President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump arrive to the "Make America Great Again Welcome Concert" at the Lincoln Memorial, Jan. 19, 2017, in Washington. 
Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

After personally pressuring Park Service, Trump faces new questions

A few weeks ago, the former president of a Federal Reserve Bank raised an alarming concern. On Twitter, Lionel McKenzie, who led the Minneapolis Fed acknowledged his fear that the Trump White House might try to manipulate the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is responsible for reports on unemployment and job creation.

At the time, it was hard to know what to make of such unease. The Republican president is clearly comfortable with radicalism, but would Trump go so far as to lean on government agencies to give him dubious information simply to make him feel better?

Keep this question in mind when reading the Washington Post’s scoop from last night.
On the morning after Donald Trump’s inauguration, acting National Park Service director Michael T. Reynolds received an extraordinary summons: The new president wanted to talk to him.

In a Saturday phone call, Trump personally ordered Reynolds to produce additional photographs of the previous day’s crowds on the Mall, according to three individuals who have knowledge of the conversation. The president believed that the photos might prove that the media had lied in reporting that attendance had been no better than average.
This was Saturday morning, the start of Trump’s first full day as president. It was a morning in which he presumably received his first intelligence briefing as the Commander in Chief, ahead of an appearance at the CIA in which he’d deliver his first public remarks since his inauguration.

And what was on his mind? Trump was convinced that his inaugural crowd was bigger than news organizations claimed – so he personally reached out to the Park Service director, asking him to provide information that would soothe his bruised ego.

He then went to the CIA and lied about his crowd size. His press secretary fueled the fire with a tantrum later in the day.

For its part, the White House isn’t denying the presidential outreach to the Park Service. On the contrary, a Trump spokesperson acknowledged the call and said it’s proof of Trump being “constantly in touch.”

This, apparently, was the best spin Trump World could come up with.

There’s a broader significance to this that Americans need to appreciate. Note, for example, that after Trump was outraged by reality, and asked the Park Service to provide him evidence consistent with his desires, the service sent additional photographs that confirmed that the media was correct. Trump took this information and proceeded to lie about his crowd size anyway.

In other words, the president didn’t believe reality, he sought additional evidence, he considered the new information, and he then decided to reject reality once more because it made him feel better about himself.

There’s also the unsettling realization that Trump struggles to separate what matters from what feeds his unhealthy ego. No one, especially those in positions of great power and influence, should be this obsessed with their own popularity.

But perhaps most important is the fact that the president personally pressured a federal agency to tell him what he wanted to hear, facts be damned. We need to know whether Trump intends to keep doing this with other agencies.

If the unemployment rate gets worse, will the president personally call the head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics to ask for “alternative facts”? What about the intelligence agencies investigating Russia’s espionage operations to help put him in office?

If Trump wants political enemies to face criminal charges, how many calls does he intend to make to Justice Department prosecutors? If Trump wants to go to war, how many phone calls does he intend to make to the CIA?