If you work for Donald Trump, there’s a good chance you’ll end up being shamed and humiliated. That’s long been true for his closest aides and appointees, many of who have been shuffled off the national stage in disgrace or with their reputations ruined — or both.
But now the principle may be extending even further, touching even career officials who work in federal government departments and traditionally stay in their jobs even as presidents change.
Trump’s latest proxy humiliation came for Joshua Gardner, who has been defending the administration in the legal battle over the citizenship question on the Census. After the Supreme Court last week upheld a lower court’s decision to block the question, the administration’s lawyers told the courts Tuesday that it had given up on trying to include that section on the Census survey forms. But the very next day, the president tweeted that what his own administration’s lawyers had claimed was fake news and that he would continue fighting to include the citizenship question.
That led to Gardner — while on vacation — getting called to speak with a federal judge to explain the change. Gardner was clearly flummoxed, saying that he didn’t have any new information in addition to the tweet and that he was trying to figure out what was going on. It was only then that another DOJ lawyer jumped into the discussion to confirm that the administration is seeking out possible alternative routes to include the question.
But the humiliation didn’t stop there. Previously, the Justice Department had repeatedly argued that the issue needed to be resolved by the end of June of 2019 so that the Census Bureau could be prepared in time for 2020. Now, forced by Trump, it is backtracking on those claims, severely undercutting its own credibility.
As I noted earlier, Judge George Hazel even seemed to mock the Justice Department’s most recent filing in the case.
All these developments came on top of the Supreme Court’s stunning — though not surprising — decision last week that said the administration’s initial reason for including the citizenship question “seems to have been contrived.” Chief Justice Roberts was essentially saying that the administration was lying.
And just a few weeks ago, another Justice Department lawyer came under fire when she defended the administration’s immigration detention centers, even when they lacked soap and toothbrushes for children.
Trump doesn’t care, of course, if his Justice Department lawyers are humiliated and their credibility is shot. He’s not interested in defending the people who work on his behalf. All he cares about is his immediate goals, and he’ll obliterate any institutions he needs to in order to achieve them.
That doesn’t mean we should feel bad for the Justice Department lawyers, of course. They can and should stand up to Trump, refuse to do what their told, or resign when face with incongruent or obviously wrong orders. Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates took a stand when Trump tried to make her defend the indefensible — though she was already on her way out, and not as dependent on her position as career officials are. But if more administration officials took this path, it could deal a significant blow to Trump and stymie some of his outrageous actions.