Editorial

A crisis of trust

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Trump’s actions are driving a wedge between his White House and the Republican Party

During the past week, it became evident that U.S. President Donald Trump takes a dim view of his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, a man whose appointment to that key role he fought resolutely for in the face of serious objections. This is not a clash of egos, but another instance of Mr. Trump’s disdain for constitutional propriety regarding conflicts of interest and the murky issue of Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential election. The current episode dates back four months, to when Mr. Sessions recused himself from the FBI’s inquiry into whether Moscow had interfered in the election. Although Mr. Trump at the time dismissed the notion that such action was called for, Mr. Sessions’s recusal was consistent with settled norms and with his own reassurances on Capitol Hill that he would consider being removed from any process where he thought his “impartiality might reasonably be questioned”. The President’s anger at the FBI investigation then swelled, leading to the abrupt firing of the Bureau’s Director James Comey in May. Mr. Comey had previously told the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee that the FBI was investigating whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during the election. Since July 24, Mr. Trump has stepped up his public attacks on Mr. Sessions, describing the recusal as “very unfair”, and suggesting that Mr. Sessions showed bias in favour of Democratic election rival Hillary Clinton by not probing her emails as he should have.

Observers are not surprised that Mr. Trump, a man of his own making, has shown himself to be comfortable with a casual approach toward conflicts of interest. Yet what they may not have anticipated is the extent to which his desire to protect the personal interests of his family and the business interests of the Trump Organization could eventually lead to a chasm between the White House and the Republican Party. After all, many among the party’s traditional conservatives believe firmly in the established traditions of checks and balances within the government system and would view the suspected Russian meddling through the lens of fierce patriotism. The clearest indication that trust is fraying between the Oval Office and Capitol Hill is the fact that Representatives this week passed a tough sanctions bill with proposed measures targeting Moscow, by an overwhelming 419-3 vote. This would hamper Mr. Trump’s strategy of extending the hand of friendship to Vladimir Putin. Mr. Trump can ill afford such a trust deficit, especially when his own officials appear to be uncertain over their boss plans. This would apply, for instance, to Defence Secretary James Mattis, who was on vacation when Mr. Trump unexpectedly announced a ban on transgender persons in the military.

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2019 9:48:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-crisis-of-trust/article19372824.ece

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