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An Open Letter to Dina Powell

Dear Dina,

We haven’t spoken in a long time and when we did speak it tended to be perfunctory. A DC “good to see you” at Mike’s or Julianna’s or the dinner or the brunch. You always struck me as an operator, but not the offensive kind. An operator who takes a job that requires actual work, who tries to do good even with one eye on the exit, who is smart and conscientious and genuinely warm, who managed to participate and thrive in a political culture that can suck the souls right out of people. You worked with several appointees at the White House who suffered from that affliction.

That’s why, when we discussed the dilemma facing reasonable people inside the Trump administration, I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt. The question: If the situation is as dire as anonymous senior administration sources (which included you, I assume) tell Mikey or Maggie or Ashley or Swan, then what moral obligations confront the adults in the room? Would it be better to walk out the door and tell us what you saw? Or is it safer for someone like you to remain, take the lumps, and serve as a bulwark against Trump’s chaos and nationalism?

The debate turned on the value the adults had inside the building versus the value you could have outside of it. It’s fair to say that we were skeptical about the impact folks like you were having—from the Paris climate accords to DACA to tariffs, it’s never been clear to those of us on the outside what the “Committee to Save America” was saving us from. But here’s the thing! You reached out to tell those of us on the outside you were saving us from a lot. You don’t understand, friends of yours conveyed to all of us, how bad it is. Every day is a battle. Every day we prevent crazy shit from happening. Go easier.

To me, this was hard to dismiss outright. I couldn’t know how much worse things might get. And I couldn’t know what the precise value of speaking out would be. Would it make a dent in Paul Ryan’s cynicism and apathy? Plus, it’s not like this was good for your reputation. And you were an executive at Goldman Sachs who did not have to take this job. Yes, it was frustrating to watch the adults try to have their cake and eat it too: to work for Trump while leaking to the press in order to avoid the taint of too much Trumpness.

But there was an obvious implication here. One way to square all of your actions. If you couldn’t speak out because you had to stay, when you left, you had to speak out. The argument you made against telling the truth and blowing the whistle would no longer be applicable. The direness that required silence would upon leaving require your voice. So my view was, let’s see what happens when Dina Powell or Gary Cohn or any of the committee members leave. We got what we expected from Spicer or Priebus and I don’t have any hope that Steve Mnuchin will stick his neck out (prove me wrong, Steve!). But let’s see if Dina meant what she said. Let’s see if she’ll tell us what she saw for the good of the country.

Sadly, that’s not what happened. You parted with Trump on “good terms” and secured a new and better job back at Goldman Sachs (and I doubt managers at Goldman have dispensation to create media firestorms that alienate the president). Even Omarosa has behaved more honorably! She went on Big Brother and told us what was up. What do you say to people who ask why you won’t do the same? What’s the justification now? I genuinely wonder.

The truth is, a society in which Donald Trump can be president is one that will ask no accountability of you. You can take your new job at Goldman. You can cover up what you saw and never pay a price. The operators in DC and New York may even call it professionalism. You can ignore what you told people to justify the job now that it’s no longer convenient. You don’t need integrity. It’s not something the elite requires anymore.

But that won’t change what you did and what you didn’t do. That won’t change what you said and what you refuse to say now. The truth is the truth, and it matters. The moral obligation you have can’t be dealt with by spinning reporters on background or reminding people how charming and lovely you are in conversation. You claimed to have a duty to your country. But until you tell us what you saw, until you account for your time in the White House, all you will have protected is yourself.

Let’s go, Dina. Let’s hear it! I’m rooting for you! Tell us, please. Any microphone will do. Tomorrow’s a good day. Or the day after. Or today.

Looking forward to it,

Jon

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