Yale psychiatrist on what the whistleblower scandal reveals about Trump's 'self-defeating pathology'
Trump speaks to Historically Black Colleges & Universities (screen grab)

On Thursday, information emerged that a whistleblower in the intelligence community had officially submitted a complaint suggesting that President Donald Trump had had a compromising discussion with a foreign leader.

As the news circulated Friday, commentators raised the possibility that Trump had offered the president of Ukraine a stronger relationship in exchange for dirt on Joe Biden.

Raw Story spoke with Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee, who has studied the president's erratic behavior.

Lee is a forensic psychiatrist and violence expert at Yale School of Medicine. She has been consulting with the World Health Organization since 2002, has taught at Yale Law School since 2003, and is author of the textbook, “Violence.” In 2017, she held an ethics conference that led to the public-service book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” and the World Mental Health Coalition. She also convened a panel to assess the president’s mental capacity and chairs a working group on a panel for performing presidential fitness-for-duty tests. She is hosting discussions on the need to speak about a president’s mental health at the Yale Law School and the School of Medicine this week.

Raw Story: We don't know exactly what happened. But there are concerns that Donald Trump shared privileged information in a phone call with a foreign leader. How likely is it that this happened?

Bandy X. Lee: It is important to look at a person’s actual behavior pattern, and not what we hope for or expect of a sitting president, in order to have a correct assessment. We should pay attention to all the data he is giving us, rather than stay within our assumptions or listen to his misleading words. What we know of Donald Trump’s patterns is that he projects a lot: when he scathingly accused Hillary Clinton of being careless with her emails, going as far as to advocating that we “lock her up” and that she would bring about a “Constitutional crisis,” he was actually giving away his own tendencies.

Early in his presidency, Mr. Trump disclosed classified information to Russian government officials, placing Israel in danger. Later that year, he told Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines the secret positioning of U.S. nuclear submarines near North Korea, at the height of tensions. On still another occasion, the U.K. complained that his leak of information about the Manchester Arena bombing jeopardized the investigation and caused the British police to lose confidence in us. More recently, Mr. Trump tweeted a reportedly classified image of explosion damage to an Iranian missile site, which could have given away highly classified U.S. surveillance capabilities.

These are only examples we know about. There was the secretive meeting he had with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, when he even withheld his translator’s notes—who knows what information he has given out? Then there were the foreign spies who had to be extracted for safety, including a source who provided critical information about the Kremlin’s attack on the U.S. elections to favor Mr. Trump—who knows which persons he could have gotten killed? This is without going into how his highly suggestible mindset is an asset to all our enemies, domestic and foreign, against the interests of the United States. We would expect this of a leader who lacks mental capacity, and we would only allow him to continue in his full office if we wished to do damage to the country—and this is what I have called self-defeating pathology.

Yesterday, we held a panel discussion at Yale Law School with Law School alumnus Richard Painter, on “When is the Right Time to Talk about a President’s Mental Health?” We had to restrict advance announcement given the volatility of the topic, but a recording will be available shortly. Today, we scheduled another discussion at Yale School of Medicine with the drafter of the 25th Amendment, John Feerick. Both will serve as political, legal, and Constitutional rationales for the inclusion of expertise in public conversations.

Raw Story: What were some of the discussion points?

Chief White House ethics counsel under the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Painter, gave a historical argument for preventing disastrous regimes, while another panelist and past president of the Association of Black Psychologists, Dr. Kevin Washington, gave a cultural perspective on how disorder in a society can be augmented with a disordered leader. Dr. Robert Post, former dean of Yale Law School and author of “Democracy, Expertise, and Academic Freedom,” cosponsored the event. We felt it was especially important in this day of silencing and criminalizing journalists, whistleblowers, and now experts. Legally, we can look at access to expertise as not only an issue of the First Amendment but of public interest. Medically, it has direct implications to the public’s ability to maintain its health—including mental health—and safety.

At the School of Medicine, we are expecting former dean of Fordham School of Law, Mr. Feerick, to explain how medical expertise can become critical to knowing when to invoke the 25th Amendment. Accompanying him will be his collaborator and co-instructor of his Democracy and the Constitution Clinic.

Raw Story: What are some of the messages we can take away?

Lee: We had a lively discussion highlighting that, without expertise, questioning a political figure’s mental health can be used as an insult or a political weapon. Then, when serious discussion becomes necessary, it carries no weight. Mental health problems are just as serious and objectively based as physical problems, and shying away from discussion only increases secrecy and stigma.

Also, without expertise, the ability to distinguish between health and disease is lost, whereby everything becomes “your view versus mine.” When healthy approaches are matched with pathology, giving equal validity to “both sides,” the sheer emotional force of pathology will end up overcoming health, reason, and logic.

A more viable approach would be to recognize that there is such a thing as mental pathology, where “choices” are no longer valid because the mind is hijacked by disease. Rather than avoid the discussion, it is necessary to learn about the signs, know how to recognize them as well as when to consult. Of course there have been abuses of psychiatry in the past, but this comes from ignorance and a population’s inability to make distinctions because of a lack of access to expertise. Discussion is necessary to reduce ignorance and to increase the people’s ability to protect itself.

Raw Story: So these conferences are intended to promote discussion?

Lee: Yes, all our efforts have been to encourage and to allow for the sharing of expertise. We kept the panel discussions interdisciplinary, so that legal professionals can hear about what medical professionals can offer, and vice versa. Right now, we have a president who is dangerously lacking in mental capacity, and every day he is in office, the safety and health—including mental health—of the population is affected. A discussion allows for political people, who have the power to intervene, to understand the nature and best management of mental health matters. Medical people, who have a responsibility to protect public health, would have their concerns greatly relieved if proper interventions could address the current dangers.