If you were fortunate enough to miss the coverage of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at which Michael Pompeo, the current Secretary of State, testified, you missed little of substance.
If, for example, you were hoping that the Secretary of State would illuminate the recent “private” meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, about which no reliable information, indeed no information of any kind, has heretofore been revealed, your hopes were dashed. While Pompeo claims to have been fully briefed by Trump regarding the pas de deux with Putin, he provided no substantive insights, raising the possibility, stated by several senators, that in fact he had not been actually briefed and that, in any case, he could not be sure that Trump was telling the truth.
To say that the exchanges were testy to the point of personal hostility would be an understatement. This is not altogether surprising. In constitutional theory, the Senate is part of the checks and balances against the substantial power of the Executive Branch. History teaches that the Executive Branch, while uttering the usual niceties, is often unhappy being called to account before the Congress. Rough and tumble exchanges are common and the Pompeo hearing was no exception.
Try though he might, however, Pompeo, like Rex Tillerson before him and like the other Trump enablers in the Cabinet, cannot make sense of Trump’s approach to leadership. When confronted with blatantly contradictory statements from Trump, Pompeo tried to say that both were in fact statements of U.S. policy and that both statements, though flatly contradictory, were true. Yes is the same as No. Up is the same as Down.
That is, of course, right out of the Trump Chaos Playbook. He doesn’t care whether what he says is true or false because, like his role as bullying chief executive of his business empire, he knows the Republican Party will not hold him to account. In Trump’s world a lie is just as good, often better, than the truth. That may explain why he lies so often and so consistently about almost everything to do with the government and his businesses. Pompeo went out of his way to “assure” the Senate committee that Trump was personally and tightly in control of everything that was going on in the Executive Branch.
This was likely Pompeo’s way of signaling Trump that he was loyal to the core. The point has other implications, of course. If it is true, and Pompeo was emphatic about it, Trump has been deprived of any Nixonian claim that he didn’t know what was going on, that no one told him. Pompeo made clear that Trump is aware of everything and decides everything. This means that Trump is personally responsible for the destruction of the environment at the hands of the EPA, for the undermining of American public education at the hands of the very rich but apparently quite stupid Secretary of Education and for the Republican undermining of the health insurance system. Hearing Pompeo, Trump was doubtless beaming like the Cheshire Cat. Trump’s Humpty Dumpty style of “leadership,” where words mean whatever he or his enabler-of-the-day says they mean including nothing at all, may play well with his political base but he could be due for a big fall from the wall. Especially if Michael Cohen, former Trump “fixer,” can make stick his reported claim that Trump knew about and approved the Trump Tower meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. We can reasonably assume that Special Prosecutor Mueller has taken note of Pompeo’s tagging of Trump