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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Under Trump, mere careerists earn plaudits for courage

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly,

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly, at a lecture Wednesday, criticized President Donald Trump's denunciation of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Credit: AP / Karen Mancinelli

President Donald Trump is escalating his campaign against government officials who frustrate him when they act on the basis of facts and professional judgment.

More and more, people who know how things work in the White House and federal agencies are calling out Trump for reaching down the pecking order to exert self-serving influence.

By showing the merest anti-tyrannical instinct, his mildest critics can enhance their public reputations among their peers.

Even Attorney General William Barr saw fit to proclaim last Thursday that the president's tweets targeting his department "make it impossible for me to do my job."

The previous day, former White House chief of staff John Kelly, who also was loyal to a fault, won a good reception at a lecture in New Jersey in which he countered his ex-boss's denunciations of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

Kelly said that when Vindman sounded internal alarms about the impropriety of Trump's famous "do us a favor" phone call to Ukraine's president, he "did exactly what we teach them to do."

The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, meanwhile, received a standing ovation at Georgetown University, where she accepted the prestigious Trainor Award for excellence in diplomacy.

“The State Department is in trouble,” she said in her first public remarks since testifying in the House impeachment inquiry. “We need to re-empower our diplomats to do their job. We can't be afraid to share our expertise or challenge false assumptions."

These restrained public criticisms by Kelly and Yovanovitch resonate among those who take seriously the institutions they serve, or have served.

Also last Wednesday came an unusual public protest by four prosecutors who were overruled by their own Justice Department in requesting a tough sentence for Trump crony Roger Stone, who was convicted of witness tampering and obstructing Congress.

Trump "commandeered the sentencing in a politically sensitive criminal matter, reversing the position uniformly accepted and promoted by the career prosecutors,” David Laufman, a former Justice Department official, told The New York Times.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, presiding over the Stone case, is quite likely to come away from Trump's nasty verbal taunts with her legal reputation improved and her integrity intact.

The dynamic goes beyond the courts and the foreign service.

An exodus of veteran staffers commenced at the Environmental Protection Agency shortly after Trump's term began. 

For political reasons, Trump aides tried and failed to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census. Experts who advise the U.S. Census Bureau, from economists to demographers and engineers, opposed the move on operational grounds.

U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was forced to quit after trying to battle White House meddling in a disciplinary case involving a war atrocity. Spencer isn't in disgrace. He's been campaigning for candidate Mike Bloomberg.

Trump's preference for whim-based government extends to weather forecasts. Last fall, bureaucrats at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were pressured to waste their time propping up his false insistence on a hurricane threat to Alabama.

The reputations of those who stuck to reality remains intact. The silliness is on Trump. The professionals know it.

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