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Norms Watch: Tracking the Erosion of Democratic Traditions (Apr. 14-21)

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FOREIGN POLICY and NATIONAL SECURITY

As Turkey slides deeper into authoritarianism, Trump congratulates Erdogan on his referendum victory, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions undermines judicial constraint of Trump’s presidential power. A missing aircraft carrier leaves a US Senator and a key US ally and concerned about misinformation and reliability of the US military under Trump.

 

Trump Congratulates Turkish President Erdogan on Expansion of Power

On Monday, President Donald Trump called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on his recent referendum victory that will “cement his autocratic rule over the country and, in the view of many experts, erode Turkey’s democratic institutions” according to the New York Times. While the White House has since claimed that the call was not intended as an endorsement of the outcome, or even an acceptance of the results, critics have pointed to Trump’s history of praising Erdogan’s anti-democratic policies.

The call also raised concerns that Trump’s financial ties to Turkey are influencing relations with Erdogan. In a tweet from 2012, Ivanka Trump thanked the Turkish president for attending the launch of Trump Towers Istanbul. And in 2015, Trump himself stated, “I have a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul.”

In contrast to Trump’s congratulatory call, the State Department  issued a statement noting “irregularities on voting day and an uneven playing field during the difficult campaign period.” This is just the latest example of the Trump administration’s inconsistent foreign policy–  a situation that, according to The Washington Post, has “led foreign diplomats and congressional lawmakers to express uncertainty about the administration’s goals.”

AG Sessions Attacks Federal Judge

In an “extraordinary attack on a federal judge” in Hawaii, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated on Thursday that he is “amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President.” The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake has pointed out that this latest attack is reminiscent of Trump’s racially charged criticism of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was presiding over lawsuits against Trump University. The potential racial undertones of Session’s dismissive reference to Hawaii were not lost on Senator Mazie Hirono, who characterized the remark as a form of “dog whistle politics.”

The White House Lost Track of an Aircraft Carrier

On Wednesday, Senator Susan Collins noted that it was “troubling” and “surprising” that Trump announced that a “very powerful armada” was headed toward North Korea, when it was actually heading “in the completely opposite direction to Australia. ” The mix up has left many South Koreans feeling “cheated and bewildered.”

 

WHITE HOUSE

Trump continues to rack up unprecedented travel expenses with little to show for it. Meanwhile, he brags about his electoral performance to deflect genuine concern about his tax returns.

 

Trump’s Travel is Very Costly but He’s Barely Going Anywhere

As Peter Baker of the New York Times notes, at this point in his presidency, George W. Bush had been to 23 states and traveled abroad, while Trump has visited just 7 states. According to NBC’s Bradd Jaffy, as of last Sunday, Trump has spent over a quarter of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago, costing taxpayers up to $3 million per visit.

Trump Makes False Claim About Electoral College to…Justify Not Releasing Tax Returns

Although the relationship between the electoral college and Trump’s taxes is unclear, it is clear that Trump’s statement bears little relationship to the truth. As the New York Times Peter Baker notes, “Going back to Rutherford B. Hayes, every Republican president but one (Bush 43) won a larger share of Electoral College than Trump.”

 

CORRUPTION and CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

Trump becomes the first president in 40 years not to release his tax returns. The line between the Trump Administration and the Trump Organization continues to blur, with the Ivanka Trump brand securing Chinese trademarks on the day Ivanka dines with the Chinese President. Trump’s son-in-law becomes known as the “secretary of state” within the White House, while other administration officials get secret waivers to work on matters they recently lobbied for.

 

Trump Admin Secretly Granting Waivers so Officials can Skirt Ethics Rules

The New York Times reports that the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to allow former lobbyists in the administration to work on policies directly impacting the industries that they were recently paid by. For example, the top energy adviser at the White House is now working on the same matters he dealt with as a lobbyist for oil, gas, and coal companies up until late last year.

Trump Campaign Paid $500K to Trump’s Own Companies in 2017

Donald Trump is acting like his campaign never really ended. Trump campaign filings show that the campaign and a joint fundraising committee have spent nearly $500,000 in 2017 for facility rental and lodging at Trump hotels, rent at the Trump Tower in New York and catering from Trump restaurants, according to The Washington Post.

Trump is First President in 40 Years Not to Release Tax Returns

Tax day came and went this week, and in spite of the hundreds of protests by millions of Americans calling for the release of his tax returns that went along with it, Trump has become the first president since Gerald Ford to hide his tax information from public view.

In a particularly disturbing move on Sunday, Trump dismissed these dissenting voices as mere paid protestors.

Ivanka’s Chinese Trademarks Approved on Day She Dined with China’s President

According to the Associated Press, global sales of Ivanka Trump merchandise have skyrocketed since the election, hitting record levels in 2017. Since the inauguration, the Ivanka Trump brand, which is still owned by Ivanka, despite her increasingly large role in the White House, has secured approval for five trademarks from the Chinese government. A New York Times analysis showed that “trademark applications in Ms. Trump’s name are awaiting decisions in 10 countries… including Kuwait, Qatar, Panama and Brazil.”

Trump’s Business Competitors Sue, Arguing He is Using the Presidency for Personal Gain from Foreign Powers

On Tuesday, two new plaintiffs were added to lawsuit alleging violations of the Emoluments Clause of the constitution, which is designed to protect the presidency from financial entanglements with foreign governments.“The president is taking business away from me and others with unfair business practices that violate the Constitution,” one plaintiff told the Washington Post. Another plaintiff voiced concern that foreign governments feel like they have to eat and patronize Trump hotels and restaurants because he’s the president of the United States.” This concern is well-founded. Last November, one Asian diplomat told the Post that it would be “rude” to stay with one of Trump’s competitors.

White House Aides Refer to Kushner as “Secretary of State”

A new poll shows that the majority of Americans think that Kushner and Ivanka’s White House roles are inappropriate.  While it is not unusual for a president’s family to become involved in the White House, the blatantness and extent of the Trump family’s involvement is unprecedented in recent history. For example, the New York Times reports that after Kushner’s trip to Iraq, White House aides referred to him as the “secretary of state.” In response to earlier concerns that Kushner was acting as a de facto secretary of state, Rep. Adam Schiff warned of the danger of an inexperienced president “relying on a son-in-law who is equally inexperienced” in foreign policy. It may also set a dangerous precedent for administration officials to take on cabinet-level responsibility without the advice and consent of Senate required for cabinet-level appointments.

Eric Trump Maintains Close Ties to White House

On Monday, Eric Trump, who runs the Trump Organization, gave an interview on the White House lawn about the administration’s foreign policy, raising concerns about the ever-blurring lines between the Trump administration and the Trump family business. ThinkProgress’s Aaron Rupar argues that “by endorsing his dad’s policies during an interview from the White House grounds, he’s communicating that Trump’s business is de facto part of his administration.”

In a recent interview, Eric Trump promoted the President’s use of  Mar-a-Lago as “a very effective tool” for diplomacy, and noted that he speaks to his father several times a week.”

 

MEDIA and TRANSPARENCY

Trump continues to bash critical media outlets and praise the consistently favorable Fox and Friends. Meanwhile, the White House blocks access to visitor logs that enable the public to learn about who the administration is meeting with.

 

Trump Condemns “Fake Media” and Praises Fox and Friends

On Monday, continuing a pattern of delegitimizing critical news coverage and praising favorable outlets, Trump tweeted that “every story is badly slanted.” On Thursday, he accused the “failing” New York Times of lying about the size of the New England Patriots’ delegation to the White House Super Bowl celebration.

Earlier on Monday, he tweeted that Fox and Friends’ positive coverage of the Trump presidency was “So true!” representing the latest example of Trump’s frequent praise for the show.

White House Makes Visitor Logs Secret

Last Friday, the White House announced that it was blocking access to records of visitors to the White House complex, stating that the move was necessary for reasons of national security. David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression said that the decision to conceal the visitor logs is a “threat to open and accountable government.”

 

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About the Author

is an associate editor and Masiyiwa-Bernstein Fellow at Just Security. You can follow him on Twitter (@JayShooster).