To get away from the Atlanta judge and jury, former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows (as opposed to the other three chiefs of staff under Trump) argued that whatever happened with regard to his conduct in and relating to the Georgia 2020 vote, it was part of the job. In an opinion by a well-respected conservative, Chief Judge William Pryor, for a unanimous court, Meadows got one hell of a spanking for his efforts.
At bottom, whatever the chief of staff’s role with respect to state election administration, that role does not include altering valid election results in favor of a particular candidate.
With one swipe, Judge Pryor bitch-slapped both Meadows and Trump, the “altering valid election results” clearing up any lingering doubts as to the merit of the Trump delusion that the election was stolen and that he was just a pathetic loser.
But what the decision does not state is what the job of a president’s chief of staff is. At a hearing, Meadows testified that he was on duty 24/7 to “oversee all the federal operations” and “be aware of everything that was going on.” Not terribly specific. The chief of staff is a unique position in the federal hierarchy, a cabinet-level position chosen exclusively by the president without need for senate advice and consent. The job duties posted by the Clinton administration weren’t much more help.
CHIEF OF STAFF
The Office of the Chief of Staff is responsible for directing, managing and overseeing all policy development, daily operations, and staff activities for the President. This office coordinates and communicates with all departments and agencies of the Administration.
To a large extent, the job is to do whatever the president wants or needs a chief of staff to do. If the president tells the CoS to set up and listen in to a telephone call where he asks the Georgia secretary of state to find him enough votes to win the state, is that beyond the scope? If the president tells him to figure out a way to claim votes were stolen, is that beyond the scope?
Obviously, if a CoS believes that he’s being asked to perform unlawful acts, he can resign. But can he do as directed by the president for no better reason than the president said so, and his job is to do whatever the president tells him to do?
When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.
–Richard Milhous Nixon to David Frost, 1977
It may be the Trump believed, facts notwithstanding, that the election was stolen. It may be that Meadows believed it as well. Or it may be that Meadows knew it was baseless, but that his job was to serve a president who believed otherwise. Was it the role of the CoS to refuse to do president’s bidding? While it may well be argued that it’s the chief’s role to tell the president that he’s wrong, or that what he’s doing is wrong, what is the job when the president decides not to heed the chief?
It may seem abundantly clear that whatever was happening with regard to Georgia was beyond the pale, beyond legality, and that Meadows should have refused to be party to a disgraced loser who couldn’t accept the humiliation of being an abject failure. But where is the line? Judge Pryor had no problem finding this conduct was beyond the scope of his duties as the president’s chief of staff, but it fails to answer the question of what those duties are and how a CoS would know when his service to the president could put him in the dock.
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