Blowing Donald’s Trumpet aint no easy!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

When Money is Lost Something is Lost
When Reputation is Lost, Everything is Lost

By S Narendra

An international story is playing out of Washington involving the White House that we all are reading as a political story. If we analyse it under the lens of communication and PR, we notice a highly charged case study on Reputation Risk and Redemption Management. This is relevant to all communicators.
Very interestingly, this story is taking place in the janmabhoomi of PR and communication theory and practice. The theater (pun intended) of action is in Washington DC, capital of Madison Avenue, K-street, the Capitol Hill all coming under its nickname – the political beltway, it is also known as the swamp that sucks into its murkiness any and everyone (irrespective of their reputation for integrity and independence of mind), making the job of keeping one’s reputation and public esteem risky.
The news story of Russian espionage during the 2016 US presidential election was supposedly used for swinging it in favour of Republican candidate  Donald Trump. As the FBI was probing the allegation, its chief James Comey was fired by President Trump. Initially, it was explained that the President   had acted on the recommendation of the Deputy Attorney General , Rod Rosenstein who had said in a note that FBI under its  director Comey had not properly  conducted the investigation into the security implications relating to the e-mails of former  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent over a private  server. The e-mails were leaked to WiKiLEAKS allegedly by Russian intelligence,  But  President  Trump contradicted this version in a TV interview and took personal responsibility for  dismissing  FBI chief. He told the interviewer that he had decided to fire Comey even without Rosenstein’s recommendation since FBI was pursuing allegation of links between his election campaign in 2016 and Russia. In one single moment, Rosenstein’s reputation was in tatters,
Rosenstein, was appointed by President Trump as the US deputy attorney general barely a few weeks before  he penned the infamous note on FBI director. Rosenstein had come into the new office with a formidable reputation as a legal  ace as well as for person known for  impartiality and independent mind.  In a previous stint in the Justice department, Rosenstein was appointed by the Republican President G.W.Bush, as a persecutor. He was retained in the post by President Obama. This clearly showed that he was highly respected across the political spectrum for his professional eminence and for his integrity. Therefore, Rosenstein’s note recommending James Comey’s dismissal shocked his admirers in media and legal professionals saw him as buckling under political pressure. The President’s public admission that the FBI director was fired because he was pursuing investigation into alleged links between his election campaign and Russian spying exposed Rosenstein to public ridicule, as Trump’s hatchet man.
Another factor that made Rosenstein position questionable was that as the deputy attorney general he was technically placed  in charge of FBI and its investigation. His boss Jeff Sessions, the AG, had recused himself from overseeing the FBI investigations into Russian spying case, due to his previous business links with Russia. There was huge expectation that Rosenstein would resist political pressure and ensure a fair FBI probe into the case of Russian interference in American poll.  
Media stories had appeared to the effect that FBI director had declined to oblige the President when personally approached   for closing the relevant  probe. This revelation led to demands for impeachment of the President for obstructing justice.
Amidst the turmoil, there were questions about the role of Rosenstein, about the reasons for him to give up his principles that had built his reputation.
This sad saga took a new twist when Rosenstein announced the appointment of a Special Counsel for supervising the FBI probe into Russian espionage. His decision to name a former FBI director, Mueller enjoying enormous respect for his integrity and independence won large measure of support. This step paved the way for Rosenstein  to partially re-establish  his reputation. In the process, Rosenstein did something that every PR person wants to do in a crisis situation. He changed the media headlines. The word ‘impeachment’ of the President   that was gaining ground was buried. The move also restored to some extent the reputation of the American democracy as a credible political system even though presided over by  a whimsical chief executive.
According to media reports, the deputy attorney general had announced the appointment of Special Counsel, without seeking the consent of his immediate boss or the President.
The Author:
Ex adviser to PMs and former
Spokesperson, Govt of India
A commentator in the New York Times summed up the lesson coming out of this story thus: ‘I expect more members of the Trump administration will find themselves under pressure to violate their own principles. I hope they will remember both lesions of Rosenstein saga. Helping Donald Trump isn’t worth your reputation. And you can often recover, at least partially, from your own mistakes.’
Tail piece: Rod Rosenstein   may have recovered his reputation and tried to change the headlines away from impeachment. But President Trump seems hell bent on refuelling the media stories about his attempts to stall the FBI investigations by criticising the appointment of the Special Counsel as political persecution. Tweet after Tweet from the President describing the ongoing probe as ‘Witch Hunt’ keeps alive the controversy.  


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