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This week, the Trump team continued to deviate from norms of engagement between the administration and the press, continuing its “War on the Media.” Meanwhile, journalists are grappling with how to respond to the rise of “alternative facts” from the White House podium.
Bannon tells the media to “keep its mouth shut”
Escalating tensions between the media and the White House, Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s chief White House strategist, issued a series of scathing statements directed toward the press in an interview Wednesday with the New York Times:
“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile.”
“The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”
Alternative Facts, Dismissing Data, and an Erosion of White House Credibility
As Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources newsletter for CNN effectively summed up this week, “Four days into the Trump presidency, and we’re seeing the word ‘falsely’ a lot.”
On Saturday, the new administration’s first full day in the White House, both Trump and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer accused journalists of deliberately underreporting the size of the crowds attending the inauguration. According to the Washington Post, Trump personally called acting NPS director Michael T. Reynolds on Saturday morning, ordering Reynolds to provide additional photographs of the inauguration to prove the media had underreported attendance. Later in the day, Spicer told the White House press corps, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.” According to Politifact, the estimated attendance for Trump’s inauguration was 250,000 to 600,000. In 2013, roughly 1 million attended Barack Obama’s compared to 1.8 million in 2009.
On Sunday, during an interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kellyanne Conway, senior aide to Trump, defended Spicer by saying he had presented “alternative facts” about the crowd size. Spicer told the press on Monday: “I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may not fully understand when we come out, but our intention is never to lie to you.” Spicer later acknowledged that the administration had been relying on Metro ridership statistics obtained by an outside agency, not the correct numbers reported by the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA).
The “alternative facts” continued on Monday, when Trump repeated his previously debunked claim that the fraudulent voting of illegal immigrants had lost him the popular vote, labeled by the New York Times as a lie, and widely refuted on empirical grounds. One of the two academics who produced the study, which it’s believed the Trump team is basing their claim, stated on Tuesday that Trump was misinterpreting their findings. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Trump’s claim “shakes confidence in our democracy.”
The New York Times reported this week that Trump told House and Senate leaders a story on Monday that was meant to provide anecdotal proof of the so-called voter fraud problem. The way Trump told it, according to staffers in the room, the story revolved around German golfer Bernhard Langer and either an experience he had trying to vote in Florida, or perhaps a friend of his had.
According to the Time’s report: “Ahead of and behind Mr. Langer were voters who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote, Mr. Trump said, according to the staff members — but they were nonetheless permitted to cast provisional ballots.”
While the first press conference was originally scheduled for Monday, the administration called an impromptu meeting with the press on Saturday afternoon, spending time singling out Zeke Miller of Time for his erroneous reporting on the removal of a Martin Luther King, Jr. bust in the Oval Office, and accusing journalists of intentionally reporting false numbers on the crowd size at the inauguration. “We’re going to hold the press accountable,” Spicer told journalists, minimizing any hope of a fresh start with the media. After delivering his diatribe, Spicer left the briefing room without taking any questions from reporters.
FULL: @seanspicer: "We're going to hold the press accountable." pic.twitter.com/nK51t16Kpf
— Fox News (@FoxNews) January 21, 2017
On Monday, Spicer returned to the podium for what the Trump administration called his first “official briefing,” as if Saturday’s appearance was just a dress rehearsal. Spicer “made it clear in his first official briefing that, like his boss, he would break with Washington precedents,” according to Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker. He broke with the longstanding tradition of first calling on the AP, and instead took questions in the following order: the New York Post‘s Daniel Halper (author of Clinton Inc., a book critical of Hillary Clinton), the Christian Broadcasting Network, Univision, and Fox News Business. On Tuesday, Spicer called first on LifeZette, a website founded by Laura Ingraham, a conservative commentator and frequent contributor to Fox News, who’s also been rumored to be in the running for a White House job.
It’s worth noting that on Tuesday, Spicer told the press, Trump “won overwhelmingly with 306 electoral votes, the most since any Republican since Reagan.” This is not true. Trump’s own White House bio provides the accurate statistic: He “won 306 electoral votes, the most for a Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988.”
Trouble at the podium continued on Tuesday when Spicer refused to provide the unemployment rate in response to a reporter’s question, stating there were “several versions” of the unemployment rate calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the campaign, Trump dismissed the unemployment rate as “totally fiction,” and suggested it was closer to 42 percent. As of Jan. 6, the U.S. unemployment rate was 4.7 percent.
When asked Wednesday about a leaked draft executive order that would reconsider the opening of “black site” prisons, among other controversial proposals, Spicer said it was “not a White House document,” and that he had “no idea where it came from.” But according to the New York Times, “three administration officials said the White House had circulated it among National Security Council staff members for review on Tuesday morning.” One official provided the Times with the details of the email chain that showed “the draft order’s movements through the White House bureaucracy.” It is unclear whether Spicer knew it was a White House document and said otherwise, or if he was truly not aware of it before the press conference.
The growing number of lies makes believing the White House very difficult, and, as Just Security’s Andy Wright wrote, “our allies cannot rely on our promises and our adversaries doubt our threats. Everything gets more dangerous.” The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty argued that the Trump administration’s false claims could undermine its ability to govern.
To be clear, all politicians lie and all administrations have told untruths. Not day one, not the way that one went.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 22, 2017
Wrong. The President I worked for never told me to lie. Ever. And I doubt Pres. Bush ever told @AriFleischer to lie. Today was not normal. https://t.co/MWLx6a1Nwf
— Jay Carney (@JayCarney) January 22, 2017
This interview is so filled with inaccurate and misleading statements by Trump I don't even know where to begin. https://t.co/bqv5ANpN4t
— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) January 26, 2017
Trump’s Quest for Media Validation
Trump’s relations with the press this week reflected his preference for favorable coverage. On Wednesday, the administration released a statement titled “Praise For President Trump’s Bold Action,” displaying a cherry-picked collection of positive comments from the media, reading more like a movie review than a White House press release.
Last Friday, Trump was quick to thank Fox News for the “GREAT reviews” of his Inaugural address, and then congratulated the network on its high ratings on Wednesday.
A fantastic day and evening in Washington D.C.Thank you to @FoxNews and so many other news outlets for the GREAT reviews of the speech!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2017
Congratulations to @FoxNews for being number one in inauguration ratings. They were many times higher than FAKE NEWS @CNN – public is smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017
According to POLITICO, Trump deployed two aides to the Voice of America studios on Monday, while not unusual timing for a new administration, the visit raised some uncertainty and concern from staffers. POLITICO reported that after regulation passed in December disbanding the outlet’s bipartisan board of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, officials had expressed apprehension that the agency could be more susceptible to influence from the Trump team, and could “fall victim to propaganda.”
Responsive Norm: The L-Word
Faced with the barrage of falsehoods from the Trump administration this week, reporters and editors are debating how to address the administration’s false statements. Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley contemplated whether and when the use of the word “lie” was appropriate in characterizing Trump’s statements, noting that typically journalists err on the side of caution, referring to “disputed” or “controversial claims” in regards to politicians’ statements. The New York Times’ Tuesday headline “Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting With Lawmakers” generated more discussion, prompting explanation from the newspaper on Thursday. Dean Baquet, New York Times executive editor, told Slate in September that Trump was “hugely challenging” to cover because of the frequency with which he “so openly lies,” testing journalists’ reluctance to use the word.
Other journalists this week have continued the call for calm and level-headed reporting. In an editorial for the New York Times on Saturday, Ross Douthat described the temptation of journalists to adopt “a kind of hysterical oppositionalism, a mirroring of Trump’s own tabloid style and disregard for truth.” The danger for the media and other institutions, continued Douthat, is “that while believing themselves to be nobly resisting Trump, they end up imitating him.” On Tuesday, POLITICO’s senior media writer Jack Shafer cautioned that “[e]xtraordinary times like these call for normal measures: The meticulous, aggressive, and calm presentation of the news.” Shafer advised that journalists should not consider Trump “as the outlier liar and the worst enemy the press has ever known and come to view him as a politician whose behavior is different only in degree, not in kind.”
Over the course of the week, Trump unsettled former and current members of CIA, and the administration placed restrictions on the freedom of federal agencies to publish information and data to the public. In a surprising twist, government agencies have become increasingly political, voicing their own opposition to the expected policies of the Trump administration on social media.
Under Lockdown: Directives to Limit Agency Communication with the Public
The Trump administration has issued directives to at least seven federal agencies limiting public communication, via social media, news releases, or other mediums, according to the Sunlight Foundation, now tracking the reports.
On Friday, the National Park Service (NPS) first retweeted a New York Times post comparing two images: one from the Trump inauguration and one from the Obama inauguration in 2009. It then retweeted a post about the removal of health care, climate change, and civil rights issues from the White House website, according to POLITICO.
Looks like the Trump administration hasn't taken control of the @NatlParkService Twitter feed just yet. pic.twitter.com/dCKGHoW0cU
— Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) January 20, 2017
First reported by Gizmodo, the NPS was temporarily banned from using Twitter following the two posts. According to the Washington Post, “an urgent directive” called to shut down all of the Twitter accounts of the dozens of offices and bureaus within the Department of the Interior. The NPS has stopped recording official crowd statistics since 1995, leading to an investigation of whether the NPS’s tweets were a hack or intentional. The accounts were reactivated on Saturday morning, though NPS spokesman Thomas Crosson did not state at the time whether NPS had identified the person responsible for the retweet.
Day One: Trump regime shuts down the entire National Park Service's Twitter access, including 58 national park accounts.
— Ken Layne (@KenLayne) January 21, 2017
On Monday, the NPS Golden Gate tweeted that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third year in a row. On Tuesday, the NPS Badlands tweeted four separate posts about climate science, spurring thousands of retweets, and then deleted them, according to the Hill.
All the @BadlandsNPS climate tweets have been taken down, so here's a screenshot #factsmatter #sciencematters pic.twitter.com/qUuWzUMfC0
— Anna Nowogrodzki (@AnnaNowo) January 24, 2017
On Monday, the Huffington Post published a troubling memo issued to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), prohibiting the publication of press releases to public audiences, prohibiting blog posts, prohibiting the posting of any new content on any website, and banning social media. The memo stated that “[e]xisting, individually controlled social media accounts may be more centrally controlled.” Moreover, a Hill source told the Huffington Post that the EPA was instructed to freeze all of its grants, which could threaten the operation of programs including air quality monitoring and education, research, and waste management projects. The memo required EPA staff to not discuss the order with anyone outside of the agency. On Wednesday, the Trump team suspended its plan to erase all references of climate change from the EPA website.
On Tuesday, Buzzfeed reported that the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the main research arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), was directed that “[s]tarting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents” including “news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content.” By Tuesday night, the publication ban had been lifted, and the agency has since been working to ease concerns about the order. Michael Young, acting deputy administrator of USDA told the Washington Post that the directive was sent before he had reviewed it, stating he would not have “put that kind of guidance out.”
Stunning. The USDA is now prohibited from sharing data with the public. This should send chills down your spine. https://t.co/u3OJRMJPwm pic.twitter.com/ackOwoZaED
— Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) January 24, 2017
Also on Tuesday, the Huffington Post reported that offices within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) received a directive prohibiting “any correspondence to public officials.” According to POLITICO, however, the memo referred only to regulations falling under Trump’s “regulatory freeze,” which bars any pending regulation from moving forward without his administration’s review. An HHS official told POLITICO that HHS agencies were continuing its regular communication activities.
On Tuesday, Spicer told reporters he was unaware of any broad edict ordering the restrictions, but he was “looking into it.” Spicer added, “I don’t think it’s any surprise that when there’s an administration turnover that we’re going to review the policies.” On Wednesday, he insisted that the White House was not directing federal agencies to restrict their communications.
On Wednesday, twelve senators expressed that Trump’s policies were building a “culture of fear among federal employees.” A statement released by the American Meteorological Society on Wednesday declared that the “ability of scientists to present their findings to the scientific community, policy makers, the media, and the public without censorship, intimidation or political interference is imperative.”
Firings or Resignations?
While it remains unclear whether the four most senior members of the State Department have just resigned or were asked to leave from their positions, former State Department officials told the Washington Post that this is “the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember.” State Department officials confirmed that the second-highest ranking official in the department Patrick Kennedy, alongside Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond, and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions all “resigned unexpectedly” on Thursday afternoon. All four officials served under both Republican and Democratic administrations as career foreign service officers.
The Washington Post reports that Kennedy’s departure as a voluntary or forced exit is “a matter of dispute within the department.” According to CNN, however, two officials stated that the officials were asked to leave under the administration’s efforts to “clean house” at the department. CNN continued that “the White House usually asks career officials in such positions to stay on for a few months until their successors are confirmed.” According to a Tweet on Thursday night from the former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Bathsheba Crocker, Tom Countryman, the Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security and career foreign service officer, was told to leave the department tomorrow. Countryman, on a flight at the time, was ordered to turn around and fly back.
On Thursday afternoon, it was also unclear whether Mark Morgan, the chief of U.S. Border Patrol, was forced out of his position, or had resigned. The Washington Post reported that while it was not yet clear why Morgan left, “Morgan had clashed with the powerful Border Patrol union, which endorsed Trump for president and whose leaders were present at Trump’s announcement of his immigration crackdown at Department of Homeland Security headquarters Friday.” Other sources reported that after Morgan was asked to leave, he decided to resign.
Trump’s Visit to the CIA
On Saturday, Trump’s visit to the CIA demonstrated a number of significant norms violations. First, disregarding the agency’s traditionally apolitical identity, Trump issued nakedly political statements concerning how much of the military vote he received, suggesting that many people in the room had voted for him. He delivered his speech in front of a memorial wall that honors CIA officers who have fallen in the line of duty.
A source attending Trump’s visit told CNN that Trump’s political remarks and speculation on voting troubled many in the audience, stating, “Talking about whether we voted for Trump is offensive and foreign to us by the president … Many people felt used and awkward throughout. Of course there was applause, but it was uncomfortable.”
During Saturday’s press conference, Spicer stated that Trump had received a “five-minute standing ovation at the end in a display of their patriotism and their enthusiasm for his presidency.” The Huffington Post’s S.V. Date rebuked Spicer’s “standing ovation” reference, stating that audience members were already standing when Trump entered the room. Following the basic protocol of all federal agency employees, audience members remained standing throughout the remarks because they were not told by the president to sit down.
Trump was still talking about his “standing ovation” at the CIA in an interview later in the week with ABC’s David Muir. Trump told him, “I got a standing ovation. In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl, and they said it was equal. I got a standing ovation. It lasted for a long period of time.”
Second, Trump used the speech at the CIA as a forum to bash the media. Trump reaffirmed that he has “a running war with the media,” and blamed the “feud” between him and the intelligence community on the “dishonest” media.
The president just tried to rally CIA workforce around the idea that media is the enemy. Let that sink in
— Mark Mazzetti (@MarkMazzettiNYT) January 21, 2017
Third, Trump’s speech to the CIA was more about Trump than about the CIA. Rather than using the opportunity to develop his relationship with the intelligence community and thank members for their service, Trump’s speech conveyed a sense of self-aggrandizement and self-adulation. Trump discussed the number of times he was featured on the front cover of TIME magazine, and considered out loud whether anyone could break his record. Nick Shapiro, the chief of staff for former CIA Director John Brennan, posted on Twitter: “Former CIA Dir Brennan is deeply saddened and angered at Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes. Brennan says that Trump should be ashamed of himself.” Yael Eisentat, former counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, told the Huffington Post that people were “outraged” and she had “yet to hear anyone not disgusted.”
As a former CIA analyst and targeting officer, here's what I think about Trump's speech at the #CIA on Saturday: pic.twitter.com/6JddSmAJhW
— Nada Bakos (@nadabakos) January 25, 2017
During the GOP Party retreat on Thursday, Trump repeatedly asked for the whereabouts of recently confirmed CIA director Mike Pompeo, peering into the audience and asking, “Where is — where is Pompeo? Where the hell is he? Did he ever come here?” Members of the audience yelled back, “He’s at work!”
Trump: "Where is Pompeo? Where he? working?" pic.twitter.com/2gnJ7iJtOQ
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) January 26, 2017
Responsive Norm: The Department of Defense Attracts Attention on Social Media
On Tuesday night, news broke that the Trump administration was expected to sign two executive orders on immigration, one order issuing a temporary ban on a significant number of refugees, and a second order suspending visas for citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. At 8a.m. Wednesday morning, the Defense Department tweeted a story about an Iraqi refugee, Cpl. Ali Mohammed, who became a U.S. Marine after immigrating to the U.S. On Thursday, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters that it was “ridiculous” to think the tweets were a form of protest against Trump.
From refugee to #Marine. @USMC Cpl Ali J. Mohammed takes the fight to the doorstep of those who cast his family out.https://t.co/oSXWGrzsL7 pic.twitter.com/UVlWsaESic
— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) January 25, 2017
Responsive Norm: WMATA Live-Tweets Stats Comparing Trump and Obama Inauguration
Vox reported that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the government agency charged with operating transit services in the Washington metropolitan area, was “trolling” Trump on Friday about the crowd sizes of the Inauguration. The article noted that while a single Tweet could have blended in with other regular updates from the agency, the number and content of tweets occurring over the day generated significant visibility.
Metro Ridership as of 11am: 275k. For comparison, that's more than 8x a normal Sat & even busier than most weekdays. #wmata #womensmarch
— Metro (@wmata) January 21, 2017
As of 8:30, parking available at all stations with lots/garages. All under 50% except E Falls Chrch (65%) & Van Dorn (55%) #wmata #inaug2017
— Metro (@wmata) January 20, 2017
ETHICS AND THE LAW
This week, Trump faced a barrage of new lawsuits, while concerns remain about Trump’s unreleased tax returns, his Washington, D.C. hotel lease, and other conflicts of interest that continue to emerge.
The Winter White House: Mar-a-Lago Membership Price Doubles
First reported on Wednesday by CNBC, the initiation fee of the Mar-a-Lago resort, owned by the Trump Organization, has doubled from $100,000 to $200,000, effective Jan. 1. Former ethics czar to Obama Norman Eisen told CNBC, “This this type of naked profiteering off of a government office is what I would expect from King Louis XVI or his modern kleptocratic equivalents, not an American president.”
While Bernd Lembcke, the resort’s managing director, stated that a price increase had been under consideration since last fall, the “adjustment is likely to fan the flames of those concerned the Trump Organization is ratcheting up prices to cash in on Trump’s presidential status,” according to US News. Robert Weissman, president of the government ethics group Public Citizen, told the New York Times that the “unacceptable” fee increase created “the appearance of cashing in on the presidency and selling direct personal access to the president.”
On Wednesday night, Trump Hotels Chief Executive Officer Eric Danziger announced plans to expand the luxury hotel line from 5 to 26 major metropolitan areas in the country. According to Bloomberg, “[t]he expansion — which has the potential to benefit from Trump’s actions and profile as president — could spark further controversy.”
Trump’s Ties to the Keystone and DAPL Pipelines
This week, Trump signed two orders clearing the path for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) — both oil pipeline projects, which Obama rejected in November. Trump’s recent financial disclosures, however, have spurred conflict of interests concerns surrounding the deals.
In December, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the press that Trump had sold off his original $15,00 to $50,000 worth of shares in Energy Transfer Partners, the owner of the nearly $4 billion DAPL project. As reported by CNBC, Hicks did not say if Trump had sold all his stocks in Phillips 66, which has a 25% share of DAPL. Trump’s federal disclosure forms for 2016 reported that he owned between $100,000 and $250,000 of Phillips 66. The Washington Post also reported that CEO of Energy Transfer Partners Kelcy Warren donated over $1.5 million to GOP super PACS during the campaign, and Warren donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory Fund this June.
When asked on Tuesday about Trump’s potential conflict of interest posed by the stock ownership in the company, Spicer stated, “By law, he can’t have conflicts.” According to Slate’s inventory tracking all of Trump’s potential conflicts of interest, Trump spokesman Jason Miller insists that Trump sold all of his shares June, though without evidence.
More lawsuits for Trump: The Emoluments Clause
First reported by the New York Times on Sunday, the liberal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) filed a lawsuit against Trump alleging that payments from foreign governments staying in Trump hotels are in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. The legal team includes Harvard constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe and Norman Eisen, former ethics lawyer to Obama. On Monday morning, Trump said the case was “[t]otally without merit.”
Unlike Trump’s lawyer Sheri Dillon, who has argued that a “gift” as stated in the Constitution does not include fair-market business transactions, CREW says the transactions were the exact type of activity the framers of the Constitution were trying to address, as they were concerned more broadly by the potential for government officials to be corrupted by foreign payments or bribes. Some legal experts have noted that CREW may face difficulty in establishing a specific harm as a result of Trump’s violation, a requirement for a plaintiff to file suit. The Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Anthony Romero told the New York Times that it was independently recruiting for plaintiffs to file another suit on the grounds of the Emoluments Clause.
New Litigation: Trump’s Washington Hotel
Meanwhile, CREW filed another complaint on Friday with the General Services Administration (GSA), alleging that Trump is in violation of his own lease to manage and operate the Trump International Hotel, which is owned by the federal government. The agreement between Trump and the GSA stipulates that an elected official cannot be the holder of the building’s lease, according to the Huffington Post. After the election, the GSA stated it would decline to issue a comment until after Trump had assumed office.
According to Jesse Singal at New York Magazine, a GSA spokeswoman indicated on Thursday that the agency had planned to shortly issue a “statement” on the lease, however, the agency responded on Friday that there would be no such statement forthcoming. On Thursday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he had requested an “unredacted” version of the contract, following concerns of the conflict of interest posed by the provisions of the lease. Trump’s Washington hotel is the subject of an additional case launched this week, in which the electrical contractor AES Electrical filed a suit against the Trump Organization alleging $2 million in unpaid bills for the contractor’s work on the hotel.
More Litigation: Request for Information on Jeff Sessions
Reported by the Hill, journalist Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro, a doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), filed a lawsuit against eight federal agencies for failing to comply with their requests for more information on Trump’s pick for attorney general Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), as required under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Family Matters: Kushner’s Appointment Approved by the DOJ
Hours after Trump was sworn in as president on Friday, the Department of Justice issued an opinion concluding that Trump’s appointment of his son-in-law Jared Kushner to a position in the White House did not violate federal anti-nepotism laws. Daniel Koffsky, deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel, told CNN, “We believe that the President’s special hiring authority in 3 U.S.C. § 105(a) permits him to make appointments to the White House Office that the anti-nepotism statute might otherwise forbid.”
As Koffsky’s opinion acknowledged, however, the conclusion “departs” from earlier cases. According to the New York Times, the appointment reflected a “dramatic change.” The opinion did not, for example, explain why Kusher’s appointment was different from the Justice Department’s opinion barring former President Jimmy Carter from appointing his son as an unpaid assistant in the White House, on the grounds of anti-nepotism law.
Conway: People Don’t Care about Trump’s Tax Returns
Shortly after Trump was sworn into office on Friday, a petition called for the White House to “immediately release Donald Trump’s full tax returns, with all information needed to verify emoluments clause compliance.” As reported by the Hill, by Saturday morning the petition had reached the critical 100,000 number of signatures that require a response from the White House within thirty days, though not requiring its demands be met. On Sunday, Conway, when stating that Trump would not release his tax returns, said “people didn’t care” about his returns because they still voted him in office. The 100,000 threshold of signatures was doubled within two days, indicating the opposite.
Trump May Still Head Many Trump Businesses
Last Friday, Pro Publica reported that Trump had not fully resigned from his businesses in Florida, Delaware, and New York, where his companies are incorporated or registered to do business. The Trump team provided CNN that same day a letter of his resignation from 400 listed entities. Pro Republica published updates on Monday that Trump had filed paperwork for Florida.
THE WHITE HOUSE
It was a dramatic week, to say the least, as Trump settled into the White House and took on the job as president.
The Art of The Deal
Meanwhile, Trump’s influence has become visibly apparent in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where a large number of White House staffers work. Books authored by the president are now displayed on the shelves in the main library entrance. (While not technically a norms violation, the collection is an interesting illustration of the times.)
A contact sends along a picture of a bookcase in what's called the Old State Department Library in the EEOB. It's the first thing you see pic.twitter.com/o4hNMkyDJr
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) January 26, 2017
Send in the Feds!
If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible "carnage" going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017
After a discussion of Chicago’s homicide statistics on Fox New’s “The O’Reilly Factor” on Tuesday night, Trump sent a tweet threatening to “send in the feds!” to the city of Chicago.
In response, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel welcomed federal support in education, employment, and economic development, but held that deployment of the National Guard was “antithetical” to building trust in law enforcement. Within the community, City Council aldermen and activists expressed support for federal funding resources, but opposition to the deployment of National Guard troops. Another strand of reaction emphasized the need for substantive solutions, not Tweeting.
On Wednesday afternoon, Spicer “softened” Trump’s tweet, stating that Trump was referring to federal resources and aid.
We need a plan, not a threat. We need jobs, not jails. #Chicago
— Rev Jesse Jackson Sr (@RevJJackson) January 25, 2017
Senior Officials in the Trump Administration Have Private RNC Email Accounts
According to Newsweek, senior aides within the Trump administration including Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Sean Spicer, and Steve Bannon all have active accounts on a private Republican National Committee (RNC) email system. While it is unclear whether Trump’s staff are using their accounts, the private system could leave sensitive information more vulnerable to hacking. Under the George W. Bush administration, more than 22 million emails on the RNC system were “lost” by the White House, another risk the Trump administration shouldn’t take too lightly after calls to lock up Hillary Clinton for using private emails for government business.
Bios on the White House Website
Trump’s efforts to defend his legitimacy extend to his new White House biography page,where more than 50 percent of the text (236 of 464 words) is entirely devoted to his electoral victory, describing his win as “the largest electoral college landslide for a Republican in 28 years” and commending his ability to campaign “in places he knew Republicans have had difficulty winning.”
On Friday, the biography of First Lady Melania Trump made its debut on the White House website, and immediately raised some eyebrows. The original text of her biography read: “Melania is also a successful entrepreneur. In April 2010, Melania Trump launched her own jewelry collection, ‘Melania™ Timepieces & Jewelry,’ on QVC.” According to the Washington Post, while it not unusual for the White House biography include the First Lady’s accomplishments, “Trump’s decision to include a detailed list of her media appearances and branded retail goods is unusual.” The references to Melania’s jewelry line were intended as factual statements, not business endorsements, and the biography was updated for caution, responded a spokesperson for the First Lady.
Trump Sets its Twitter Background as the Obama Inauguration
Tracked by Forrest Wickman at Slate, the Trump team had some difficulty selecting a background for Trump’s new Twitter background as president. The first Twitter background was from the Obama Inauguration in 2009, though the team changed the image to an American flag by 2 p.m.
Trump Discusses His “Enemies” at the Inaugural Ball
At the Inaugural ball, Trump referred to his critics as the “enemies,” weakening Trump’s prospects for unifying the country, according to the Independent. Speaking about his critics, Trump stated, “People that weren’t so nice to me were saying that we did a really good job today. They hated to do it, but they did it. And I respect that.”
The first week provided a glimpse into how Trump would interact with foreign leaders and how they would respond to him.
Responsive Norm: Mexico Reacts to Trump’s Wall
The day after Trump announced his plans to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico that would be paid for by Mexico, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Thursday cancelled a scheduled meeting with the new president set for next week. In response, Trump tweeted, “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.” Trump’s diplomacy by Twitter has been raising eyebrows since the campaign, but now is taking on greater significance as the 140-characters are issued from the White House. Former Mexican President Vincente Fox has chosen to respond through his own Tweets.
Sean Spicer, I've said this to @realDonaldTrump and now I'll tell you: Mexico is not going to pay for that fucking wall. #FuckingWall
— Vicente Fox Quesada (@VicenteFoxQue) January 25, 2017
Some Grade A trolling by former Mexican President Fox. https://t.co/ZM9BMNveyx
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) January 26, 2017
Theresa May’s Visit
The White House misspelled the name of British Prime Minister Theresa May, who traveled to Washington this week to meet Trump. The new administration left out the “h” in her first name in the White House daily guidance and press schedule and then later in information provided about where she and Trump will meet for talks and a “working luncheon.”
It may seem like a minor typo, but it still has repercussions. Here’s how it was characterized by The Guardian: “Theresa May’s hopes of rebooting Britain’s special relationship with the US has suffered a slight glitch after the White House misspelled her name multiple times in the schedule for her meeting with Donald Trump on Friday.”