OTC: An IG Lawyer’s Reaction to Trump’s Recent Attacks on IGs

Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine the independent Offices of Inspector General (IGs) have provoked significant public controversy.

Since I was a lawyer for IGs in three different agencies between 1993 and my retirement in 2018 I retired I feel qualified to comment on this situation. In these jobs I assisted teams of criminal investigators and auditors in their efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse of government funds. Since I am retired, I am freer to express my view of this matter.

In the course of my IG jobs I frequently worked with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and their staffs. Everyone in Congress that I worked with liked the IGs because they provided reliable, objective information about government scandals.

Trump’s efforts to undermine them deserve more national attention. The relative lack of attention is probably a result of the national health crisis. While thousands of people are dying it’s tempting to downplay what may appear to many citizens as an insignificant reshuffling of organization charts.

This relative lack of attention is a large mistake. Trump’s actions are a significant attack on an institution that is one of the most effective independent oversight bodies. It’s part of a pattern that threatens our democracy. A bipartisan response is needed. There are some signs that this is beginning to coalesce, but given the tremendous level of political polarization, success in these efforts should not be taken for granted. The bizarre reaction of Attorney General Bill Barr reduces optimism that this scandal will be appropriately addressed.

One more point: I know Glenn Fine, one of the IGs Trump has undermined. He was and is absolutely one of the most respected IGs. That’s why a panel of his peers selected him to lead the oversight of the trillions of dollars Congress is giving Trump to spend. Fine was not fired, merely demoted, but the demotion removes him from any real decision making oversight role.

I have no personal acquaintance with Michael Atkinson, the Intelligence Community Inspector General who Trump recently fired. He assumed office only a few months before I retired, but as a result of my work in the IG community I do know that this job is considered one of the most sensitive and difficult IG positions. Only the most capable people are considered for the DNI IG position.

Finally, a personal note:

Once I became an IG lawyer, I never wanted to do any other type of work. I loved it because we were independent. We went after Democrats or Republicans with equal fervor. We really didn’t give a damn.

This is the Inspector General ethos. This is why Trump fears IGs. It is why, when so many Americans are dying, sick or distracted in the midst of a great national public emergency, Trump is taking advantage of this to undermine their efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse.

Jerry Lawson

About Jerry Lawson

My LinkedIn profile has biographical information. For present purposes the most relevant facts are the reasons why I believe I am qualified to organize a website like Truth Squad Central:

Personal Background

  • My background makes me deeply sympathetic to the concerns that motivate many on the contemporary political right, especially those considered to be Trump’s “base.” I grew up in West Virginia. In the 2016 election, Trump won 67.85 percent of the vote in West Virginia with Hillary Clinton taking 26.18 percent. That’s about a 42 per cent margin, probably the highest in the country.
  • I didn’t merely grow up in West Virginia, I grew up in McDowell County, West Virginia. In my youth I lived in what was possibly the poorest county in the poorest state. The poverty there is so deep and so persistent that in 2014 the New York Times used McDowell County in an article portraying it as the poster child of poverty in America.
  • My father and both grandfathers were coal miners. I know what life is like when the family breadwinner is laid off or out of work due to coal mine injuries. I understand the humiliation of surviving on food stamps and commodities when unemployment and workman’s compensation benefits run out.
  • Finally, I grew up in the evangelic tradition. My maternal grandfather, Willard “Bear” Porter was a coal miner and lay Baptist preacher. While I demonstrate few overt signs of religiosity today, Christian ideas are in my blood and I believe better understanding of key Biblical teachings can help both conservatives and liberals. My essay Lesson for Liberals #3, which uses Matthew 15:1-14 to make an important point about current political dialog, is an illustration.

Professional Background

  • As a practicing lawyer for 37 years I learned that the most valuable thing I provided my clients was objective advice. I had to be equally able to tell clients “Your case is a loser. You should settle immediately” or “You stand to win lots of money through settlement or litigation if need be.”
  • My professional experience from 1994 until I retired in 2018 further improved my ability to analyze objectively. As a lawyer for Inspectors General in three federal agencies I supported teams of criminal investigators and auditors who worked to reduce government waste and fraud. Our work had to be like Caesar’s wife with regard to politics. We could not do our jobs effectively if perceived to be partisan. In this job I worked frequently, and usually successfully, in dealing with members of Congress and their staffs, both Republicans and Democrats. Objectivity was essential.
  • While I consider myself far from being a skilled negotiator, I enjoy the consensus-building aspect of negotiations, finding areas of common ground and reducing conflict. I am definitely not a negotiations expert, but I have had some experience and I have benefited from negotiation training at the Harvard Program on Negotiations for Lawyers and The Brookings Institution.
  • I have some understanding of using the Internet for effective communications. In 1999 the American Bar Association published my successful book, The Complete Internet Handbook for Lawyers. I stopped work in this area in 2003 because I decided to devote my attention to my “day job” as a civil service lawyer, specifically supporting the work of Inspectors General as described above.
  • Finally, the last important work I did concerning the Internet was a series of articles explaining the advantages of blogs. The last such article, Blogs As A Disruptive Technology, in the ABA’s Law Practice magazine, was my favorite. The thesis was that blogs are a great tool for people with little money but good ideas who want to reach a large audience. This is why Truth Squad Central uses a blog built into a conventional website.

The Most Important Qualification

I am deeply concerned about the state of our national discourse and believe that my background may conceivably enable me to make things better in at least a small way. I want to make a difference and am determined to find out if this is possible..

Jerry Lawson

Lesson for Liberals #2: Trump Is Not Stupid

It’s hard to get through a day without encountering multiple examples of “liberals” accusing Trump as having impaired mental function. One of my most respected professional contacts (whose I’m reluctant to embarrass by identifying him) has on more than occasion tweeted a news item about some Trump peccadillo adding only one word of text: “Moron.” Another friend of mine called him a “POS.” In my opinion, comments like this are not just wrong, they are counterproductive for two reasons:

  1. If we don’t understand Trump’s problems, we won’t understand how to deal with him, and
  2. When frustrated people call him names, it makes them sound just as angry and unreasonable as Trump’s supporters.

After all, don’t “liberals” like to consider themselves thoughtful and reasonable?

I have one question for “liberals” who like to say Trump is mentally slow: Would a stupid person have managed to accumulate so much money (albeit with a lot of help from his rich father), to have had a very successful “reality” TV show and even get himself into the White House?

The fact is that Trump is not stupid, not at all. He is actually very intelligent–in his own odd way.

Trump often does things that seem stupid to normal people because he has a truly bizarre personality. I don’t say this with the intention of insulting Trump, but merely to accurately describe him so that people will understand him better.

I am acutely aware that I am not a doctor, but in my opinion you don’t have to be a doctor to see that Trump has a very strange personality. I also believe that Trump’s odd behavior has harmed our country in many ways and makes him a threat to our democracy.

Trump’s Personality Problems

By this time I don’t think anyone who has observed Trump for the past few years would say he is normal:

  1. Would a normal person be boasting about his high TV ratings while millions of Americans are out of work, millions are sick, and thousands are dying?
  2. Would a normal person respond to a reasonable question by insulting the person who asked the question and calling him names?
  3. Would a normal person talk for 13 hours at his corona virus press conferences, but only letting his top expert (Dr. Fauci) talk for two hours?
  4. Would a normal person say he bore no responsibility for the problems, in effect saying that his performance had been perfect?

That type of behavior is not normal.

A guy named George Conway, a longtime Republican, wrote up the best explanation of Trump’s personality that I have seen in a 2019 Atlantic magazine essay named Unfit for Office. Conway is married to a key Trump advisor named Kelly Ann Conway.

In the article Conway explains that he believes Trump has a form of mental illness that doctors call “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” (NPD).

I am not a doctor and don’t necessarily agree with Conway, but his article is thought provoking. Doctors at the respected Mayo Clinic explain what NPD means in an article at the hospital’s website.

In support of his opinion Conway quotes the standard reference that doctors use to diagnosis mental illness and personality problems, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The most recent edition of this reference, the DSM (version 5), published in 2002, long before Trump ran for President, lists nine symptoms of NPD. If a person displays five of these symptoms, doctors consider them to have Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).

2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).

4. Requires excessive admiration.

5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).

6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)

7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others.

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.

9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Is there any objective, rational person who would deny that is impossible for Trump to speak more than 30 minutes without displaying most or all of these symptoms?

Not every doctor agrees that Trump is “mentally ill,” but just about all of them agree that he has a very strange personality.

One respected doctor, an expert in this field, has stated “Trump “may be a world-class narcissist but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder. Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy.”

Whether or not Trump meets the technical definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I don’t think any objective and reasonable person who has observed Trump would disagree with that doctor’s assessment of Trump’s personality.

Conclusion


I believe, like many other Americans, that Trump’s strange personality makes him a clear and present danger to the nation. We need a calm and rational discussion of what we should do as a people when someone with Trump’s problems is in the White House.

A Note for Those Who Disagree

I am definitely not infallible, and I am very willing to listen to contrary arguments presented in a cogent, reasonable way.

I do respectfully suggest that those inclined to defend Trump would be better off to address the substantive argument in a cogent manner, rather than through personal attacks on me or anyone else who shares my view.

Lesson for Liberals #1: Trump Supporters Are Not Stupid

It drives me nuts when I hear so-called “liberals” describing Trump supporters as lacking intelligence, often even childishly calling them names. It’s understandable that they feel frustrated by the anger and apparent unreasonableness of too many Trump supporters, but this is not an excuse.

The fact is that Trump supporters are not any more stupid on average than liberals. Stupidity is neither Red nor Blue. There are smart people and dumb people in both political parties.

Some Trump supporters say things and do things that seem stupid–to liberals at least–for two reasons:

  • They have different fundamental values. These values cannot by objective measures be demonstrated as worse than liberal values, but they are different. Those who hold these views are just as worthy of respect as supposedly “woke” liberals. We will be developing this idea in a later “Lesson for Liberals.”
  • There has been a determined, well financed and effective campaign over decades to exacerbate and exploit these differences. More on this in a subsequent “Lesson for Liberals.”

It’s particularly important for liberals to respect those who disagree with them because a key goal of right wing extremists to create a sense of grievance toward “elites.” When I was in the Army, we considered “elite” soldiers to be the best soldiers: Rangers, Special Forces, etc.

Determined efforts by right wing extremists have given the word a decidedly different connotation, as explained in a 2017 New York Times article entitled How ‘Elites’ Became One of the Nastiest Epithets in American Politics. Over the years extremists have convinced many Americans that they are the victims of powerful, shadowy overlords who consider themselves the masters of the universe. Justified or not, this sentiment is widespread among many, probably most Trump supporters.

There is usually no universal definition of who is in the “elite” category, but it generally includes some mix of:

  • The wealthy (with Trump getting a pass on this for reasons to be explained later).
  • People who believe abortion should be legal.
  • People who support affirmative action.
  • “Women’s libbers.”
  • Those perceived to be “politically correct,” including those in the “Me Too” movement.
  • Jews. Some right wing extremists use “international bankers” and George Soros as code names for Jews.

Some analysts believe this sense of grievance, a manifestation of the “culture wars” was a bigger factor in Trump’s 2016 election than economic issues. Trump was appealing to this aggrieved faction in his inauguration speech when he said “I am your voice.” On hearing this speech, George W. Bush said “That’s some weird shit.” Well, if you have bought into the aggrieved mindset, it’s not weird at all. They consider Trump to be their spokesman in the battle against the “elites.”

It is important for those who consider themselves liberals to avoid reinforcing this right wing trope through condescending behavior or angry dialog. One key to this is understanding: Trump supporters are not stupid. Never talk to them as if they are dumb (to use a noun disparaged by the more politically correct).