Gwen Moritz

One Day Last Week

Gwen Moritz Editor's Note

One Day Last Week
Mike Pompeo

My husband saved a copy of the Pittsburgh Press from Monday, July 21, 1969. The entire front page is dedicated to the monumental event of the previous evening: Apollo 11 had landed on the moon. At the bottom of the second page is a much smaller story headlined “Sen. Kennedy Faces Charge of Leaving Scene of Crash.” 

Last Tuesday felt sort of like that: So many big news stories happening that not all could get the attention they deserved. 

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I was gobsmacked at breakfast by Doug Thompson’s front-page story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: “Filing accuses lobbyist of murder-for-hire plot.” 

Rusty Cranford’s lawyer subsequently denied the allegation, and there may be solid legal reasons he hasn’t been charged with trying to hire a hit man to kill a co-defendant in a Missouri embezzlement case. But an FBI agent submitted a sworn affidavit, and there is a transcript of Cranford’s conversation with a career criminal he was allegedly trying to hire. And this is a guy who ran mental health facilities in Arkansas and was well connected with several Arkansas state legislators, including two who have pleaded guilty to federal crimes. 

I moved upstairs to get ready for work, and the anchors of “CBS This Morning” interrupted their happy talk with breaking news: President Trump had fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and named the current director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, as his replacement. 

Conservative columnist Bret Stephens subsequently argued in The New York Times that Pompeo will be a vast improvement over Tillerson, who “came to office with no discernible worldview other than the jaded transactionalism he acquired as ExxonMobil’s C.E.O. He leaves office with no discernible accomplishment except a broken department and a traumatized staff.” 

Having actual government experience will be a welcome change at the State Department, but it’s hard to believe that jaded transactionalism acquired in the private sector, a broken agency and a traumatized staff are the reasons Tillerson was fired. They are the ways in which he was most like his boss.

After I got to work, I learned several more things that would have been big news on any normal day in normal America:

♦ An undersecretary of state, Steve Goldstein, was fired for publicly contradicting the official White House version of how Tillerson was fired. I don’t know about you, but in a dispute over whether Trump replaced a Cabinet member in a well-planned, respectful way or let him learn about it from a tweet, I’m more likely to believe the latter. It seems distinctly possible that Goldstein was fired for telling the truth.

♦ Another of Trump’s closest and most loyal staffers, personal assistant John McEntee, had been escorted from the White House on Monday evening because of an unspecified problem with his security clearance. Then I learned that McEntee would instead be working for the Trump re-election campaign. And then I learned that McEntee was being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes, which seems reasonable since being under criminal investigation was practically a job requirement for people who worked on Trump’s previous campaign.

♦ A spokesman for Immigration & Customs Enforcement resigned because he couldn’t agree with the Trump administration’s use of “misleading facts” concerning an immigration sweep in California. 

I went home Tuesday evening and tried to ignore the news for a few hours. But eventually I had to check on the special election in the congressional district that includes the Pittsburgh suburb where my husband lived when he was an Apollo-obsessed boy. By a tiny margin, a district that had favored Trump by almost 20 percentage points elected a Democrat. 

Ted Kennedy benefited from even bigger news in July 1969, but eventually the death of Mary Jo Kopechne got the attention it deserved — and still does. A movie called “Chappaquiddick” is scheduled for release on April 8; early reviews have been mixed. 

Much has changed about news and politics in the past half-century, but this much remains true: Behavior that would be career-ending and might even result in criminal prosecution of mere mortals seems to be a mere inconvenience when the politician is rich and famous. 

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at

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