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At a crucial moment, lack of trust in a president can be deadly

It’s always a problem when 62% of the public believes the President is not honest or trustworthy.

In a time of grave consequence, it’s deadly.

Consider GOP Sen. Mike Lee: no liberal flamethrower, he came out of a Senate briefing on intelligence regarding the US strike to kill Gen. Qasem Soleimani virtually on fire. He did not get the answers he deserved regarding the drone strike. The White House refused, saying sorry, we can’t give you all that info since that would require us to give away the secrets to our intelligence collection.

Even if Lee believes that, he felt disrespected. He resented the administration’s message to a co-equal branch of government: Just shut up.

“They were in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and not debate this in public,” Lee said, his fury evident. “I find it absolutely insane. It’s un-American, it’s unconstitutional and it’s wrong.” (Lee’s indignation appeared to soften after a call from the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.)

On one hand, it’s easy to see why this administration would arrogantly expect a sitting senator to ignore his constitutional duty. After all, GOP senators have saluted the White House at every turn, out of fear and sometimes favor. So why wouldn’t they all do it again and stop the pesky questions?

Hallelujah. Not that any of that would stop the White House, which seems to abide by a reckless disregard of the Constitution.

The most audacious part of this is that a White House that routinely misinforms and lies would expect trust or — even short of that — the benefit of the doubt from anyone, even the usual GOP suspects. Lee obviously takes his constitutional duties seriously, and says he will vote to approve a war powers resolution which would require any hostilities with Iran to be approved by Congress.

The Trump comparison, as always, is to Richard Nixon. But those were the good old days. Nixon lied when he had to; Trump just lies all the time.

It’s a daily occurrence that has been categorized (False, Mostly False, “Pants on Fire”), counted (7,000-plus) and, sadly, become part of the character of the national discourse.

On matters small (windmills cause cancer), on matters laughable (there’s never been an administration more open and transparent) and on serious matters of state (accusing Democrats of treason).

So when Trump suddenly switches from deriding the intel community (“passive and naive, perhaps they should go back to school”) to lauding intel during the Iran strike (“We have the best intelligence in the world”), even his loyal vice president couldn’t square the circle when asked about it by Savannah Guthrie on NBC, and simply ignored her point. And of course, there are no press briefings that would let the American people in on the administration’s thinking, just the expectation of blind loyalty — blind being the operative word.

No one is mourning Soleimani. Even so, conservative Republican Rep. Doug Collins suggested that Democrats were “in love with terrorists” simply because they dared question whether there was an imminent threat against America. Congressman Collins, meet Dr. Samuel Johnson, a wise literary scholar from centuries ago, who wrote “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

The President likes to talk about Article 2 of the constitution and how it gives him unchecked power. It does not. One clear purpose of constitutional checks and balances is to keep the presidency honest, giving Congress an opportunity to vet the accuracy of what it is being told — either in the political or legal arena. These are questions of public judgment, and judgment cannot be made without the facts.

Here’s the rub: Facts are endangered, harder to get at, easier to ignore. “Without the facts, we cannot have agreement in our badly divided nation,” said historian Ron Chernow. But, he adds, “more importantly, without the facts we cannot have an honest disagreement.”

Give me the good old days.

This piece has been updated to reflect Lee’s comments on Thursday.

CNN