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Trump Biographer on the President’s Cognitive Decline & Whether He Will Be Impeached

StoryJanuary 18, 2018
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White House doctor Ronny Jackson said Tuesday President Trump is in good health and displayed a normal score on a cognitive exam, amid mounting questions about President Trump’s mental health. But on Wednesday, medical experts said that the results from Trump’s recent physical exam show the president has high levels of cholesterol and is at serious risk of a heart attack. We speak to journalist David Cay Johnston about the possibility of impeachment or the invocation of the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: What about President Trump’s sanity, this issue that has taken hold, people observing? We had Dr. Bandy X. Lee on Democracy Now!, the Yale psychiatrist who is part of the “duty to warn” movement, has been speaking with a lot of congressmembers.


AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you’re one of the few reporters who has followed Donald Trump for decades, well over 30 years. What have you observed about him? And do you think he’ll serve out this term in office?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Just to be clear, just short of 30 years. It’ll be 30 years in May.

Well, in my book, I don’t go into this issue of “Is he sane or not sane?” If you mean “Does he know right from wrong?” of course he does. He is, at times, delusional. He makes stuff up. He’s done it his whole life. You can see him do it on TV all the time.

What I do is rely on, thanks to someone else who found this out, the standard in the Army Field Manual for which military officers you promote. And there’s a set of standards in conduct: Do you have empathy? Do you take responsibility? Do you listen to others? Do you consider options? Remember, Trump always says, “There’s no other choice. We have no other choice.” If Donald Trump had not dodged the draft, and become a military officer in the Vietnam War era, he would never have been promoted above junior lieutenant, by those standards. He lacks all of the basic qualifications that have been worked out by the Army for promoting officers.

As to his cognitive function, you know the test the doctor said he passed? I went and took the test. It’s on the internet. Donald could have looked it up ahead of time. So, I don’t find that at all dispositive. When I first met Donald, he could speak in coherent sentences. When he isn’t reading, when there isn’t a teleprompter or piece of paper, you will often see Donald only speak in adjectives. “It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. It’s a wonderful tax bill. It’s just—it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.” And he doesn’t remember names. He doesn’t see people. Now, we all have cognitive decline. I’m almost as old as Donald. When I was a boy, I would do four—multiply four digits by four digits in my head. I can’t remember a 10-digit phone number now. I have to write it down. That’s the normal rate of decline. Clearly, Donald’s decline is significant. In addition to that, there’s this other basic problem. Donald isn’t very smart. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t listen. It’s been reported that he only spends five hours a day being president, and that includes lunch. And so, if he doesn’t know anything, and he’s presented with all these complex issues, of course he’s going to have to find some way to cope with it. He just makes stuff up, and he talks in adjectives. Word salad.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: OK. So, his—you say that his cognitive abilities have suffered a precipitous decline, that he’s in violation of his oath of office. Could you comment then on the debates that continue about whether he can and should be impeached? I mean, you’ve suggested—


NERMEEN SHAIKH: —that not only can he be potentially impeached, but also that he could face criminal prosecution?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Oh, I think if you’re going to impeach him, you have to do that. The 25th Amendment isn’t going to happen. It doesn’t work, unless Donald suddenly tears his clothes off and says, “The Martians are coming!” And I assure you that Breitbart and Fox News will then say, “We need to run to the basements. The Martians are coming.” Only if the Democrats get control of the House and the Senate will he be impeached. And he will be if that happens.

Here’s the problems you’re going to face. If you’re going to impeach him over the Russians and the—if you go back and carefully read the initial email Rob Goldstone sent to Donald Trump Jr., they were already cooperating with them. It says “as part of our—of Russia’s effort to help you.” That’s not a “Hey, we’d like to help you.” That’s “Here’s the next development.” If you remove Donald Trump because of the Russians, you have to remove Mike Pence, because he’s also the beneficiary of the Russians’ effort to make sure Hillary Clinton didn’t become president. That was their effort, primarily, because they knew that she would push to make him give up—Putin to give up the Crimea and other things. If you remove Mike Pence, as well, then a Democrat, presumably Nancy Pelosi, as speaker of the House, becomes president. There are some who are going to scream, “This is a coup d’état!” So, were that to happen, whoever is speaker, presumably Nancy Pelosi, should say, “I am a caretaker president 'til the end of this term. I will not run for office. I'm certainly going to pursue the policies I think we should pursue, but I will not run for office, and I will not be involved in the campaign whatsoever.” It’s the only honest way to do this.

If Donald isn’t impeached, the Democrats don’t take back the House and the Senate, in 2020 he will be challenged by Republicans. If he loses, “Rigged elections! Rigged elections! It was those people out there rigged the election.” If he wins the primaries and runs again and loses, even if he lost 50 states, you know, did worse than Gene McCarthy did in 1972—not Gene McCarthy, George McGovern, in 1972, he’ll say the same thing: “It was illegitimate!” Just look what he’s saying now: “Hillary Clinton really didn’t win the election.” And Donald Trump, out of office, unless he serves two full terms and leaves office, he will go around the country fomenting violence and revolution. And the reason we know this is, during the campaign, he would point to people and say, “Beat that guy up! I’ll pay your legal bills,” which he was never going to do. Removed from office, unable to acknowledge his own shortcomings, unable to do what—Richard Nixon, at the end of the day, was a patriot who understand he had to resign for the welfare of the country. He’s not Richard Nixon. He will say the government is illegitimate, and make trouble.

That’s why if they’re going to impeach him, they need to have a plan to indict him, convict him and send him to prison. And there are so many crimes Donald Trump has committed. Most successful major criminals never get arrested. Donald Trump is a man who’s twice had trials for income tax fraud, civil. He lost them both. He’s confessed to sales tax fraud. He spent years deeply, deeply entangled—

AMY GOODMAN: Three seconds.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: —with a major cocaine trafficker, in ways that make no sense unless they were in business together.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, his new book, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

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