Mueller Report on Trump White House

Leadership Lessons

The recently released Robert Mueller report on Pres. Trump’s campaign and early years in the White House has commanded media and political debate. The report is a gold mine for historians and students of leadership. Donald Trump’s style of leadership and the decision making process in the White House are recorded in detail. The president’s close subordinates were interviewed under oath with no claims of executive privilege and no documents were withheld. Seldom do we get to see how the "sausage is made" in such detail.

No presidential aides have statues on the Washington Mall or Lafayette Park honoring their work building or saving their country. Only presidents get statues in their honor. The Mueller Report included several incidents where aides to Pres. Trump did not follow directives from the president that could have been bad for the country and bad for the president.

At a moment of frustration and anger, Pres. Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller. McGahn did not call the Justice Department and order the Attorney General to fire Mueller. In retrospect, Trump’s presidency was saved by McGahn’s refusal to follow the president’s order. The Mueller report clearly establishes that a major responsibility of close aides to the president is to be a buffer between him and those whose job is to execute presidential directives.

Every leader depends on close aides and subordinates to help them make important decisions. Understanding our weaknesses and getting people close to us who complement those weaknesses is a requirement for strong leadership. We rely on our wife or husband to save us from doing dumb things.

Before Richard Nixon began his term as president, he wrote a memo to his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman. According to John Farrell’s biography, Richard Nixon: The Life, Nixon understood his tendency to make decisions in anger and authorized Haldeman to disregard impetuous orders . His memo to Haldeman said, “I will accept such decisions, but I must know about them.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Abraham Lincoln, Team of Rivals, outlines Pres. Lincoln’s decision to bring his chief political rivals into his cabinet and become his closest circle of advisors. They were far more educated and more experienced than he in national politics and complex regional social and economic issues. Goodwin describes Lincoln as the iron willed and even-tempered center of his leadership team. Strongly held competing views in Lincoln’s cabinet enabled the president and the country to discover the best path forward and become clear about America’s identity.
Being a successful leader requires knowing who you are and what you need from those closest to you. If you believe all you need to be successful is people to follow your orders, you are certain to fail.

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April in New England
I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. Spring followed the end of winter with sun, flowering dogwood trees, lacrosse, and warmer weather. In New England, winter gradually fades. “Cool and wet” is usually our next season followed by summer in June and July.

I wait for weekends dry enough to go the boatyard and get my sailboat ready for launch. Here is an April view of Marblehead Harbor. We have wonderful New England summers. Preparing our gardens, our boats, and our summer cottages for summer in the “cool and wet” season is what we do.

5 comments on “Mueller Report on Trump White House”

  1. Loved the mention of the passage from Richard Nixon: The Life as I immediately thought of it when reading the beginning of your message. For better or worse, Nixon was acutely aware of his short-comings, as much as it irritated him and made him feel paranoid, but also knew when to entrust men more capable than he (ie Kissinger) that resulted in an astonishingly successful (policy-wise) administration.

  2. Rick - Great article on the art of leadership and rational decision making. Very informative.

  3. "The Mueller report clearly establishes that a major responsibility of close aides to the president is to be a buffer between him and those whose job is to execute presidential directives."

    I struggle with this statement. I'm certainly glad that these aides disregarded the President's orders for the benefit of the country. In the case of Nixon as reported, at least one of these aides had been given the authority by the President to do this disregarding.

    In the military, it's my understanding that a person does not have to follow an illegal order. For instance, an order to commit a war crime. With Presidential aides, I don't know if this same disobedience is allowed. That consideration aside, it's not clear to me that all of the Trump aide disobedience was concerning something illegal. They may simply have been disregarding poor but legal orders.

    Without the "Nixon authority" to disobey, the Trump aides who got between Trump and his orders were directly disobedient and should lose their jobs. (Of course, Trump is so clearly unfit for his job, corrupt, and treasonous that he too should lose his job, but that's beyond the scope of this piece!)

  4. I understand the logic, and generally agree, but using President Trump and President Nixon as the poster children for leadership is not very compelling. Setting aside all the “good people” that served Presidents’ Trump and Nixon that ended up in prison, and saying that because a leader was saved by their team from immoral or criminal action, does not negate their intent. True leadership is about integrity and courage, and standing on truth.

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