Manafort’s ascendance coincided with the fall of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, another hire who also exemplified Trump’s tendency to choose employees on the basis of availability and loyalty more than skill or experience. Lewandowski was a wash-out from New England politics, but he was fiercely devoted to Trump. Eventually, though, he got shoved out. There were various factors: He had created an embarrassing distraction when he grabbed a reporter at an event in Florida, then lied about it, and the campaign was struggling. More importantly, however, he had reportedly fallen afoul of Trump family members, who exerted an unusually strong influence on the candidate and pressed for Lewandowski’s ouster.
Campaign staffers, then, tended to be either untutored, of questionable scruples, unvetted, or unfireable by virtue of family ties—or to possess several of those traits in combination. Trump approached the campaign much like he has approached his business career, with a willingness to hire people who would move fast and break things. The problem is that the things that get broken are often laws. In business, you can sometimes beg off, pay a fine, or settle a claim, but that doesn’t work as well in the high-pressure political spotlight.
If the June 9 meeting epitomized these problems, it may not be the last such episode. Take the Trump team’s digital operation. The team was viewed not so much as a joke as entirely nonexistent until a BusinessWeek story by Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg in late October. The article revealed that Brad Parscale—you guessed it, a little known digital marketing figure without campaign experience—had overseen the construction of a team in San Antonio. When Trump won, this team won sudden praise for its stealth success.
Did it deserve that praise? McClatchy reported Wednesday that House and Senate investigations as well as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team are looking into whether Jared Kushner, who oversaw Parscale’s operation, coordinated with Russian agents to point them to where to target propaganda operations so as to best influence the election to aid Trump. They also want to know whether the Trump campaign had any role in releasing hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s account.
“There appears to have been significant cooperation between Russia’s online propaganda machine and individuals in the United States who were knowledgeable about where to target the disinformation,” Mike Carpenter, a former Pentagon Russia hand, told McClatchy. The article did not allege that any investigation has uncovered clear evidence of such coordination.
The campaign scandals are not Trump’s only problems. He has hundreds of unfilled executive-branch jobs, most of them without nominees. His foreign policy has been chaotic at best, even setting aside problems that have bedeviled several of his predecessors, especially North Korea’s nuclear problem. On the home front, he has not notched a single major legislative win yet, and his executive orders have a miserable record in court. But it is the campaign scandals—and his firing of FBI Director James Comey, which he says was in response to the FBI’s Russia investigation, and which has raised questions of obstruction of justice—are the gravest threat to his presidency. The irony, of course, is that if the Trump campaign really did conspire with Russia to interfere in the election, and that swayed the result, then he also wouldn’t be president without that same motley assortment of staffers.