On Monday, appearing at his first press conference since Donald Trump was made president-elect, Barack Obama spoke proudly about his administration’s track record, which was squeaky clean by two-term presidential standards. “I am very proud of the fact that we will—knock on wood—leave this administration without significant scandal,” he said. “We’ve made mistakes, there have been screw-ups, but I will put the ethics of this administration and our track record in terms of just abiding by the rules and norms, and keeping trust with the American people—I will put this administration against any administration in history.”
On the one hand, Obama is playing a familiar (and often frustrating) role: he’s being professorial, instructing Trump that the office of the presidency has certain norms and that following those norms leads to success. On the other, he’s building a narrative that is going to be weaponized once Trump takes office: Things are good right now, and when they go south everyone will know who to blame.
Unfortunately for Trump, he’s building a cabinet that is destined to plague his administration with scandals. Many of the people set for top jobs in his administration are either bomb throwers or have closets practically made out of skeletons.
Steve Bannon deserves every bit of scrutiny he’s now receiving. A white nationalist who ran a website that regularly denigrates women and minorities, Bannon’s appointment has given us a taste of what the next four years will be: a continuation of the worst parts of 2016, in which one scandal follows another in a seemingly never-ending loop. Just two days after he was made equal partners with incoming Chief of Staff Reince Preibus, The Daily Beast reported that Bannon may have received illegal payments from a PAC funded by megadonors (and Trump superfans) Robert and Rebekah Mercer.
But nearly every frontrunner for a cabinet position is prone to scandal. Ben Carson and Rudy Giuliani were both born with a foot in their mouth; Michelle Rhee’s track record suggests unending conflict and scandal, and her husband is Kevin freaking Johnson; Laura Ingraham as press secretary guarantees fighting a war on two fronts, the left and the right; John Bolton has never been to a country he didn’t want to bomb; Jeff Sessions has links to white supremacists. Trump’s refusal to relinquish assets, and his insistence that his children receive classified briefings, suggest that his business interests will also be a source of scandal throughout his presidency.
Obama was right. His administration has as clean a record as any, no small accomplishment in these hyper-partisan times. In contrast, Trump’s cabinet is destined to be beset by scandals both major and minor from day one.