Connecticut media was abuzz last week with the news that former Senator Joe Lieberman was on President Trump’s short list for the job of FBI director. That got people talking, as these things tend to do, but that’s all it’s going to be.
You could say Trump floated Lieberman’s name to see what happened, but that assumes he has the attention span for political calculation. He does not. Given the simplest solution is usually the best, I’m guessing Joe came up because he was once a leading Democrat. To Trump’s way of thinking, a leading Democrat is sure to please the Senate Democrats, and get them off his aching back about “the Russia thing.”
I’m guessing similar thinking went into Trump’s firing of James Comey, the former FBI director. The president said he was surprised by the bipartisan reaction. He didn’t think sacking the guy investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia would look bad. Instead, he evidently thought: The Dems don’t like Comey. I don’t like Comey. Everybody’s happy.
“Like” is the operative word. You’re either with Trump or against him. There is no middle ground, as the president cannot tolerate the slightest criticism, and there is no room for nuance, sophistication and complexity. If he doesn’t like you, that’s it. You’re done. On the campaign trail, Trump blamed former President Obama for pretty much everything, but he would end up, oddly, endorsing similar policies. Nation-building at home instead of the Middle East, for instance, was stupid when Obama said it. Not so when Trump said it.
Because “like” is the operative word, it probably made sense to the president to offer insurance companies a deal. You don’t like the Affordable Care Act. I don’t either. How about this? You come out in favor of my Obamacare repeal and replacement bill and I’ll make sure you keep getting reimbursed under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Never mind that the president was suggesting a dereliction of duty as the executive who prosecutes the law. The proposal was plainly ludicrous. A source involved in discussions told the Los Angeles Times: “It made no sense.”
Which brings me back to Joe.
He doesn’t make any sense either, but there is a kind of logic to his consideration for the FBI. As I said, Lieberman used to be a leading Democrat. He was Vice President Al Gore’s running mate in 2000. That, I said, is likely Occam’s Razor. But there may be an even simpler, even dumber reason.
After retiring in 2013, Lieberman worked for Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman, a law firm that represented Trump before he became the president. I’m guessing the president has been talking about Lieberman because someone at his law firm said that might be a good idea to consider him. The president wasn’t thinking on his own. He has people for that. Joe’s Democratic past has nothing to do with it.
Lieberman was not involved with Trump’s legal affairs, but that’s not keeping some from saying the new FBI director shouldn’t come from Trump’s law firm. Others are saying the new director shouldn’t be a politician. That, on paper, is the reason given by Democrats for their near total opposition to Joe Lieberman. The FBI needs a cop, they say, not a pol.
Those are good reasons to oppose Lieberman, but I sense the real reason is that Democrats don’t like Joe and they are searching for ways to avoid having to say that. During Lieberman’s tenure, the party moved considerably to the left. His undaunted support for the Iraq War was the catalyst for his break from the party. The last straw was endorsing John McCain in 2008. From that point, Joe was persona non grata.
But if the Democrats want to stick it to Lieberman, and I assume they would like to as long as it didn’t cost them political capital, they should do more than make noise about pols versus cops. Indeed, they could *earn* political capital by savaging Lieberman on the facts. And the fact is that while working for Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman, Joe Lieberman represented the interests of Basit Igtet, a Libyan businessman. To do that, he had to file paperwork with the federal government attesting to his new job description…
…As a foreign agent.
It happens that foreign agents have been popular in the Trump administration. Paul Manafort, a native of New Britain, Carter Page, and Michael Flynn — all of these former campaign advisers were paid to do work for foreigners and foreign governments even as they worked for Trump.
Now the president is considering nominating another foreign agent. But instead of advising, this foreign agent would be investigating the president’s ties to a hostile foreign power. It’s hard to imagine a a better example of the cycle of corruption.
The Democrats have not yet made this a top talking point, but they surely will, because it’s a two-fer. They can stick it to Lieberman for betraying the party years ago and they score easy and credible points against an unpopular Republican.
Update: A couple hours after we posted this column, CNN reported that President Donald Trump is “resetting” his search for a new FBI director. According to the report, he is looking for a “broader range of candidates” now that he has retained Lieberman’s law firm to represent the president in matters related to the FBI’s Russia investigation.
John Stoehr is a lecturer in political science at Yale, a business columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media, an essayist for the New Haven Register and a U.S. News & World Report contributing editor.