Ukraine could badly damage both Donald Trump and the Democrats
At the top of the new ‘enemies list’: Jeff Bezos
The past few weeks have brought new lows in abusive behavior, and I'm not talking about Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions faces an almost daily barrage of demeaning insults from his boss and has had to check his dignity at the door as he pursues President Trump's most odious policy initiatives. Sessions' deputy Rod Rosenstein was forced to go along with something he said he would never do - disclose to Congress sensitive classified documents about a confidential intelligence source to help feed the false spygate conspiracy.
Or, take poor Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's recent hostage video claiming that she had no awareness of the intelligence community's assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump. The badgering that Trump inflicted on her at a recent cabinet meeting seems to have caused her amnesia. The fury and the abuse all these officials suffered stem from the president's unquenchable need for unblinking submission and loyalty.
Against that tableau, and almost lost in Trump's daily barrage of conspiracy tweets, the one person to emerge in recent days with the singular ability to stand firm against the president's abuses of power is none other than Megan Brennan. Who, you might ask, is Megan Brennan? The U.S. postmaster general and a 32-year veteran of the Postal Service.
As was first reported by The Washington Post, Trump has met secretly at the White House with Brennan on several occasions since he became president and demanded that she raise rates on Amazon package deliveries.
These secret meetings were far from an exercise in fiscal management of Postal Service red ink. Indeed, Brennan is reported to have informed the president repeatedly that the Postal Service makes money on package deliveries that offsets substantial losses delivering first-class mail.
No, Trump's obsession with Amazon is not an exercise in fiscal restraint, but political retribution: an overt attempt to damage and intimidate Amazon's founder, Jeff Bezos, who independent of Amazon, owns The Washington Post. Anything less than the fawning coverage he sees on Fox News evidently makes Trump's blood boil.
I worked in the White House for eight years under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. I cannot recall a single Oval Office meeting between the president and the postmaster general, which is perhaps why I have heard commentators say that Trump's behavior is unprecedented. But of course, there is a strong precedent - President Richard Nixon's enemies list.
Originally assembled by Charles Colson, John Dean described the enemies list to H.R. Haldeman's assistant Lawrence Higby on Aug. 16, 1971, as follows: "This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly - how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies."
Nixon's team intended to carry out this screwjob through a series of tax audits and grant and contract denials. Trump has come up with raising postal rates as his preferred method.
But the intent and potential effect are the same.
We know how the Nixon story ends; the House Judiciary Committee voted on Articles of Impeachment against the president. Article II stated: "He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavored [...] in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner." That article received the greatest number of aye votes from Republicans.
Contrast those brave Republicans with the current Trump sycophants in the House of Representatives. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chair of the House Freedom Caucus, was quoted saying: "I think this particular issue is one that he comes at from his business background and understanding the dynamics of cost and delivery and overhead." That is like saying that Nixon was a sharp lawyer and must have been able to spot tax cheats who just happened to be his enemies.
Jeff Bezos is extremely wealthy and can defend himself. But so were most of the people on Nixon's enemies list. Like Nixon, what Trump is doing is a fundamental assault on constitutional principles.
President Trump has so lowered the standards of the Office of the President that what, little more than a generation ago, was an impeachable offense hardly rates an entire news cycle. But let's give credit to Megan Brennan. Perhaps when Trump was bullying her in the Oval Office, she was channeling America's first postmaster general, Benjamin Franklin, who, when asked at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, "What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" responded without hesitation, "A republic, if you can keep it."
John Podesta served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, counselor to President Barack Obama and chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. He is an occasional contributor to The Washington Post.