By BRIAN A. HOWEY
O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!
That was Scottish novelist Walter Scott with his 1808 poem “Marmion,” not to be mistaken for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz who, on the morning of the 2016 Indiana presidential primary, fumed at an Evansville press conference, “I’m gonna tell you what I really think of Donald Trump: This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth, and in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.”
Now, why would Cruz say such a thing about the future president of the United States?
Because earlier that morning on Fox News, citing a discredited National Enquirer report, candidate Trump had linked the senator’s father, the Rev. Rafael, to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I’ll let Trump tell it: “His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being — you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous,” Trump said on Fox News early election morning. “What was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting? It’s horrible.”
To which Cruz responded, “Donald Trump alleges that my dad was involved in assassinating JFK. Now, let’s be clear, this is nuts. This is not a reasonable position. This is just kooky. And while I’m at it, I guess I should go ahead and admit, yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard.”
Now, if someone accused my dad of killing an American president, I’m probably not going to vote for him. Then Gov. Mike Pence endorsed and campaigned with Cruz, who was subsequently crushed by Trump 53-37, clinching the presidential nomination. At a time when many prominent Republicans begged out of Trump’s veepstakes, Pence was all in, truth be damned.
So now we have a sitting president who cries wolf, who spills intelligence like a sieve, telling the murderous Philippine President Duerte that two American submarines are sitting off the coast of North Korea (pssst, Mr. President, loose lips sink ships), and his web is tangling two stalwart Hoosier Republicans, Vice President Pence and Director of National Security Dan Coats.
That Pence and Coats were brought into the undisciplined Trump’s inner sanctum was to be greeted with breaths of relief by many Republicans and patriots. Pence, because he knew the inner workings of an inert Congress, and Coats as a former member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who served as ambassador to Germany during the Sept. 11 terror attack era. Both were seen as adults who would keep the infant president within the guardrails.
What we’ve seen over the past month, however, is instructive when you settle into the wolf’s lair. There are fleas, ticks, growls and unfortunate truths that consume the deceptive story lines.
Pence was set up in February with a lie about National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to the Russians. Trump and his inner circle knew the truth, but let Pence go on CBS’s Face the Nation to deceive. Flynn was summarily fired for lying to Pence, and he is now at the tip of the spear of the Russian collusion investigation that is poised to scandalize this nascent administration. Flynn bedeviled Pence once again when the vice president said he didn’t know about Russian and Turkish payments to the former general. But this was disclosed to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie when he headed the Trump transition team until Pence was installed.
Then there was Pence’s defense of Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. Again, Pence went on TV to say it was all based on a Department of Justice memorandum assailing Comey’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. But a day later, President Trump cut Pence off at the knees, telling NBC’s Lester Holt, “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’”
Perhaps Pence has an aide named Sgt. Hans Schultz, who whispers, “Just say ‘I. Know. Noth-ing!’”
Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman observed, “All of a sudden we’re seeing a wave of articles in which anonymous sources close to Pence tell reporters that he’s completely out of the loop. But can we believe it? And even if it’s true, isn’t that nearly as much of an indictment of Pence?”
As for Director Coats, we learned that Trump approached both him and Adm. Michael Rogers who heads the National Security Agency about pressuring the FBI to drop the Russian probe. “The problem wasn’t so much asking them to issue statements, it was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation,” a former senior intelligence official explained.
Coats was asked about it during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday. He was diplomatic, saying, “I don’t feel it’s appropriate to characterize the discussions with the president.”
Thus, two squeaky clean Hoosier public servants find themselves traipsing along the Trump tripwire, their worthy reputations at risk.
Or as Walter Scott concluded, No wonder why, I felt rebuked beneath his eye?