Op-ed: Friendly world, hostile home

  • By Bob Franken
  • Wednesday, May 24, 2017 11:30am
  • Opinion

Americans hold their breath and hope against hope that President Donald Trump makes it through his overseas trip without further embarrassing the United States on the world stage. Even if he manages to pull off all the heads-of-state pageantry in far-off lands, he cannot distance himself from the piles of mess he’s left back home.

Just ask Richard Nixon, whose travels couldn’t escape Watergate, or Bill Clinton, who had Monica Lewinsky and all the other petty scandals to preoccupy the swarming opposition and journalists back in the U.S. of A. Now, Donald Trump has Russia, an all-consuming national political issue, not just a geopolitical one. He doesn’t have to travel to world capitals to face Vladimir Putin; Washington, D.C., his home base, is where his presidency is in danger of being consumed by his Putin problem.

He also has a Jim Comey problem. Comey has agreed to testify in public sometime after Memorial Day about the circumstances that led to his firing as director from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This was just as Comey’s counterintelligence agents were revving up their investigation into the aforementioned Russia connection with his campaign and even the Trump presidency.

Add to that his Bob Mueller problem; Mueller is the newly appointed special counsel who will take over leadership of the Russia investigation. Mueller, a former FBI director himself, brings a stern reputation to what is already an existential threat to Trump’s tenure in the White House.

There are indications that it might already have reached that point, with various news outlets reporting that a so-called person of interest — the word used to be “suspect” — in the investigation is a high-level member of the administration, somebody “close to the president.” The speculation is that person would be none other than Jared Kushner, the senior adviser and POTUS son-in-law who has been given just about every portfolio that exists in the administration. Jared, for instance, was instrumental in negotiating the $100 billion-plus arms sale that was signed during the president’s glitzy stop in Riyadh. That’s in addition to the potential $200 billion or more in civilian deals that had various corporate executives sitting nearby rubbing their hands in glee.

Before Trump returns, he will have left his stain all over the world stage. His more austere meeting with Pope Francis is marked by his nomination of Callista Gingrich to be the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. Her qualifications? Well, she is Catholic. Oh, and she’s the wife of Trump whisperer Newt Gingrich. Does that mean Newt no longer will be available for the outrageous sound bites that he has been known for in the past — usually promoting Trump, always promoting himself? Whomever will we go to for the outrageous quote? We’ll miss him.

We certainly will miss Sean Spicer, whose days as a White House briefer are numbered; perhaps that number will be zero. Presumably the role will be picked up by Sarah Huckabee Sanders. It is true that she’s nowhere near as combative as Spicer, but also nowhere near as entertaining. Sean Spicer has been a career enhancer for Melissa McCarthy, so she will fade unless she morphs into Sarah. Meanwhile, whatever his new role is, Spicer will have time on his hands and certainly will miss the celebrity that came with his on-camera role. Maybe he can take up a regular gig on “Saturday Night Live.”

For the moment, however, Trump is laying it on heavy with his international road show. His remarkably conciliatory speech to the fundamentalist Muslim Saudis pretended that his virulent anti-Islam policies back home didn’t exist. Instead, he framed his policies as “the battle between good and evil.”

He’ll return to the domestic whirlwind all too soon, where investigators are lined up to determine which one he and his people are: good or evil. Or perhaps just not criminally evil.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.