The election is 54 days away. This is what they call the homestretch. But even at this late date, campaign tactics may change, new slogans may emerge, even policy positions may shift.
Character, however, remains constant. Especially for men well into their eighth decade. It’s of course difficult to evaluate the true personalities of public figures, whether politicians or rock stars. There is an entire media industry dedicated to bringing you revealing facts about celebrities, sometimes feeding, sometimes puncturing your fantasies about this or that famous person. We are infinitely curious about them. We see the concerts, the movies, the runway walks, the political rallies. We know their public work. But we also want to know their private selves. The question is often asked: What are they really like? Are they kind or cruel, haughty or approachable, conceited or humble?
In the case of national politicians, the answers to those questions are a bit more consequential. Most of us, I think, want to believe a good and decent person is in the White House, even if we disagree with their policies.
Voters welcome, and handlers publicize, small and private acts of courage or kindness that family, friends, and followers carry with them forever. Consider the depiction of Joe Biden at the Democratic National Convention, which overflowed with such vignettes. There was the story of Jacquelyn Brittany, a young Black security guard who escorted Biden to an editorial board meeting at the New York Times and whom the former Vice President befriended. As she put Biden’s name into nomination for the presidency, she told us, “Joe Biden has room in his heart for more than just himself.” Then there are the stories of friendships forged on the daily Amtrak commute. Biden knows the shoeshine man, the cashier, the conductors. He has thrown parties for retiring conductors and picnics at his house for train crews.
I have my own personal story. Some years back, when I was still in office, I was attending an event where Biden was the keynote speaker. A Secret Service agent I knew asked me and my wife if we wanted to come backstage to say hello to the sitting Vice President. What I expected to be a quick handshake and photo turned into a lengthy talk with Joe and Jill Biden. At one point my wife couldn’t resist revealing that our youngest son had, for a school project, chosen to send his Flat Stanley not to President Obama like many of his classmates, but to Vice President Biden.
Unprompted, Biden looked at one of his aides and asked for a piece of official stationery, and he wrote our then eight-year old son a personal note: “Thank you for Flat Stanley – your Mom & Dad are so very proud of you. Please come and visit me in the White House. Joe Biden.” We keep it on a shelf on our bookcase still.
None of this is meant to lionize Joe Biden. Is he perfect? Of course not. I’ve had many friends who’ve worked for him directly over the years. He can be — like all bosses, myself included — frustrating and difficult. But there is a reason you haven’t seen droves of former Biden staffers throwing him under the bus to make a buck. He is a decent person, in public and in private, and people’s love for him is palpable and authentic.
Contrast that with the current occupant of the White House. Of all the speakers at the RNC, I cannot recall anyone other than Rep. Jim Jordan telling any kind of humanizing, behind-the-scenes story about the President.
One can wonder, over seven decades, are there private moments of kindness and grace that might be testament to Trump’s decency? We’ve heard almost none. You think maybe these stories are being saved by advisers and allies for future biographers to temper the image of Trump? Of course not.
Recent weeks have seen an avalanche of damning books and articles documenting Trump’s utterly indecent private moments.
His former lawyer, Michael Cohen, in his new book reveals this private comment by Donald Trump: “Tell me one country run by a black person that isn’t a shithole. They are all complete [expletive] toilets.”
His own niece, Mary Trump, describes in her new book the time Trump eyed her in a swimsuit at Mar-a-Lago in the 1990s. What was his greeting? “Holy shit, Mary. You’re stacked.” She also claims hearing Trump use anti-Semitic slurs and the N-word.
A recent article in the Atlantic credibly describes other private Trump moments in which he called fallen soldiers “losers” and “suckers.”
Most recently, we learned that Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book discloses a number of stunning behind-the-scenes statements, away from the cameras. Sources told Woodward that Trump complained to trade adviser Peter Navarro that “my fucking generals are a bunch of pussies. They care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals.” What a charming patriot.
As bad as these stories are, I believe it is just the beginning. If Trump is swept out of office, there will of course be a reckoning regarding his policies and possible misdeeds. Government agencies will reveal more instances of coercion and rank politicization. Other investigators will likely be busy also.
Then the historians will begin their work. And the excavation will be ugly.
Meanwhile, other aides and allies, too weak and cowed to speak up now, will pounce if Trump loses. They will all have terrible stories to tell, and they will feel compelled to tell them, if only to rehabilitate themselves during the inevitable tidal wave of rebuke.
Some of the revelations will come from spineless wafflers like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Kayleigh McEnany and Rep. Kevin McCarthy who disparaged Trump, then joined him. When Trump is gone, they will disparage him again. They are human political pendulums.
When the time comes, these people should be heard, but not forgiven.
DOJ at Trump’s Defense
By Sam Ozer-Staton
On Tuesday, the Department of Justice moved to take over President Trump’s defense in a defamation suit brought by E. Jean Carroll, a journalist who has accused Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s.
In a court filing, lawyers in DOJ’s Civil Division asserted that Trump was acting in his official capacity as president when he denied the rape allegations made in Carroll’s 2019 book, thus allowing taxpayer-funded government lawyers to take up the president’s defense.
Many of you have reached out to Preet and the CAFE team to make sense of this latest controversial move from the Bill Barr-led DOJ.
One Insider, who says he plans to attend law school, writes: “I would love to hear your opinions and legal analysis about this intervention and whether a court would allow this suit to be dismissed if DOJ were to intervene.”
Another listener writes that the DOJ’s decision to intervene is “particularly worrying,” adding, “without an honest judiciary, the slope is no longer slippery, we will have tipped past our democracy.”
But how unusual is the move, really?
Pretty unusual, according to a cadre of legal experts and DOJ alumni — including Preet, who discusses the matter at some length on today’s episode of Stay Tuned, “The Merit Trap.” As Preet says, “I don’t understand exactly how they are making this argument in good faith, and I’ve seen very little support of it.”
DOJ’s argument relies on a piece of legislation called the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988 — more commonly known as the “Westfall Act.”
According to that law, a civil claim involving a government employee who “was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the claim arose” should be handled by a district court of the United States.
While the alleged rape happened decades before Trump assumed the presidency, the conduct that led directly to the defamation suit — Trump’s denials of the rape allegation — occurred while he was president.
Carroll accused Trump of rape in a book excerpt published in a June 2019 issue of New York Magazine, claiming that sometime in late 1995 or early 1996, Trump forced himself on her in the dressing room of the upscale Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan. Trump vehemently denied those allegations, telling The Hill newspaper that Carroll was “totally lying” and “not [his] type.” (He also claimed that he had never met Carroll, despite the fact that the two were photographed together at a party in 1987.) In November, Carroll sued Trump for defamation, saying that he had damaged her reputation and career when he denied the allegation.
In Tuesday’s court filing, lawyers in DOJ’s Civil Division argued that Trump was “acting within the scope of his office as President of the United States when he publicly denied as false the allegations.” However, as Preet says, “the mere fact the utterance was made while Donald Trump was president, I think most legal experts would say, doesn’t qualify it as something done within the scope of official duties and employment.”
On Tuesday, Texas Law Professor Steve Vladeck, a past Stay Tuned guest, wrote on Twitter: “DOJ is allowed—indeed, it is *required*—to take over tort suits against federal officials for torts committed within the scope of their employment. But how is claiming that Carroll lied about a decades-old rape allegation within the scope of Trump’s employment *as President*?!?”
Vladeck added, in a separate tweet: “The questions are whether (1) Trump counts as an ‘employee’ (given all of the efforts to argue that the President *isn’t* one in other contexts); and (2) if so, defamation related to a 20-year-old allegation is within the scope of his employment. If yes, the suit gets dismissed.”
Notably, the current Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss, is not a signatory to the motion being handled in her district, which would be the usual practice. Instead, this matter is being handled exclusively by Main Justice in Washington.
For his part, Attorney General Barr defended his Department’s decision to intervene, chalking up the criticism to what he called a “bizarre political environment.” Barr added: “This is a normal application of the law, the law is clear, it is done frequently.”
What is your reaction to the DOJ’s move to take up President Trump’s defense?
Write to us at [email protected] with your thoughts or reply to this email.
Paula Reid is a reporter and attorney serving as the White House Correspondent for CBS News. Follow her @PaulaReidCBS
*To listen to Insider content on your favorite podcast app, follow these instructions*
— Listen to this week’s episode of Stay Tuned, “The Merit Trap.” Preet is joined by Michael Sandel, the Harvard philosophy professor and author of “The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?”
— Listen to this week’s episode of CAFE Insider, “Suckers & Losers,” where Preet and Anne react to Bill Barr’s interview with CNN, break down the latest allegations against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, and recap the Mississippi Attorney General’s dismissal of the case against Curtis Flowers.
— Look out for Friday’s episode of Cyber Space, which features former NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis in a wide-ranging conversation with host John Carlin about U.S. cyber defense.
That’s it for this week. We hope you’re enjoying CAFE Insider. Reply to this email or write to us at [email protected] with your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.
— Edited by Tamara Sepper
The CAFE Team:
Tamara Sepper, Adam Waller, Sam Ozer-Staton, David Kurlander, Noa Azulai, Jake Kaplan, Calvin Lord, David Tatasciore, Matthew Billy, and Nat Weiner.