The major scene of shocking horror is the meeting at the Pentagon for Trump with all his military and civilian leaders, in which Trump gagged on the briefing he was given on policies that ably guided the United States for more than 70 years after World War II: alliances for security and US leadership of the West.
Trump revolted. ‘‘We don’t win any wars anymore … I wouldn’t go to war with you people,’’ Trump told the Joint Chiefs of Staff. ‘‘You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.’’ It is a devastating scene. But no one intervenes to stop Trump’s rage – not the vice-president or Defence Secretary Jim Mattis. No one resigned that day. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ultimately pushes back – and seals his fate.
So we read and absorb the cruelty Trump inflicts on virtually all his appointees, most especially Tillerson, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. If you want to know what it’s like to be fired by the President via Twitter, you won’t die wondering.
The roadkill builds throughout. Jared Kushner wanted Rudy Giuliani to become attorney-general. Trump does not know the history of Pearl Harbor or France’s military heritage. Trump does not know India and China share a border. Trump’s obsession with the world’s authoritarian leaders: Putin (although we do not know why Trump is so supine to him), Kim Jong-un, Mohammed bin Salman.
For Australian readers: Trump’s explosive call with former prime minister Turnbull is here. And A.B. Culvahouse jnr, now US ambassador to Australia, declined to join Trump’s legal team. Well played, sir.
We now have a fuller picture of why Mueller did not take the definitive step of stating that, if Trump were anyone other than the president, he would have been indicted.
A real service is Rucker and Leonnig’s reporting on how special counsel Robert Mueller failed to properly conclude his investigation of Trump as to whether the president obstructed justice. We now have a fuller picture of why Mueller did not take the definitive step of stating that, if Trump were anyone other than the president, he would have been indicted. That is what ended any prospect of impeachment from the Mueller report.
What Trump had in the White House by then was what Rucker and Leonnig term ‘‘the enablers … who saw their mission as telling the president yes … A president entirely unrestrained.’’ Mueller told Congress and the nation last July that the greatest threat to America’s democracy was foreign intervention in elections, and the next day Trump called the President of Ukraine and asked for his intervention in the 2020 election – which inevitably set in motion his impeachment just before Christmas.
There is something about presidents who test the limits of the constitution that draws out the best from the fourth estate. ‘‘The Post’s mission flourishes because of an unbroken chain of leaders committed to the public good and our democracy,’’ the authors attest. Two generations ago, it was Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who championed journalism’s indispensable service to preserving and strengthening a democracy under threat.
After reading A Very Stable Genius and then revisiting All the President’s Men and The Final Days, readers will appreciate that we have seen the likes of those reporters again today, and their names are Philip Rucker and Carole Leonnig.
Bruce Wolpe is a senior fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.