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Mafia Don: The president guards his swamp

Jeff Robbins on

Notorious mobster Albert Anastasia, proud founder of the modern American Mafia, is best remembered for two things. One is being shot to death while sitting in a Manhattan barber's chair during what proved to be a really bad shave. The second is his distinctive ill humor concerning those who informed law enforcement about his illegal activities. Hearing that an associate had provided information about a hit job Anastasia had ordered, Anastasia ordered another one. "I can't stand squealers," he said. "Hit that guy."

The Trump White House fairly trumpets the fact that The Anastasia Principle is its guiding one, enforced on direct orders from The Boss, President Donald Trump. It is straight out of the Gambino family playbook: he who is in a position to disclose the truth about the Trump administration and seems inclined to do so gets whacked.

The latest Trump administration official to sleep with the fishes for having done his job conscientiously is State Department inspector general Steve Linick, who got caught doing what the law requires inspectors general do: investigating waste, fraud, mismanagement and misconduct within the executive agencies. Linick, a highly regarded former assistant U.S. attorney in administrations of both parties, had the effrontery to perform his duties with integrity, a definite no-no in Trump World. He had investigated evidence that Mike Pompeo's State Department had illegally circumvented a congressional freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He had also inquired about Pompeo's use of State Department resources to walk his dog, Sherman, get his laundry done -- and take taxpayer-funded trips back to his home state of Kansas, not generally regarded as a diplomatic hot spot requiring State Department travel. Trump fired Linick because Pompeo, under investigation by Linick, asked him to.

Pompeo at first kept mum about whether he had asked Trump to fire Linick. This became rather more difficult when Trump admitted that Pompeo had asked him to get rid of the troublesome inspector. Pompeo, not exactly the epitome of honesty, then attempted the line that he didn't even know Linick was investigating him. That laugher survived about 15 minutes, until the evidence emerged that he certainly did. Just another day in the lives of the folks who in 2016 peddled the hokum that they were all about was draining the swamp.

Linick joins a series of inspectors general canned by Trump in recent weeks. All were sent packing because they were exercising the independence that Congress mandated they exercise so Americans' tax dollars could be respected, the law followed and the integrity of government preserved. This made them a threat to this president, who regards watchdogs holding his administration accountable with both loathing and fear.

The president's whack jobs are not administered only to inspectors general. Dr. Rick Bright, the high-ranking government scientist who had warned administration officials on Jan. 23 that the burgeoning pandemic had to be urgently addressed rather than waved aside, is another recent victim. "We're going to need vaccines and diagnostics and drugs," he told the Trump administration. "It's going to take a while and we need to get started." Here was what Donald Trump was telling America on Jan. 30: "We think we have (the coronavirus) very well under control. We have very little problem in this country." Bright continued to refuse to kowtow to an inane party line, bucking a White House demand that the demonstrably useless and potentially dangerous drug hydroxychloroquine be made "widely available" for COVID-19 patients. He was fired, patently in retaliation for his temerity in standing up for public health. The same fate has befallen others who tried to protect Americans from a pandemic, the response to which the Trump White House has so egregiously bungled.

 

More than a swamp, the Trump presidency has been a cesspool, one that the president has done everything in his power to protect. It will take an epic reclamation effort to clean it up.

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Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.

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