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Obama's Former Ethics Czar Discusses Trump, And The Global Threat To Democracy

Sep 6, 2018
Originally published on September 7, 2018 11:10 am
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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. You may know my guest Norm Eisen as President Obama's former ethics czar who teamed up with Richard Painter, President George W. Bush's former ethics czar, to call attention to possible ethics violations by candidate and then President Donald Trump. Eisen is a founding member and current chair of the board of CREW, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, which has filed legal challenges against the president.

After serving as Obama's ethics czar from 2009 to 2011, Eisen was appointed by Obama as ambassador to the Czech Republic, a position he held for nearly four years. In his new book, Eisen writes about that period and about watching the spread of illiberalism - anti-democratic leaders and movements - through the Czech Republic and other parts of Europe. The title of his new book, "The Last Palace," is a reference to the huge mansion he lived in in Prague which is the residence of the American ambassador. And that's a fascinating story.

The mansion was built by a Jewish industrialist who sank his fortune into the building but died in 1934 just before its completion. In 1938, his family fled the country because of anti-Semitism. During World War II and the German occupation, the mansion was the home of the German military's commander. We recorded our interview yesterday morning.

Norm Eisen, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Let's start by talking about your book. Your mother is from Czechoslovakia. The Jews of her town were rounded up by the Nazis, sent to a ghetto, then deported to Auschwitz where most of her family and most of the Jews in her town were murdered, but she and her sister survived. What was her reaction when you told her that you were appointed ambassador to the Czech Republic?

NORM EISEN: My mother's reaction shocked me. I thought she would be thrilled. My whole life I heard Czech lullabies, heard her talking with such affection about her - the former country where she had grown up, her hero, the first president of that country, Tomas Masaryk. But instead, when I called her from Air Force One traveling with the president to tell her what I thought was the good news, her reaction was fear.

GROSS: What was she afraid of?

EISEN: She had experienced the ups and downs of the century firsthand, and she had lost everything she loved in the Czech lands not once but twice - first the Holocaust and then the onset of communism after she'd rebuilt and having to flee. And that historical trauma initially overwhelmed what I expected would be an excited reaction. And she was scared that what had befallen our family might threaten me if I went back there even though I would be representing the most powerful nation on Earth. So she was scared

GROSS: And she told you, you don't know Europe like I do; it hasn't changed that much. She was actually afraid you'd be killed.

EISEN: She was. And she was fundamentally pessimistic as she looked at the large struggles between democracy and illiberalism, the opponents of democracy. And I look at those same struggles and said, well, democracy came out on top every time. Why not be optimistic? But when it came to her eldest son going back to the continent that had been so cruel to her, she could not - initially she could not escape from her apprehension that history would catch up to our family once more.

GROSS: So you get to the Czech Republic, move into this incredible mansion which became - has become the U.S. ambassador's headquarters. So you got there and found that there was a swastika stamped under the desk. Describe what you saw and how you found out about it.

EISEN: Well, I managed to persuade and reassure my mother sufficiently that she did not object to my going to Prague. I tried to get her to come with me and my family. I thought it would be so wonderful. That was a bridge too far. But at least she let me go. And then on my first day there, our wonderful head of the house, the majordomo Mr. Chernyak (ph), gave us a tour.

And after the tour when my family had gone up - jet-lagged, gone up to sleep, he said, Ambassador, there is one more thing I want to show you. And he took me to a beautiful antique table, Terry. And he said, look under here. And he showed me a swastika stamped beneath that table. And he wanted me to be aware of it because actually it turned out that there were swastikas hidden behind and underneath things all over that magnificent 150-room-plus house that I moved into. And he didn't want me to stumble across one knowing my family history and be alarmed. So that was how I discovered that swastika.

GROSS: What was it like for you to live in this huge mansion knowing that there were remnants of the Nazi occupation, including swastikas?

EISEN: Well, the - that first moment when Mr. Chernyak showed it to me was a summary of my feelings all throughout my four-year tenure as ambassador because of course initially, when you see a swastika in your house as the child of a Czech Jewish Holocaust survivor, it's shocking. And there was a moment of shock.

But I was surprised, Terry, by my reaction because when the shock faded, what I felt was a sense of the turn of history and the triumph. That swastika to me was a reminder of a regime that had been crushed by the allies, including the United States, the country that I was now representing back on my mother's home soil. So to me, when I saw that swastika and then found others - and I discovered some that I think nobody - because I took an interest in the house and prowled around it, I was still finding rooms until the last week I lived there. Nobody agrees on how many there are.

To me, those were a reminder that democracy has defeated enormous threats in this past century that started with the Wilsonian experiment of 1918 and the creation of countries on the model of the United States like Czechoslovakia, that the great threats have risen up - illiberal, anti-democratic, autocratic threats - and we've beaten them back every time. Of course when I made the mistake of telling my mother about that swastika, she had a somewhat different reaction.

GROSS: Which was...

EISEN: Well, I thought I had made progress. And we were negotiating a visit to Prague, and I was talking to her that night. I talked to her almost every day while I was in Prague. And all that progress slipped away when I told her about the swastika. She - in this long-running debate between the two of us, she saw it as a sign that the evil was still there. And she felt that way about Europe.

GROSS: You tell some incredible stories about the mansion. I don't know what to call it. It's got somewhere between a hundred and 150 rooms.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: But this - the remarkable building that you lived in that was completed in around 1938 - but the person behind the concept of this building never really got to live in it 'cause he died, and then his family fled the anti-Semitism. But anyways, one of the people who lived there whose story you tell in your book was the German commander of the armed forces, the Wehrmacht, during World War II. And his name was Rudolf Toussaint. And you tell a story about how he tried to open up Prague to American troops during World War II, but President Eisenhower blocked that. Why did President Eisenhower block it?

EISEN: Well, Eisenhower was solely focused on winning the war. And at the end of World War II, General Toussaint, who I believe a complex, conflicted character, struggled against the evil of the Nazi regime in some startling ways. He was called on the carpet at times. He thought his life might be at risk for being outspoken. At other times, he failed to be sufficiently courageous.

But after living for years in that palace, which was built as a tribute to Western liberalism and to the Wilsonian moment post-1918, Rudolf Toussaint was transformed. And he, at the end of the war, turns on the SS when they want to destroy Prague. And that would have entailed the destruction of this house. And he reached out to Patton, and Patton wanted to come. But Eisenhower blocked him, including because the Soviets complained. Eisenhower didn't want to disrupt his military alliance. He wanted to finish the war as quickly as possible.

The Soviets were smarter, Terry. They were looking ahead to the coming Cold War, and they knew whichever army made it to Prague first would have the upper hand in winning the hearts and the minds of the Czechs. So they blocked a willing Patton. They frustrated Toussaint's desire to bring him to Prague. They got Eisenhower to stop Patton. And as a result, the Soviet Army liberated Prague, and they did indeed have the upper hand in the coming battle for the Czech lands, whether it would be communist or democratic.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Norm Eisen, and you might know him as President Obama's former ethics czar. And then he became the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic under President Obama. He's also a founding member and chairman of the board of CREW, which stands for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and they've been doing a lot of work pertaining to the Trump administration and potential ethics violations.

His new memoir is called "The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century In Five Lives And One Legendary House," and it's about his tenure as ambassador in the Czech Republic." And it's also about this incredible mansion that became the headquarters of the U.S. ambassador. And it's about the spread of illiberalism in Europe. And we're going to talk about that and about echoes he sees of illiberalism in the U.S. now after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN AURBACH SONG, "HEARTBROKEN, IN DISREPAIR")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Norm Eisen, who was the ethics czar under President Obama, then became Obama's ambassador to the Czech Republic. His new memoir is called "The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century In Five Lives And One Legendary House." And that's about his tenure as ambassador, the spread of illiberalism in parts of Europe, including the Czech Republic, and echoes of that he sees now in the U.S., which he's also been writing about in op-ed pieces.

So tell us about some of the illiberalism you saw spreading through the Czech Republic and other places in Europe during the four years you were ambassador. And you took on that position in 2011.

EISEN: Well, Terry, I was sent to Prague as part of the Obama administration reset with Russia and with Central and Eastern Europe more generally. But no sooner did I land on the ground than everybody told me that my mother's warnings which she had been trying to tell me was accurate. And in particular, I had a conversation very shortly after I got there with former President Vaclav Havel, the great dissident who took every American ambassador under his wing. I was fortunate to be the last one to receive his tutelage.

And he took me aside, and he said, in essence, the Russian bear is stirring, and the winter of democracy - the winds - cold winds are blowing, and you Americans are not adequately focusing on that. And he pointed to the resurgence of the kind of hatred, populist, extreme nationalism against the same targets in World War II - not just Jews but the Roma people. They had a big fight while I was there over LGBT rights. He said look out; something bad is afoot here. And sure enough, that matured just in my first year to a full-blown battle with the far-right extremist wing having much in common with their predecessors over the past century.

GROSS: What was your battle with the far-right?

EISEN: Well, the president of the Czech Republic at the time was a gentleman known as Vaclav Klaus - American-educated economist, very friendly, warm relations with Russia, also a climate change denier, hostile to the Wilsonian ideas of the post-1918 era - for example, attacking the EU very bitterly - and really a representative of the right-wing traditions - nationalism, populism - that had characterized some of the darker moments of the 20th century.

Despite that, at first, President Klaus and I got along very nicely to both of our surprise. He loved American jazz, and he would have jazz concerts monthly and invite me to the beautiful Prague Castle to hear these jazz players. But then just when I let my guard down I sponsored - with the embassy, we sponsored the first ever Prague Pride week and parade. I was told it's the furthest east in Europe that any pride celebration had ever dared go. I saw...

GROSS: And this is LGBTQ Pride.

EISEN: Yes, LGBTQ Pride. I saw that opportunity as the natural moment for me to break new ground in pushing the liberal idea that America had in partnership with Europe been advancing since 1918. But I didn't anticipate the furious counterattack first led by an aide of the president, then by another government official from the far-far-right and then the president himself. And it turned into a full-blown international diplomatic incident with them attacking me for forcing - the word that was used by one of these officials was deviant practices - on my host country. And I found myself in a kerfuffle, and my mother was my best adviser in that fight.

GROSS: What did she tell you?

EISEN: Well, she gave me a look - I happened to be visiting her in Los Angeles for our summer vacation for a few days in the midst of this battle. And at first, she gave me that knowing look; you know, she'd warned me that...

GROSS: I told you so, yeah.

EISEN: She gave me that look. Everyone who has a mother knows that look. And certainly, those of us who have Jewish mothers are frequently the targets of that glance. And she gave me the look, and then she pondered. I asked her, well, what do you think I should do, Mom? And she pondered it. And after thinking about it, she said, well, what choice do you really have? You have to speak out. So she told me, pour it on.

GROSS: OK. So, you know, in your book, you write about the spread of illiberalism through parts of Europe, including the Czech Republic, where you were the American ambassador for nearly four years. What do you mean when you say illiberalism? Like, define that for us, and maybe just mention the countries where you think illiberalism has been spreading.

EISEN: I believe that at the core of the democratic project, the American-style democratic project that we have really worked on with our European allies on both sides of the Atlantic as equal partners since 1918, are a series of freedoms - the idea of a free press, certainly of free markets, economic freedoms, political freedom, personal freedom, like the ones I were - was fighting for with the LGBTQ week in Prague, and finally, the freedom of the law to operate independently - rule of law - judicial freedom, you can consider it. Illiberals are opposed to that and want a more autocratic regime like that of Vladimir Putin, who has systematically eradicated all those freedoms to accumulate personal power and great wealth, Orban in Hungary, the current ruling coalition in Poland. Mr. Erdogan in Turkey is an outstanding example. And, of course, it's jumped the pond. I believe we have an illiberal in the White House here in the United States, and together with Putin, Trump forms a transatlantic illiberal alliance.

GROSS: What is it about President Trump that makes you see him as fitting into that category of illiberal?

EISEN: If you look at President Trump, his attacks, his scapegoating of minorities, in his crony capitalism tampering with the free markets that make us strong, in his attacks on the press and, above all, in his assaults on the rule of law - he's even attacking his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. This is autocracy of the classic kind.

GROSS: My guest is Norm Eisen. He's the chairman of the board of CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and served as President Obama's ethics czar and ambassador to the Czech Republic. His new book is called "The Last Palace." After a break, we'll talk about allegations surrounding President Trump and conflicts of interest, including questions surrounding his nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WOJCIECHOWSKI'S "TWIRL")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Norm Eisen, who served as President Obama's ethics czar. In 2011, Obama appointed Eisen to serve as ambassador to the Czech Republic, a position he held nearly four years. During that time, he saw the rise of illiberalism, anti-democratic leaders and movements in the Czech Republic and other parts of Europe. And now Eisen says he's witnessing illiberalism catch hold in the U.S. Eisen's new book about his tenure as ambassador, illiberalism and the mansion that became the ambassador's residence is called "The Last Palace." Eisen is a co-founder and current board chair of CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has filed legal challenges against President Trump on issues related to ethics, financial conflicts of interest and the Emoluments Clause of the constitution. Eisen and Richard Painter, who served as President George W. Bush's ethics czar, have worked together on some of these challenges.

You see the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court as being deeply illiberal. Describe why you say that.

EISEN: Never before in our almost 230-year history have we had a president who is a named subject in a criminal investigation pick his own judge. And he's chosen one who, as far as we can tell, has the most extreme views of any sitting federal judge on the president's immunity from the rule of law, that a president, for example, cannot be prosecuted. And then you have the broken process, Terry - 100,000 documents withheld from the Senate about Kavanaugh's record on broad, sweeping, unsubstantiated so-called constitutional privilege grounds. I was working in the White House when we turned over Elena Kagan's documents. We gave them every page. And the night before the hearing, 40,000 pages of Kavanaugh's record are suddenly dropped on the Senate. How can you possibly read 40,000 pages overnight?

So it's a very dangerous situation because of the substance but also the process. And when you put it together with the fact that Kavanaugh could be going on the court to be the deciding vote, not just on whether the president can be prosecuted, say, for obstruction of justice - can the president pardon himself? Can the president fire a special counsel? There's a plethora of questions that could be outcome determinative for accountability in the Trump administration. And the president is picking his own judge to decide those questions.

GROSS: So say that Justice Kavanaugh is confirmed, which, I think most people think is likely. If there's a question that comes before the Supreme Court regarding President Trump's ethics or the Robert Mueller investigation, whether the president has the right to do anything pertaining to the Mueller investigation, like ordering his firing or whatever, do you think that Justice Kavanaugh should recuse himself? And, like, what are the precedents or the laws pertaining to a Supreme Court justice's recusal in a situation like that? Has there ever been a situation like that?

EISEN: We've never had a situation like this. The situation has stimulated already what I believe is a looming constitutional conflict. It's not only my view. I've written this week with the constitutional scholar Larry Tribe and with a Republican former federal appellate judge, Tim Lewis. And the two of them join me in explaining that for the first time in our history, we have a Supreme Court justice who's facing a constitutional conflict.

The first of them is the Caperton decision. There, you had a state Supreme Court judge who was put on the bench by an enormous spending campaign intervention by a coal baron, and then the coal baron had cases before the West Virginia Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court held, no, this judge has a conflict; he can't rule on the decisions of his patron. Well, Kavanaugh has a far more profound patronage relationship with Trump than this West Virginia judge did.

GROSS: So if Judge Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court and a case came before him pertaining to a potential violation on the part of President Trump, the president who appointed him to the Supreme Court, if he did not recuse himself - and many people, including you, thought he should recuse himself - is there, like, another arbiter of whether a Supreme Court justice should recuse himself? Is that - is a justice's decision the final decision in such a circumstance?

EISEN: Historically, it always has been. The recusal standards are loose at the Supreme Court, and it's been left to the individual justice. And if Kavanaugh refused to do it himself, there would undoubtedly be litigation saying, hey, you other eight justices, please, you have a constitutional obligation. Whether they would do it or not, I don't know. But we're facing...

GROSS: A constitutional obligation to do what?

EISEN: To knock Kavanaugh off. You should rule that his sitting on this offends the Constitution. It offends the principles of these other cases. To boil it down, it's a core constitutional principle of ours that a president and no other American can choose a judge in his or her own case, and that's what's happening here. And so I believe the there is a strong argument to be made that this is a constitutionally required recusal of a kind we've never seen before on the Supreme Court.

GROSS: When you were the ethics czar for President Obama and his White House, did you ever have to consider the possibility of what would happen if Obama was brought before a court and the decision went as high as the Supreme Court and what that would mean? I mean, he appointed Justice Kagan and...

EISEN: Yes.

GROSS: ...Sotomayor.

EISEN: Yes. The difference, of course, is - and I worked on both of those nominations when I was in the White House. Terry, the difference is that not only did the president not have looming cases dealing with his personal liability - not official. As far as I know, there was never even a grand jury convened to look at anybody who worked in the White House. Certainly, there were never prosecutions and guilty pleas and trials and talk of pardoning White House officials or the - President Obama pardoning himself. Judge Kavanaugh may have to rule on whether a president can pardon himself, which is flatly unconstitutional, in my view.

GROSS: In the interest of disclosure, I should say that Chuck Grassley, who is the judiciary chair, put a hold on your appointment as ambassador. So I'm not - you know, I don't want to say that that's influencing your decision, but I think we need to disclose that.

EISEN: Yes. I was the subject of a hold. Chairman Grassley, who I respect and actually have a good relationship with, who's been - historically, has been a fighter for whistleblowers, which has been a cause of mine as well in the almost two decades since I founded CREW - we ultimately shook hands and worked it out, and he lifted his hold. And in the end, I was confirmed by the Senate with strong Republican support. And so there's no grudge there.

GROSS: My guest is Norm Eisen, President Obama's former ethics czar and ambassador to the Czech Republic. He chairs the board of CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. And he's the author of the new book "The Last Palace." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMANDA GARDIER'S "FJORD")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Norm Eisen. He served as President Obama's ethics czar and ambassador to the Czech Republic. He chairs the board of CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

I want to ask you about the possibility of obstruction of justice. A lot of people have been questioning whether President Trump has done anything that would reach the, like, legal threshold for obstruction of justice. Are there examples that you think are the most compelling examples of that - 'cause this is something you've been investigating and writing about.

EISEN: There is very substantial evidence that President Trump obstructed justice. The most critical one were the days in and around his firing of Jim Comey because remember; he had demanded loyalty from Comey. When Comey didn't get the hint, he said, can you see your way clear to letting the Flynn thing go? When Comey wouldn't do that, he fired him. And everything that we've learned since then has only reinforced that - his anger at Sessions, trying to get Sessions to un-recuse himself and come back on the case, which is against the law, his constant public threats berating Mueller and the investigators, his dictating on Air Force One a false statement for his son about what happened at the Trump Tower meeting.

This is a mosaic of evidence that reveals a desire to frustrate an investigation for the wrong reasons. This is a classic case of obstruction. And frankly, if it were anybody else besides the president of the United States, they would have been indicted long ago.

GROSS: So again, before becoming the ambassador to the Czech Republic under President Obama, you were Obama's ethics czar. And before that, you cofounded and now are the chair of the board of CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. And CREW has been examining possible ethics violations committed by President Trump. So you have at least one suit that's in progress. How many suits does CREW have that are active now?

EISEN: Terry, we've opened over 300 legal matters against the Trump administration.

GROSS: Three-hundred.

EISEN: Over 300 legal matters - not all of them are lawsuits. Some are in court. Some are complaints that we file with federal agencies, a variety of other FOIA litigation - a wide variety. Perhaps the most famous are the emoluments cases. I'm co-counsel with D.C. and Maryland AGs in a case that has made it past the motion to dismiss in Maryland involving the Trump hotel.

We got the first criminal referral relating to the Stormy Daniels matter 'cause Trump failed to put required information down on one of his federal disclosures. And he signed it under 18 USC 1001 penalty - false statement penalty. It's that perjury thing. We caught him, and the Office of Government Ethics made a criminal referral to DOJ - and, you know, over 298 others.

GROSS: So recently in a case that CREW is a party to with the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland, the case in which the judge said that the states actually have standing because hotels and commerce in their areas were being affected by Trump's hotel in Washington, which obviously has certain advantages because it's branded by the president - so the suit is progressing now. So what does it mean that they got standing in terms of the possibility of other plaintiffs and other similar cases getting standing?

EISEN: Terry, the standing doctrine is a rule that a plaintiff has to show that they have injury. And the judge in this case said, yes, D.C. and Maryland, you're suffering sufficient injury because Trump is collecting these allegedly impermissible, unconstitutional benefits - we call them emoluments - from foreign governments and some domestic ones at his hotel in D.C.

And that's hurting you in a variety of ways, disadvantaging - you can't offer emoluments to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And so it's hurting those two states in a variety of ways. It very much throws open the door both to other states but also to private litigants 'cause now there's a holding that Trump's violation - alleged violation of the Constitution can give rise to a lawsuit that this is what the Constitution meant that the framers did not want. Of course they did not want a president to do this. Think about it. You could collect bribes all over the world from people if this were legal.

Trump has set it up by refusing to divest his businesses unlike every other president of both parties in the modern era. So now the door is open. And it's also open in our case. And we're proceeding with the next steps, and we're pushing for discovery in the case. And we hope to get it.

GROSS: So one of the things that's already happened in this case is that the judge defined emoluments, which is important because no one really thought about emoluments until President Trump ran for office because of all of his commercial interests. And people have been trying to figure out, what did the framers mean when they use the word emoluments? So how did the judge on this case define emoluments?

EISEN: Well, we urged the judge to define emoluments in essence as anything of value. It stems from the historical meaning of the term. An amicus brief was submitted by law professors and historians that showed that's what it meant at the time. They, Terry, (laughter) actually went back and looked at all the dictionaries that were in use at the time the Constitution was written. And this was either the first or the second definition of emoluments in virtually all the dictionaries.

The president's lawyers urged a far narrower definition that was out of sync with history and that the judge ultimately rejected. They said an emolument is only a personal services contract. So Saudi Arabia could pour all the money that they wanted to through his hotel, even renting whole floors and leaving them vacant. But that would be allowed. The same amount of money would be forbidden only if they had a contract with the president. That's silly. And, of course, the court rejected it.

GROSS: And wasn't Trump's team also defining emoluments as an out-and-out bribe of officiants?

EISEN: Well, if you have this notion of a quid pro quo of a personal services contract, that does have intimations of a bribe.

GROSS: I see.

EISEN: But it would be tantamount to a bribe. Obviously, they were saying that, you know, the Saudi king would not necessarily, in the contract, say with Trump, you're going to change American policy. He'd say, you're going to advise us on how best to bring peace in the Middle East. But it would be tantamount to a bribe. That was the judge's point. And the judge was right.

GROSS: So if you win the emoluments case, what happens?

EISEN: The president is forced to stop taking emoluments through...

GROSS: Would it apply just to the hotel?

EISEN: Well, the - this - yes. This order, this ruling would apply just to the hotel, but the precedent would apply to everything he's doing. And so it could be used by other courts, other judges, other litigants to cut off other sources of emoluments. And that's the right way for the legal system to operate, Terry, because, you know, you - in a - we've never had an emoluments case. In a historic case like this, you want to take it step by step, so that's the appropriate way to proceed.

GROSS: Norm Eisen, thank you so much for talking with us.

EISEN: Terry, thank you.

GROSS: Norm Eisen is chairman of the board of CREW, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington. He served as President Obama's ethics czar and ambassador to the Czech Republic. His new book is called "The Last Palace."

After we recorded our interview yesterday, The New York Times published an op-ed headlined "The Quiet Resistance Inside The Trump Administration" written by a senior official in the administration, whose identity the Times is keeping anonymous. The writer said that he or she is one of the Trump appointees who have, quote, "vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office," unquote. The official also writes that the president's impulsiveness results in, quote, "half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back," unquote.

After we take a short break, film critic David Edelstein will review the movie "Blaze," directed and co-written by Ethan Hawke, inspired by the life of country music singer and songwriter Blaze Foley. This is FRESH AIR.

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