EDITORIAL: Lessons of a failed Cabinet nomination
The recent imbroglio regarding the failed nomination of now-former White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson to head the Department of Veterans Affairs provided three lessons:
- The administration has hands down the worst vetting practices in White House history.
- Few who join Team Trump leave the experience with their stature intact.
- President Trump’s penchant for personal secrecy is unprecedented in so public a political figure.
Actually, these are more reminders than lessons, so regularly have they been established these past 15 months. But they are stark.
For example, a recent episode from this chapter highlights anew the president’s deep-seated aversion to public disclosure of personal information.
There are past examples: Unlike every president since Richard Nixon, Trump has never released his tax returns (he even filed for an extension this year; what do you want to bet some additional legal maneuvering precedes the Oct. 15 release date?). Unused video from his many years of taping television’s “The Apprentice” is contractually off limits. Employees in his private organization and even the White House are forced to sign nondisclosure agreements — similar to those he pressed on at least three of his alleged former paramours.
But in the wake of the Jackson fiasco, the public learned that even the president’s medical history has been secured under lock and key.
Trump’s former personal physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, says the president’s bodyguard and two other men broke into his private office in early 2017 and made off with Trump’s medical records. The alleged raid came two days after the doctor told reporters Trump took the hair-loss medication Propecia. It is worth noting the bodyguard, Keith Schiller, was on the White House payroll at the time.
Administration spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the records were merely being transferred to the White House, but a White House-connected break-in with its echoes of Watergate would be an odd way to do so. Bornstein said the experience left him feeling “raped, frightened and sad.”
So add him to the list of those who have left Trump’s orbit diminished, embarrassed or, in the case of a growing number of former aides, facing legal trouble.
The list is a long one: Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Paul Manafort, H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson, Hope Hicks, Rob Porter, Michael Flynn, Andrew McCabe. All departed the administration in ways that were untimely, unseemly or both. Even those still standing — think Attorney General Jeff Sessions — have seen their stature reduced amid Trumpian belittling.
One wonders why so many of them stay. Of course, one also wonders how many of them got there in the first place. And, of course, some, like Jackson, didn’t.
His nomination to run the nation’s second biggest agency was a misfire from the get-go. With no real management experience and his one public splash an overweening press conference extolling Trump’s allegedly Herculean health, Jackson appeared a poor choice. The surfacing of numerous allegations that the doctor cavalierly dispensed medications and drank on the job affixed anchors to a nomination that was barely afloat.
Sanders had said Jackson was vetted more thoroughly than other Trump selections but that might have meant simply that the president had met him in person. Just a month earlier, Trump did an about-face after meeting a pair of attorneys he announced hiring based on their Fox News appearances.
Between an unusual number of unqualified court nominees, the placement of friends and family in positions of authority, and the dozen nominees who, like Jackson, were withdrawn from consideration, it is difficult not to conclude vetting is haphazard when it is a consideration at all.
It is an astonishing record of ineptitude.
Add to it Ronny Jackson, who not only withdrew himself for consideration as VA secretary but lost his job as White House physician owing to the job-performance disclosures.
He is the latest in a long line of those for whom association with President Trump proved not a fast track to professional achievement but a detour to personal infamy.