Eugene Robinson Live (August 1)

Eugene Robinson
Aug 01, 2017

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news today at 1 p.m.

Read Eugene's latest: Ivanka Trump is part of the problem

Hi, everybody. Well, so much has happened since last we spoke that it's pointless to try to give a rundown. My column today asks why -- aside from nepotism -- Ivanka Trump has an office in the White House and a job advising the president of the United States. And the Post revealed last night that President Trump himself dictated the first public statement from Donald Trump Jr. about the meeting with the Russians -- a statement that was false and misleading, and that special counsel Robert Mueller will surely examine in great detail. Lets get started.

Not that I would ask you to divulge sources, but do you personally know who the leakers are? I was surprised to hear Priebus accused as being one. He always struck me as too much of a team player. When I was a reporter my sources typically were someone who was told something in confidence by someone he or she trusted. My sources always publicly denounced journalists so they were never suspected. Is that how it still works?

If you were a reporter, you're probably pretty good at reading between the lines of stories. When I do so with the big scoops that the Post and the Times have been coming up with, I see a lot of White House officials presenting versions of events that put them in a good light and their rivals in a bad light. In this administration, who doesn't leak?

The Mooch soap opera would be hilarious if the whole thing wasn't so pathetic. Now it's day 2 of the Kelly tenure, he's got some jobs to fill and I'm wondering: At this point, who in their right mind would agree work at this White House? It looks like a one-way ticket to humiliation and career destruction for pretty much everyone who isn't named (or married to a) Trump.

Many talented and experienced people wouldn't touch this administration with a ten-foot pole. One big challenge facing Kelly is convincing some of them that things will change on his watch.

I find the news of the constant insane antics of the White House to be exhausting and depressing. I realize I need to be informed, but the news emanating from this administration on a daily basis is so depressing, I find myself constantly wanting to watch something mindless on TV. How do you or the Morning Joe commentators able to keep your sanity when you need to report and analyze this on a daily basis?

I'm chatting from home today, and on the television is a Law & Order rerun that I must have already seen a dozen times. 

Did you hear David Folkenflik's report this morning on NPR about allegations that Fox News, in collusion with Trump's White House, ginned up that fake story falsely claiming that DNC aide Seth Rich was murdered because supposedly "his death may have been related to the leaks of tens of thousands of emails from Democratic Party officials and their allies at the peak of the presidential campaign"? Wikileaks founder Julian Assange seems to have aided and abetted this claim. TRANSCRIPT:

I'm aware of this story. Incredible. It's shocking to see the whole fake-news process laid bare.

While Trump's behavior continues to shock and appall a large proportion of the population, he retains a large and loyal base comprising a significant minority. He has shown a remarkable disdain for established norms for holding elected office. I wonder, then, what would happen if he refused to leave office, even after an electoral defeat? He could claim that the election was rigged, and refuse to leave. If impeached, or found unfit according to Article 25, he could claim that it was a witch hunt. Serious question: what remedies would the Constitution offer if a President refused to leave office? Who would have the authority to evict? Would that person exercise that authority if such a president were to have a significant number of loyalists supporting him? What if the person with eviction powers were to be a Trump loyalist?

I'm not sure how a president could refuse to leave office. A new president would be sworn in on Inauguration Day, and if necessary could have former president Trump carried bodily from the White House. I've lost a lot of faith in congressional Republicans but I don't think a single one would support a defeated president who refused to step down.

This isn't the smoking gun, but wow, makes me wonder: what did Trump know and when did he know it?

That is the question, isn't it? It's not a crime, of course, to issue a false statement to a newspaper (sometimes I wish it was). But could it be an element in an obstruction of justice case? Does it establish an intent to deceive?

Assuming the President has the Special Counsel fired, what exactly is the Congressional mechanism to replace/reinstate Mr. Mueller?

Congress could pass a law establishing an independent counsel or special prosecutor for the Russia investigation. Then Congress could appoint Mueller to that post. He could proceed as before.

A Nietzsche aphorism was something like: "There is a kind of innocence in a lie, that speaker wishes it were true." I believe it is equally true that there is a kind of of innocence in a lie that the listeners hope that it is true. Trump's genius is is his ability to find the vulnerable points in his base and tell them what they yearn to believe. America has a lot of decent people who have a very hard time accepting that such a devious person is in such a prominent position. They urgently need the support that he promised and we should be more supportive of their issues. Why aren't the Dems stepping up to these folks?

I think they're trying. I hope so. 

OK, here's the million dollar question: Do you see Kelly having any significant success as Chief of Staff? I see the odds as being against it. I see him torn between allegiance to the Commander in Chief, no matter how reprehensible and deluded the person in the Oval Office may be, and his limited tolerance to the non-stop chaos, nonsense, backstabbing, etc. Trump is not going to change, that much is clear. But I don't see how long General Kelly, a retired Marine (!), will be able to put up with it. What's your take?

The question is whether President Trump gives Kelly the authority to do his job -- which means everyone has to report through him, and he is empowered to serve as gatekeeper. I'm not optimistic. Ivanka Trump tweeted that she looks forward to working "alongside" Kelly. It's natural that a daughter would have direct access to her father, but she is also officially a presidential adviser. As is the president's son-in-law. And will Steve Bannon really ask Kelly for permission to see the president? Will Kellyanne Conway? I have my doubts. Which means I'm not optimistic about Kelly's ability to bring order to the chaos.

Has Trump's personal Twitter account been legally certified as an official tool of the presidential office? Will he be required to stop using it, when his official capacity ends? How do we demand the clear separation of "private" speech and means, from the "official"? What is the way Eugene? What is it?!

I have no idea about any kind of certification, but there is a growing consensus that the tweets are official statements by the president of the United States. He banned transgender individuals from serving in the military by tweet. Clearly this is not private speech, no matter how unhinged.

Will there come a time when I as a citizen won't feel like a hostage in my own country? It's very disheartening.

This land is your land, this land is my land. I refuse to let anyone make me feel that this is not my country. If the wrong people are holding office, we need to organize, work hard, and elect the right people in their place.

What are they really doing in the White House? Neither or them has any experience in politics. Is it just a continuation of the campaign?

That's a very good question, and I'll continue to ask it until I get an answer. The word, I believe, is nepotism. Ivanka and Jared may be bright, well-educated people, but they have zero experience in government policy. So are they there to keep President Trump from spinning out of control? If so, they aren't very good at that, either.

I laughed out loud over hearing Sarah Huckabee Sanders state that Mooch's vulgarities helped to speed his dismissal from the White House. I would have thought that Trump, who is likewise vulgar, would find that quality (if you can call it that) appealing. Based on Trump's prior behavior, I can't picture Kelley lasting that long since the president has shown no interest in discipline.

The president's family reportedly argued for Scaramucci to get the communications director job. So it's not believable that they are shocked, shocked that he would use such crude language -- especially given the language they've heard the president use on that Access Hollywood tape.

I'm seeing very little being reported on the upcoming debt ceiling deadline. Call me overly pessimistic, but I'm starting to be rather fearful that the debt ceiling won't be raised and we'll default. My reasons for being pessimistic should be obvious--a president who has zero idea what he's doing, a Congress who can't agree on which way is up, and all the mismatched political and ideological agendas of the precious few who actually ARE in charge. Are there any words of hope you can offer, or should I expect my home value and retirement savings to each drop by 50% in just a few short months?

Unfortunately, the debt ceiling is something we need to worry about. The president, the Senate majority leader and the speaker of the House all want it raised -- but they all wanted to repeal and replace the ACA, too, and couldn't get it done. I hope someone at the White House or Treasury is working on a Plan B, which I think would be declaring that the 14th Amendment makes it unconstitutional to default and thus the president has an obligation to ignore the debt ceiling. That might or might not work, but somebody's got to do something.

Do you think there are enough Republicans to impeach the President for any of the major scandals he is indirectly involved in, or are they so self-serving that they will never abandon ship no matter what the cost is to the republic?

There will have to be the metaphorical equivalent of a smoking gun, a corpse, and a high-definition video of the shooting. But we could get there -- meaning that evidence of collusion or obstruction or some other offense could become so overwhelming that Congress has no choice. Especially if the president's low approval rating continues its slow slide.

Why has 45 not sign the only bipartisan and cohesive piece of legislation passed during his administration?

The answer is the big unanswered question: What's the deal with Trump and Russia? The White House says he'll sign the bill, but for some reason he hasn't done so yet. You'd think the president might also have something to say about Putin's order slashing our diplomatic personnel in Russian by more than 700 people, but I haven't heard a peep.

It's 2020 and somehow I have won the EC by write in votes. I have come to the office with no real idea of who or where to turn. Should I at least read a few books on presidents or the presidency? Maybe watch Schoolhouse Rock? I'm betting the ex-Presidents might hand me some names and phone numbers if I asked. Write on a legal pad some core things I might want to accomplish. I just don't know what I'm mentally supposed to do with Trump. I have no sound framework to help me. I don't even know why I'm writing this to you. I'm just flabbergasted. Befuddled. I do now understand the phrase "normalizing Trump". I didn't quite grasp the entirety of that phrase beyond the obvious unsuitable personality problems.

Many of us are in the same boat.

HI Eugene, I know you've spent a lot of time in London so I would appreciate your take as to why of all the major economic powers it's just the US and UK that have succumb to this wave of right wing populism?

I think voters in the Netherlands, in France and hopefully in other countries look at what happened in the UK and the US and say, "Whoa. Not us."

The big August scandal in the Obama presidency was when he wore a tan suit? Those were the days.....

At this point I'd take a competent president and I wouldn't care if he or she wore Hawaiian shirts, surfer shorts and flip-flops.

It seems to me that a central event in the "Russia collusion story" was when the Trump campaign descended on the GOP Platform to water down the official party position on Russia, removing language that sought to arm Ukraine in defense. Why has there never been a significant focus on this event? At the very least, should we know if it was Donald Trump himself who ordered the change? And if it was not, doesn't that by definition imply a 'rogue element' existed in the campaign? To me, this was clearest indication of a "sign of good faith" being sent to Moscow. What are your thoughts?

I'd be surprised if Mueller were not curious about that episode.

Every day in TrumpTime is like a year in regular time. I'm exhausted. How do we keep from going numb OR from turning into a conspiracy theorist with all this (stuff) swirling around every. single. day?

I don't know. When you figure it out, please let me know.

I was on the road yesterday, driving through a rural area. Was listening to a local talk show (right wing). They were going after McCain, Collins, etc., calling them liars, traitors, you name it. How does America survive when there's a widespread effort to misinform and lie? It's more than the politicians - it's an all-out attack on what's right. It just seems so hopeless.

Keep hope alive. The far-right message machine is powerful but not invincible. Lies have to be fought with truth.

Hate to ask...what are the odds US will launch preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea. Sabers are rattling and a conventional strike would not do the job, or so they say.

After this chat I may spend the rest of the afternoon curled up in the fetal position. But yes, you're right, we need to pay attention to the brewing North Korea crisis. Despite what Lindsey Graham said this morning, there is no good military option -- none, at least, that doesn't involve (at the very least) the deaths of millions of Koreans on both sides of the DMZ. It would be nice to have a functioning State Department that could work toward organizing the kind of diplomacy that could at least lower the temperature. But we don't.

And Sarah H.S. now says Trump was "just kidding" when he encouraged police brutality. How long can this "can't you take a joke?" business go on without someone being prosecuted?

I hear that Robert Mueller isn't much of a kidder.

Hi Gene -- thanks for your most recent column, which couldn't have been cogent. Admittedly, as a gay person I was one of those folks who held out a glimmer of hope that Ivanka and Jared, who seemed smart and hip and cosmopolitan to me, would temper Trump's worst traits (saying whatever is necessary to hold the base), but when I heard that she didn't have a heads up (from her own father) about the transgender ban, I decided they would be pretty useless. But to me it's just shows that Trump is going to be Trump no matter what. Ugh.

Trump is going to be Trump. I think that's true. Alas.


It's also true that our time is up for today, folks. Thanks for participating, and apologies to all of you whose questions I didn't get to answer. I hope you'll all come back next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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