, was therefore considerably smaller than was usually the case when a new president took office. The high level of turnover among those who did join the team shrank that population even more.

In addition, whether by accident or design, Trump has moved slowly to fill vacant offices, leaving “acting” officials in place of persons receiving Senate confirmation, notably in the State and Defense departments. Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump calls Iran claim that it arrested CIA spies 'totally false' The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Pompeo: There's 'no indication' Iran will change direction MORE presides over a department that lacks several under and assistant secretaries. The situation at the Department of Defense is even worse: Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanThis week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia: reports MORE already is the longest-serving “acting” secretary of Defense since the position was created in 1947. His deputy, Dave Norquist, is acting in his role but has not even been given the title of “acting.” In turn, Norquist’s deputy, Elaine McCusker, is essentially acting comptroller. And no one has yet replaced Robert Karem, who left the important position of assistant secretary for international security affairs to join the staff of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing McConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch MORE (R-Ky.).

Enter special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerThis week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Top Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction MORE and his report on the Russia collusion investigation. If the obstacles to a Senate-confirmed appointment and the president’s impulsive and transactional personality were not enough to deter aspirants for senior government office, the portrayal of Trump in the Mueller report is certain to do so. Unless they already serve in the administration, and have been confirmed by the Senate, who would wish to undergo the confirmation process only to serve under a president who, the report makes clear, has no compunction about asking his subordinates to break the law?

That is not to say that no one outside government will seek a senior office. There are more than enough careerists in Washington who will claim they simply wish to “serve the country.” But whether such people will bring any expertise or relevant experience to their jobs, particularly in the national security sphere, is an open question. And even if they do, whether this mercurial president will bother to take notice of what they say is equally uncertain. Who, then, will they really be serving, other than themselves?

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.