Is Donald Trump the first president to dispatch private emissaries to conduct presidential business? You might actually think so, listening to the recent barrage of media denunciations on this point.
“Giuliani’s role as Trump’s man in Ukraine,” asserted Financial Times, was “in defiance of diplomatic norms.”
rather than “go through all of the agencies of the government?”
These are nonsense charges, of course, as the media sharpshooters certainly know – or ought to know. Trump’s use of Giuliani was perfectly in keeping with “diplomatic norms.” The role of special presidential envoys, with or without formal rank or title, is enshrined in US history and embodied in the Appointments Clause of the US Constitution.
It all started with George Washington – who better? – who sent emissaries overseas for negotiations without legislative approval. His successor, John Adams, dispatched three US envoys to France in a fruitless attempt to avert what turned into a “Quasi War” (1798-1800).
Fifty years on, President James Polk detailed a special emissary to Mexico to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war between the US and Mexico and recognized the Rio Grande as America’s southern border.
Notable in his own right as a presidential confidant and envoy was Edward House. A novelist and himself the subject of numerous biographies, “Colonel” House (the rank was really a nickname) served as Woodrow Wilson’s personal diplomatic representative to the European powers before, during, and after World War I.
Franklin Roosevelt, an admirer of Colonel House, employed his own intimate friend and adviser, Harry Hopkins, in a very similar fashion. During World War II, in fact, Hopkins lived in the White House when not away on secret presidential missions outside of usual diplomatic channels. FDR’s reliance on Hopkins was a constant thorn in the side of Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who found himself routinely bypassed in favor of the “American Rasputin.”
Key elements of the Roosevelt-Hopkins Oval Office relationship were reprised between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Like FDR, rather than go through his Cabinet, Nixon preferred to run foreign affairs out of the White House. Thus it was Kissinger, not State Secretary William Rogers, who was sent flying off on that secret mission to Beijing.
President Trump, in his dealings with foreign leaders, has an embarrassing abundance of reasons not “to go through all of the agencies of the government” (to use Chris Wallace’s stodgy Beltway phrase). The contamination of Trump’s official White House communications channels – including all those NSA unmaskings – began on Day 1, if not before, and the leaking since has been neither stanched nor slowed. Under such circumstances, sending private communications via personal emissaries, including one’s attorney, makes eminent sense.
It was a similar rationale that prompted FDR, needing to ensure absolute wartime security, to delegate Harry Hopkins as a top-secret courier to Allied leaders (including Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin).
As a parting note on the matter, can we doubt that a President Hillary would have continued to call on the manifold skills of her favorite political operative, Sidney Blumenthal, just as she did throughout her career – for the Lewinsky scandal, Libya debacle, and Steele dossier, for example – and that the rabid watchdogs of the mainstream media would have collectively yawned and looked the other way?