Donald Trump thrives on loyalty. He depends on it. For a man who publicly contradicts himself on a regular basis, declares indefensible positions, and obstructs justice in full public view, having a reliable circle of support to cover for him is an absolute necessity. Perhaps as a private citizen and business owner, this was simple enough — Trump could hire attorneys, accountants, and other ‘fixers’ whose entire jobs were to make things go his way.
As President of the United States, it’s a little more complicated. Trump certainly entered office demanding the same loyalty and obeisance that served him in the business world, but from FBI Director James Comey to attorney Michael Cohen, one person after another in the Trump circle has chosen instead to serve another cause — the American people, their oath of office, or their own self-interests.
This often leaves Trump angry and spluttering, spitting out tweet after tweet of insults for the most recent betrayer, but he still keeps expecting blind loyalty from those around him.
Here are twenty of the people from whom Trump expected loyalty — and didn’t get it.
Comey never promised Trump loyalty. Still, Trump demanded it, and as Comey wrote in his book, not coincidentally titled A Higher Loyalty, and as Robert Mueller’s report later confirmed, the president still thought it was his due. When Comey didn’t make public announcements professing that Trump wasn’t under direct investigation with regard to Russian meddling, Trump grew angry and moved to fire Comey as Director of the FBI. Later, Trump would tweet extensively to accuse Comey of lying to Congress, as well as being shady (and “shadey“), slippery, and “the worst FBI Director in history” — among other insults.
Bannon served as chief executive in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and transitioned to a position as Chief Strategist as Trump became president-elect, staying in this role as Trump moved into the White House. He maintained a position close to Trump until August of 2017 when Trump praised him as a “tough and smart voice” who would combat ‘fake news’ in a role at Breitbart. However, when Michael Wolff released his book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, the public (and Trump) learned that Bannon had talked to the author, saying, among other things, that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian operatives during the campaign was treasonous, Trump reversed. Clearly feeling betrayed, Trump nicknamed the former advisor “Sloppy Steve” and lambasted him, saying he had cried when removed from his position in the administration, and that he is being “dumped like a dog.”
Omarosa Manigault Newman
Omarosa had worked with Trump on The Apprentice before she joined him on the campaign trail, where she was named director of African-American outreach. She became a public voice in Trump’s defense, declaring in a Frontline interview, “…every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump,” and deflecting questions about whether Trump is racist.
However, during her time in the White House, Omarosa secretly recorded conversations, and when she left the Trump Administration, she compiled her experience into a book. At this point, she began to spill information about Trump, including information she had received about a recording in which Trump allegedly used a particularly offensive racist epithet, and her own experiences with his bad behavior. Her overall assessment of the president can be found in the title: Unhinged.
When she left her position in December 2017, after being pressured to sign a nondisclosure agreement, Trump tweeted praise and well-wishes. However, after her book was published the following year, he switched to name-calling, labeling her “wacky” and a “lowlife.”
Trump appointed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, expecting, by his own admission, that Sessions would use the office in ways that would benefit Trump. Instead, when the investigation into any interference in the 2016 elections began, Sessions recused himself. The Washington Post reported that Sessions would, in fact, recuse himself from any case that might involve Trump’s presidential campaign, since he himself had been involved in that campaign.
According to information released in the Mueller report, Trump responded by simultaneously floating the idea of firing the Attorney General and trying to get him to reverse his recusal. Before actually getting around to firing Sessions, Trump expressed his disdain publicly multiple times, including tweets cited in the Mueller report, complaining that if he’d known Sessions wouldn’t provide a buffer, he would have picked someone else.
Trump supported Ron DeSantis in his campaign to become governor of Florida, and DeSantis expressed full support for Trump. As Rolling Stone describes, he even released a campaign ad that was simply a video clip of him telling his own (toddler-aged) kids how great Trump is. Then, Trump claimed that death tolls from Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico were fasified and exaggerated.
DeSantis didn’t go along with it. His campaign released a statement saying that DeSantis doesn’t believe death tolls are exaggerated and that he stands with Puerto Ricans. Politico reported that Trump told some of his inner circle he felt DeSantis was being disloyal, and that DeSantis wouldn’t have won his primary without Trump’s help.
However, those close to Trump said the president would get over it, because of the importance to him of a Republican governor in Florida, and when DeSantis won, Trump tweeted his support.
Don McGahn served as White House Counsel and testified to Robert Mueller’s team about Trump’s suggestions that Mueller should be fired. Trump has denied this vigorously, maintaining that McGahn played no part in decisions about Mueller or Jeff Sessions’ employment.
After Mueller released a report detailing the evidence that had been examined with regard to collusion between the Trump team and Russia and obstruction of justice in that investigation, Trump learned that McGahn’s notes had been mentioned in the report — as well as Trump’s own complaints about McGahn taking notes during conversations.
Trump made it clear he didn’t appreciate this information becoming public, tweeting to attack “people who take notes” — and in typical self-contradictory fashion, indicated that the notes “didn’t exist” previously — though he didn’t address how one could be cautious about note-taking that wasn’t happening.
This is one of the big ones. Michael Cohen was Trump’s ‘fixer’ and personal attorney for over a decade. However, when his offices were raided by the FBI, it was revealed that he had been recording conversations with Trump. He cooperated with Mueller’s investigation, testified before Congress, and is still, through his lawyer Lanny Davis, dropping hints that he could release more information — including much of the redacted material in the public version of the Mueller report.
Trump quickly turned from public declarations that Michael Cohen would never flip to calling him a “failed lawyer” who no one should hire.
Rick Gates, once a close associate of Paul Manafort, and thus close to the Trump campaign, is cooperating with investigations into the Trump regime. According to the New York Times, his sentencing date was yet again delayed in mid-March 2019, until at least May, because he continues to assist in additional investigations. It’s not completely clear whether his work is complete, now that Mueller’s report has been released, or whether he continues to testify in some of the “ongoing matters” that are redacted in that report — but we at least know that just over a month ago, Mueller still found him useful.
Trump has tweeted in some defense of Flynn, suggesting that he was forced to make up stories because investigators caught him “in the smallest of misstatements,” and that he shouldn’t have his life ruined for lying to the FBI. However, by late December 2018, the Washington Post was reporting that Trump had made threats to discredit Flynn if he indicated that Trump was involved in any criminal activity, while still floating the notion of a pardon.
The Mueller report includes information from Flynn, who spoke of attempting to uncover Clinton’s emails at Trump’s behest, and about his own contacts with Russia on behalf of the campaign.
10. David Pecker/National Enquirer/AMI
David Pecker of the National Enquirer has been a longtime friend of Trump. The pair seem to have worked together on stories over a number of years. However, in December 2018, the National Enquirer‘s parent company confessed to a “catch and kill” scheme to pay for stories and prevent their publication, in order to protect Trump.
Specifically, the publication admitted to paying Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story about an affair with Trump, then filing the story away with no intent to publish, reports The Guardian. This coupled with an agreement that, in return for payment for her story, McDougal wouldn’t release it elsewhere, was intended to protect Trump from having the information surface during the election process.
Though Manafort did ‘flip’ and agree to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, the report notes that he wasn’t sufficiently honest to meet their standards.
Manafort entered into a plea agreement with our Office. We determined that he breached the agreement by being untruthful in proffer sessions and before the grand jury.
However, Mueller’s report also notes that some information Manafort gave was useful when there was corroborating data from other witnesses. Still, what the investigation calls “being untruthful” Trump calls being loyal and refusing to “break.”
Information that was received from Manafort includes notes he took regarding the meeting with Don Jr. and Russian operatives at Trump tower, as well as information about a possible deal with Russia that he admits to sharing with the rest of the campaign, and that he admits was a “backdoor” to allowing Russia control of eastern Ukraine, disguised as a peace plan.
Fox News/Judge Andrew Napolitano
Trump loves Fox News and has quoted Andrew Napolitano, who serves as one of the network’s legal analysts, multiple times. In January, he cited Napolitano’s words regarding the investigation, pushing the claim that the investigation is based solely on the Steele Dossier, connecting the Dossier to the Clinton campaign, and claiming that the whole thing is somehow unconstitutional.
However, after the release of Mueller’s report, Napolitano had a different opinion. He listed several specific incidents described in the documents, and said of each, “That’s obstruction of justice.” While a news network certainly can be loyal to any specific candidate or politician, Trump expects positive reporting and can’t be happy with his favorite network’s legal analyst right now.
Fox News judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano: "When the president asked Corey Lewandowski … to get Mueller fired, that's obstruction of justice. When the president asked his then-White House counsel to get Mueller fired & then lie about it, that's obstruction of justice." pic.twitter.com/5k3dSpD76v
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) April 25, 2019
When journalist Bob Woodward released a book titled, Fear: Trump In The White House, there was backlash regarding some of the quotes in the text. General John Kelly, for one, released a statement, as the Guardian reported at the time, denying that he had called Trump an “idiot” or that he had referred to working for the president as “crazy town.”
However, after leaving the position, Kelly spoke about Trump’s actions on immigration in ways that seemed to corroborate, if not the specific words, then the sentiment Woodward describes him as expressing. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times Kelly said that his own work should be judged by what he prevented the president from doing, such as withdrawing from NATO. He also distanced himself from the policy of separating kids from their parents at the border, describing it at Jeff Sessions’ idea — directly contradicting the Trump administration’s repeated claims that the same was done under Obama.
McMaster may have never owed Trump any loyalty, but it’s clear Trump saw betrayal in McMaster’s open acknowledgment of Russian interference in the U.S. election process. According to Newsweek in February 2018, Trump lashed out in clear irritation after McMaster spoke up. Trump has routinely downplayed information about Russian interference, even suggesting to Comey (as documented both in Comey’s book and the Mueller report) that he should focus on preventing interference in future elections.
When he’s been called out on this, Trump has gotten upset. When McMaster said that evidence of Russian meddling in election results was incontrovertible, Trump tweeted a complaint, indicating that the general should have placed more focus on Trump’s own innocence and redirection to Clinton.
General James Mattis
General Mattis is another Trump administration member who has been publicly depicted as a force to restrain Trump’s worst impulses. He seemed to confirm that in his resignation letter, in which he eloquently made it clear that Trump’s views were not based on solid information and knowledge, as his own are.
In a copy of the letter published by CNBC here, Mattis said his own views on “treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about malign actors…” are “informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues” — and that Donald Trump deserves “a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with [Trump’s] on these and other subjects.”
Trump responded sharply, suggesting that the disagreement was over allowing allies to take unfair advantage of the U.S., and that Mattis supported allowing other nations to take advantage of U.S. taxpayer funds.
It’s likely Trump will be even more upset with Mattis in October, as one of the general’s former advisors will be releasing a book detailing how Mattis worked to keep Trump in check. NBC notes that the author, Navy Commander Guy Snodgrass, was a communications director for Mattis, and took “meticulous notes” from which the book, Holding the Line: Inside the Pentagon With General Mattis is sourced.
Trump’s attorney John Dowd has stood strongly with the president, speaking up to discredit the Mueller report, and working to keep Trump from testifying. This would be counted as a great deal of loyalty by most people. However, he also stands as yet another who denies quotes attributed to him in Bob Woodward’s aforementioned book, because, according to Woodward, he also said several things to and about Trump that would definitely land him on Trump’s not-so-loyal list.
Aside from telling Trump he’d go to jail if he testified in Mueller’s investigation, Dowd is reported to have told Mueller that if Trump testified, and the transcript leaked, “the guys overseas” would read it and say, “I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?”
One of the first in Trump’s circle to be charged with a crime and cut a deal, Papadopoulos is now trying to take back his guilty plea and asking the president for a pardon. When he was first charged, Trump tried to discredit him, tweeting that he was a low-level volunteer and almost no one on the campaign knew him at all.
However, in testimony to Mueller’s team, it was determined that Papadopoulos worked to set up campaign interactions with Russian operatives, and the contacts between him and various members of the Trump team are documented.
While the women with whom Trump had affairs aren’t his business associates or political allies, he had both sign nondisclosure agreements, with financial penalties for violating them. Trump worked hard to force these women to keep his secrets. Despite that, both Stephanie Clifford (also known by her stage name, Stormy Daniels), and Karen McDougal fought against Trump’s censorship and managed to tell their stories.
Trump responded, of course, with insults, calling Stormy Daniels a “horseface” and pursuing her for legal fees.
Macy’s stores stopped carrying some of Trump’s merchandise when he spoke about immigration in terms hand-picked to appeal to racists and xenophobes. To Trump, this was the ultimate disloyalty — not only was it direct and deliberate, it hit him in the wallet.
He handled this with a series of tweets attacking the chain and calling for a boycott.
Kim Jong Un
This may be the greatest betrayal of Trump’s misguided trust, and one of the few he flatly refuses to acknowledge or admit. Trump met with Kim Jong Un and tried to make a deal that would result in the denuclearization of North Korea. Unfortunately, he’s hardly the first to attempt such a deal and doesn’t seem to have been any more successful.
A PBS profile of Trump’s deal-making with Kim early in 2019 noted that experts don’t believe the North Korean dictator has any intention of actually going through with the promise and instead is using it to manipulate the U.S. into dropping sanctions and to insist on additional concessions from Trump.
Trump’s own loyalty
As can be seen in his outbursts every time he feels someone has turned against him, Trump’s own loyalty can be quite tenuous. He doesn’t mind putting almost anyone on blast if he thinks they’ve insulted him. However, his allegiance is for sale — he’s not above dangling a pardon, an appointment in his administration, or a government action to get something for himself — like protection, praise, or a good foreign real estate deal.
Trump’s notion of loyalty and betrayal requires those who want to stay in his good graces to walk a pretty narrow line — but many seem to be discovering he can’t be trusted to hold himself to similar standards.
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Steph Bazzle reports on social issues and religion for Hill Reporter. She focuses on stories that speak to everyone's right to practice what they believe in and receive the support of their communities and government officials. You can reach her at Steph@HillReporter.com