The White House has a credibility crisis — and it’s started to engulf one of its most independent voices

U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster speaks to reporters in the briefing room at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The White House’s credibility crisis continues to deepen, and experts say it may now reach one of the few remaining independent voices in the Trump administration: national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

After former national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign in February when it emerged that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about contacts he’d had with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, McMaster arrived to right the ship.

His selection was especially notable because many saw him as the antithesis to Flynn.

He was brought in as someone who was beyond reproach.

“He was brought in as someone who was beyond reproach, who wasn’t in [President Donald] Trump’s inner circle, had a stellar reputation, and was supposed to be distanced from Trump,” said Jon Michaels, a professor and expert on national security at UCLA Law.

Like Secretary of Defense James Mattis, McMaster was revered by his troops while serving as a general in the Marine Corps and earned a great deal of respect from soldiers. He is an expert on military strategy, counterinsurgency, and history, and is not known for being a ‘yes’ man. “Put simply: McMaster isn’t a political guy, unlike other officers who are trying to jockey for position and move up their careers,” Business Insider’s Paul Szoldra wrote after Trump chose him.

McMaster has historically “been willing to risk an awful lot to speak truth to power,” said Claire Finkelstein, a professor and Director at the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

But the former Army Lieutenant General has come under fire in recent days, as the White House was hit with a flurry of news stories that raised more questions about the Trump camp’s ties to Russia.

Now, experts are beginning to question if McMaster’s role has become dangerously politicized, and whether that could pose a threat to the US’ national security.

Typically an apolitical position

Donald Trump H.R. McMaster

When The Washington Post broke an explosive report in which intelligence officials alleged that Trump shared highly-classified information with Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting, McMaster went in front of cameras to call the story false as reported and to defend the president’s actions as “wholly appropriate.”

His defense came as intelligence officials expressed deep concerns about Trump’s handling of sensitive information, as well as the risks it posed to Israel, the source of the intel and a key US ally.

Though the national security adviser is a political appointee — in that he is chosen by the president — the role has historically been relatively apolitical when compared to that of other White House staff. This is because the national security adviser has “enormous influence” over issues of war and peace, and presidents of both parties have tried to keep political concerns away from that area, according to Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer for the National Security Agency and the CIA.

Experts say there is some justification for McMaster speaking out in this case, because he was brought out to address a national security concern.

“The Trump-Russia controversy touches international politics in a way that others do not. … If you’re talking about whether Russia influenced the US elections, if you’re talking about the US president meeting with Russian officials and giving them classified information — that is hardcore foreign policy stuff, and McMaster has, or at least had, very high credibility in that area,” Deitz said. “So it seems logical that he would be pushed out to lead that parade.”

Did it assuage concerns our allies may have had about sharing intelligence? Probably not.

But choosing him as a spokesperson may have done more harm than good.

In this case, McMaster’s “going before the press didn’t do anything to limit” fallout from revelations that Trump disclosed code-word information to the Russians, Michaels said.

“At the end of the day, are we now all saying, ‘Oh, OK, everything’s all hunky-dory because McMaster stood up there’? Did it assuage concerns our allies may have had about sharing intelligence? Probably not.”

Deitz concluded that Trump doesn’t have many alternatives to McMaster.

“If you look at people in this White House and compare them to people in the Obama or Bush White House,” he said, “there are not that many people who have terribly high credibility.”

Michaels echoed that assessment and highlighted the unique circumstances the Trump administration faces.

“Almost everything right now feels new and different,” he said. “The fact that McMaster has to go out and talk about what the president may or may not have said about [former FBI director] Comey … all of this stuff feels weird and unusual, and I doubt many national security advisers have been called in to do this particular type of rebuttal or contextualization.”

Donald Trump H.R. McMaster“There are only so many people in the White House who are taken credibly at this point, and McMaster is one of them,” he added. “So it’s a trade off.”

If anything, experts say McMaster’s selection as the White House’s point man following the Post’s report likely diminished his credibility and the credibility of the US in the process, and it also appeared to politicize a national security issue.

Glenn Carle, a former CIA operative and national security expert, compared McMaster’s selection to former President Bill Clinton’s decision to have female Cabinet members speak out on his behalf during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

“A lot of the women involved resented that and thought it was inappropriate, and Clinton was widely criticized for politicizing them because they were females,” Carle said. “Here, McMaster was politicized because he’s a general.”

And while the credibility of White House operatives like Kellyanne Conway and press secretary Sean Spicer has taken a hit since Trump assumed office, the risks of McMaster losing credibility are significantly greater given his position as the chief national security consultant.

‘Not McMaster’s finest moment’

Experts say that McMaster is likely aware of the delicate situation he’s in.

McMaster’s loyalties are “naturally divided,” Finkelstein said. “He probably feels like he owes the president, as commander-in-chief, the greatest loyalty he can summon up under the circumstances. But I’m also guessing that standing in that room with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, he felt that he himself was in a fairly compromised position.”

James Comey

There have been other instances where that internal discrepancy may have been evident. Shortly after news broke that Trump had reportedly called Comey a “real nut job,” and said firing him had taken “great pressure” off during the Oval Office meeting with Russian officials, McMaster appeared on ABC’s “This Week” on May 21. The White House has not disputed the report.

When host George Stephanopoulos asked McMaster about why Trump made comments about the FBI’s Russia probe to Kremlin officials, McMaster said Trump “feels as if he is hamstrung in his ability to work with Russia” because of media coverage around the topic.

“It’s very difficult to take a few lines, to take a paragraph out of what appear to be notes of that meeting, and to be able to see the full context of the conversation,” he added.

That interview was “not McMaster’s finest moment,” Finkelstein said, adding that it likely reflected his need “to act within the military chain of command, while also being aware that these actions and remarks by the president are extremely dangerous for the country.”

‘If the national security adviser is seen as a stooge or lackey …’

McMaster is still the most independent voice in the White House, experts say, but if he continues ceding ground to the political wing, it may affect the relationship between the administration and the military.

“The go-between on military matters are the joint chiefs and the national security adviser,” Michaels said. “If the national security adviser is seen as a stooge or lackey of an administration that the military may be wary of, it’s going to diminish [McMaster’s] capacity to be seen as a reliable person to call in the White House for critical issues.”

And that logic applies to foreign affairs, too.

“It’s not surprising when a politician or statesman presents a favorable interpretation of an issue for the administration,” Carle said. But when the national security adviser goes in front of cameras and says something that is “just not true, that harms the US’ ability to interact successfully and win the support of our foreign interlocutors.”

mcmaster

“Truly, your word is very important” when dealing with national security, Carle said, adding that credibility is among the chief concerns allies consider when deciding which and how much intelligence to share with another country.

The US’ national security apparatus relies not just on heads of state calling each other, Michaels said, but on networks of high-ranking bureaucrats like McMaster whose credibility is crucial to keeping things running.

“There’s no more critical moment for that than now,” he said, “given the lack of credibility and expertise of the commander-in-chief.”

And in the event that the US is thrust into a genuine national security crisis and McMaster comes out to talk to the public or to the US’ allies about it, Deitz said, “the question people are going to have in the back of their minds is, ‘Are we getting this straight or is this just a political job?'”

McMaster is still a very respected figure, Finkelstein said.

“But he will lose all efficacy as a protector of national security if he simultaneously loses that independent voice he was known to have.”

SEE ALSO: Experts: Trump is edging closer to ‘impeachment territory’

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Google had an incredible reason for not giving gender pay data to the government: It’s too expensive (GOOG, GOOGL)

Larry Page

Google officials were in federal court on Friday to defend its pay practices, pushing back against government allegations that it underpays its women employees.

But if the tech giant hoped to prove its fairness to the world, it didn’t exactly win many fans with one of its major lines of reasoning.

According to a report by The Guardian’s Sam Levin, Google’s budget-minded lawyers argued in court that the government was being unreasonable in demanding that Google collect and turn over internal compensation data.

Why? 

The money.

Complying with a request by the US Department of Labor  would be too expensive and too logistically difficult, Google’s lawyers reportedly argued.  The job would apparently require 500 hours of work and cost $100,000.

Note that Google is the world’s No.1 internet search engine, with $92 billion in cash and short-term securities on the balance sheet of its parent company, Alphabet. 

And given that Alphabet made $6.8 billion in profit before taxes in just the first quarter of 2017, according to Google Finance, the DoL attorney at Friday’s court hearing couldn’t resist a snarky response, saying “Google would be able to absorb the cost as easy as a dry kitchen sponge could absorb a single drop of water,” Levin reports.

The US Department of Labor (DoL) has previously accused Google of “systemic compensation disparities.” The DoL has filed a lawsuit to compel Google to turn over its internal compensation data. Because Google is a federal contractor, it is required by law to submit employment data to the government as part of routine compliance procedures to prove it is not violating equal employment laws, the DoL says.

Occupational segregation

Google has consistently denied the accusations that it underpays women and it even tweeted in April that it “closed the gender pay gap globally” meaning it pays women and men equally for equal work worldwide, it says.

Its HR site also released a guide that instructs others how they can do the same, including the step called “run a pay analysis.” Presumably, this means that Google already has loads of salary data in a form that allows it to be analyzed, at least internally.

After the suit went public, job hunting site Glassdoor released its own analysis of Google’s pay based on the self-reported salaries submitted by employees. For what it’s worth, Glassdoor sided with Google, finding no evidence that Google underpays for equal work.

However, Glassdoor also found that women overall at Google are still paid 16% less than the men. That’s because, of the women who work at Google, fewer of them have roles within the highest paying jobs at Google. It’s a situation called “occupational segregation,” and it’s a common reason why women earn less than men across the economy, not just at Google, Glassdoor’s Chief Economist, Dr. Andrew Chamberlain told Business Insider.

In any case, folks on Twitter are not buying the argument that Google can’t afford to dig up the salary data that the government is requesting.

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SEE ALSO: Sergey Brin’s secret blimp will be a luxury ‘air yacht’ and be used to deliver humanitarian aid, report says

SEE ALSO: The alarming inside story of a failed Google acquisition, and an employee who was hospitalized

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Non-Sequiturs: 05.26.17

Ed. note: Above the Law will not be publishing on Monday, May 29, in honor of Memorial Day. We’ll see you on Tuesday, May 30 — which is when we plan to issue our latest ATL Law School Rankings.

* A Texas police chief is under investigation for allegedly calling a woman a “black bitch” after an altercation in a Walmart parking lot. The police chief was giving his 14-year-old daughter driving lessons at the time, and I’m comfortable drawing a straight line from the police/father’s behavior to 53% of white women voting for Donald Trump. [The Root]

* I think this link has something to do with art. Potentially, there’s a lawsuit about somebody who copies art? I really don’t know. Somebody at Above the Law sent me a link about art, told me to put it here, but didn’t summarize the relevant art facts to me, and… well, I’m just not going to muster the focus to read a whole story about art. [Jezebel]

* Joel Cohen, Judge Jed S. Rakoff, and Judge Richard Posner debate “alternative facts,” because this is now an issue in our crumbling society. [Slate]

* Long Island family awarded over $8 million because cops Tased disabled man four times. [New York Law Journal]

* Preet Bharara says recently elected Montana Congressperson, Greg ‘The Body-Slammer’ Gianforte, would “face deportation” if he was an immigrant. [The Hill]

* Most respectable publications are reporting on Trump’s embarrassing performance in Europe. Do you think that has filtered all the way down to the white supremacist media that is in charge of the country? [Breitbart]
Non-Sequiturs: 05.26.17 syndicated from http://personalinjuryattorneyphiladelphia.blogspot.com/