The Torturer, The Hack And The Hawk: A Look At Trump's New Team

From left: Gina Haspel, Larry Kudlow, Michael Pompeo. (AP)
From left: Gina Haspel, Larry Kudlow, Michael Pompeo. (AP)

I'm on record as suggesting that President Trump is ripe for impeachment. As readers who've boned up on their history know, the founders, and the English precedents they augmented, argued that leaders could be bounced for political rather than criminal abuses, including the appointment of unfit, unworthy people to high office.

Last week alone, Trump announced replacements at three key jobs — secretary of state, CIA director and top economics guru. The president’s pick for the first job is qualified but worrisome. His choices for the latter two are, respectively, a torturer and a hack. They continue the Trump-ish trend of defining deviance down, of governance by the gang that couldn't govern straight.

Here’s a rundown of this administration’s latest version of the best and brightest.

Mike Pompeo. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s critics deem him an historically awful chief diplomat, a foreign policy neophyte who endorsed cuts at State that even Congressional Republicans couldn’t stomach and left rubble where the department’s morale used to be.

Yet his replacement, a Tea Partier (always a bad sign, as they’re mostly grumpy old white guys) has even Tillerson-haters already nostalgic for the departing oilman. Assuming Pompeo is confirmed by the Senate, his defenders say the president is entitled to a secretary who shares his foreign policy views; that that simpatico will give the new secretary cred abroad; that Pompeo ran the CIA competently; and that he’s willing to tell Trump he’s wrong, as he did in advocating for upping our troop levels in Afghanistan.

The first two points are fair enough. But on Afghanistan, Pompeo and Trump prolonged a war that’s lasted longer than World War II, to little effect, Pompeo also has bad-mouthed the Iran nuke deal, though even the administration hasn’t been able to sniff out meaningful noncompliance.

And Pompeo is a climate change skeptic.

Gina Haspel. On paper, Haspel’s nomination to replace Pompeo as spymaster (she too needs Senate confirmation) seems a rare case of Trump valuing experience and diversity. A CIA veteran who’s currently deputy director, she would be the first female to lead the spy agency.

But even feminists should oppose shattering the glass ceiling with someone who oversaw, and possibly covered up, torture. As head of a CIA black site in Thailand, Haspel supervised a place that waterboarded at least one terrorism suspect on her watch.

It gets worse. Recordings of the torture were destroyed in 2005, by which time Haspel had transferred to the CIA’s headquarters, which pinned the destroy order on her boss — except that Haspel’s name was on the cable authorizing the evidence purge. Oopsies.

Larry Kudlow. The good news is, as director of the National Economic Council, Kudlow won’t be waterboarding anybody. The bad news is that he has a tortured grasp on reality. As a Washington Post columnist put it, Kudlow “has arguably been more publicly and consistently wrong about the economy than any person alive.”

How did Kudlow — a CNBC and National Review pundit who abandoned master’s studies in economics and politics — earn this dubious encomium? Mainly with blundered forecasting about the most catastrophic economic implosion since the 1930s. As the Great Recession bore down on America, with the housing market cratering, Kudlow’s smiley face was so set as to be in rigor mortis.

“There’s no recession coming,” he declared in December 2007 on Pearl Harbor Day. That was the same month our economic Pearl Harbor commenced.

“If you heeded Kudlow’s advice in the months before the 2008 crash,” The Post analyst wrote, “you would have been ruined.” Indeed, as the economy tanked during the first half of that year, Kudlow remained unshakably bullish.

This was in keeping with Kudlow’s career of being steadily wrong, be it his pronouncements on President Clinton’s tax increases (they preceded a record boom, not Kudlow’s predicted bust), the results of George W. Bush’s tax cuts (they created a deficit, not a surplus), or his joining the chorus after Barack Obama’s election that inflation is coming! Inflation is coming!

The past of these appointments may be prologue. Rumors that Trump may replace National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster with John Bolton — who has advised a first strike on North Korea and was accused of playing fast and loose with WMD evidence in the run-up to the Iraq War — so unnerved Joe Biden’s former security adviser that he tweeted, “If Bolton replaces McMaster … we are all going to die.”

Last year, Trump boasted that his administration ran “like a fine-tuned machine.” Evidently, he appointed the heirs of Moe, Larry and Curly as his mechanics.

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Rich Barlow Cognoscenti contributor
Rich Barlow writes for BU Today, Boston University's news website.



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