Op-ed: The White House ‘exitus’

  • By Bob Franken
  • Monday, March 5, 2018 9:14am
  • Opinion

There’s a lot of talk about the Trump presidency unraveling. Big mistake. That assumes it was ever raveled. Now, however, it is about to be Hopeless.

Yes, that’s a cheesy pun to note that Hope Hicks, who has been among the most trusted of Donald Trump’s aides since even before he became a candidate, is departing the pressure-cooker White House. Although still in her 20s, Trump leaned heavily on her as his only front-stabber in a sea of intrigue. She ended up as communications director, but she’s not the first one to bail or be bailed from that spot.

Remember Sean Spicer, who provided one of the primo embarrassments on the first full day? During his crazed, unkempt news conference, he browbeat reporters, demanding that they hew to POTUS’ fantasies about his inaugural crowd size. He showed a superhuman willingness to be both nasty at the same time he was being publicly ridiculed by his boss, the meanest demeanor of all. He took it for six full months. Then, along came Anthony Scaramucci, and Spicer left in a huff. “The Mooch” lasted all of 11 days before his bizarre behavior and profane rantings proved too much for even this administration. Now, it’s Hope Hicks — so unlike Scaramucci that it’s hard to believe they are the same species — who’s throwing in the towel.

One can’t help but notice that she makes her decision at the very moment special counsel Robert Mueller is looking at her as a possible key witness for his investigation into alleged campaign collusion with the Russians and all other things Donald Trump-related. She definitely related to Trump as a close confidante for three years. Mueller is showing particular interest in her admission before the House intelligence committee that on Trump’s behalf she told an occasional “white lie.” Investigators obviously want to know how occasional, how trivial and how Russia-related. (She says her “white lies” didn’t involve Russia.)

Hicks will become just the latest high-level staffer to fly the White House coop. About half of those who were there on opening day are not now. Where do we start? Reince Priebus, the first chief of staff, is long gone. So is Steve Bannon, Priebus’ competition to be top of the heap. Robert Porter, staff secretary, which is a vital position, is out, consumed by accusations of spousal abuse. That story was made even more convoluted by the fact that he was dating Hope Hicks at the time of his demise.

Who knows who’s next to go? By rights, Jeff Sessions should have demonstrated personal pride and said “See y’all” many moons ago. President Trump has made it a part of his routine to scathingly insult Sessions, but Sessions either loves to be abused or takes vindictive pleasure in thwarting the president’s intentions to mess with the Mueller investigation. With Sessions gone, the president would have an easier time throwing impediments in Robert Mueller’s way. All he does now is angrily tweet about the lurking investigators and particularly the FBI, as the walls slowly close in on him.

Of great interest is the current focus on Jared Kushner. Will he be the next to go, since he’s had his security clearance reduced? That makes it impossible to handle all the assignments he was unqualified to do, except that he is the president’s son-in-law. What if he decides, unlike Sessions, that he can’t tolerate being so brutally mocked? Not only is there the diminished security mortification, but the underlying questions raised about his business practices. So will he “resign”? If he does, will wife Ivanka Trump join him, leaving behind her influential role as assistant to her father, the president?

Hope Hicks often is described as “like family.” Ivanka and Jared are family. It’s perversely fascinating to watch. Of course, the political enemies insist that their real entertainment would be the drama about is the removal of President Trump himself.

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

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