Editor’s Note: Welcome to the latest installment of Norms Watch, our series tracking both the flouting of democratic norms by the Trump administration and the erosion of those norms in reactions and responses by others. This is our collection of the most significant breaks with democratic traditions that occurred in the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency.
At the 100-day mark of his presidency, it is Trump’s norm violations that likely represent his most significant achievements. While Trump’s political agenda has been stymied and his legislatives accomplishments are few, he has successfully trampled over norms and shattered ethical standards with few consequences. Worse still, this unethical behavior is becoming normalized. As Michael Grunwald notes in POLITICO:
“[Trump’s] shattering of protocol and expectations may turn out to be more consequential than any of his massive policy promises or modest policy achievements to date.”
Similarly, Max Boot, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations writes of Trump, “What was once unthinkable is now unremarkable.” That is why we believe Norms Watch is so important. We are committed to documenting the subversion of democratic norms to make clear that none of this is normal or acceptable behavior in a healthy democracy. Please sign up here to receive Norms Watch in your inbox each Friday.
FOREIGN POLICY and NATIONAL SECURITY
With the fate of the European Union hanging in the balance, Trump praises far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. White House diplomatic phone call records contain no meaningful information. Trump makes a complete reversal on NAFTA.
Trump Offers Support for Far-Right French Presidential Candidate Marine Le Pen
In an interview with the Associated Press, Trump stated that the National Front’s Marine Le Pen is “strongest on borders and she is the strongest on what’s been going on in France.” Although Trump insisted that he was not formally endorsing Le Pen, critics have noted the unprecedented and disturbing nature of his comments:
“It is inconceivable that any previous president would have offered words of praise for such a fringe figure who is, according to one of her own former advisors, surrounded by ‘real Nazis.’”
White House Readouts of Calls with Foreign Heads of State Contain Barely Any Information
Good that the administration wants folks to know that Trump talked to Abe yesterday. But this isn't a readout. Call it something else. pic.twitter.com/LowGoc28kn
— Ely Ratner (@elyratner) April 24, 2017
At 27-words-long, the readout of Trump’s recent call with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan does not provide any information about the content of their discussion. On Tuesday, the White House published at 42-word readout of Trump’s call with Canada’s Justin Trudeau, which was only a small fraction of the length of Canada’s readout of the very same call. This trend is likely another example of the Trump administration’s stunning indifference to transparency.
New Ties Emerge Between Russia and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn
On Tuesday, POLITICO reported that Ekim Alptekin, the Turkish man who paid Flynn $600,000 for lobbying services, has significant ties to Russia. Court records show that Alptekin, who helps to coordinate Turkish lobbying in Washington, negotiated an aviation financing deal with Vladimir Putin in 2009. Additionally, Alpetkin works closely with a former Russian executive who has been involved with Putin’s government, according to three people with direct knowledge of the relationship.
Trump Flip Flops on NAFTA within Hours
Just hours after administration officials stated that Trump was considering the drastic move of withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement, he told the leaders of Mexico and Canada that he wouldn’t. While some may try to explain this reversal as crafty negotiation by a master dealmaker, the Washington Post’s account of the shift suggests that a deeply divided administration and Trump’s poor understanding of the issue are to blame. It seems that this is just another instance of a pattern of needlessly erratic and inflammatory behavior.
The White House uses chilling language to attack sanctuary cities and the federal judge who ruled in their favor. Trump’s staff makes a game of lying to the media, but are so distrustful of each other that they employ their own personal PR advisers.
Press Secretary: U.S. Sanctuary Cities “Have the Blood of Dead Americans on their Hands”
On Tuesday, after a federal judge issued a temporary injunction blocking Trump’s attempt to cut off funding to sanctuary cities, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer issued a blistering statement harshly condemning these local governments as having the “blood of dead Americans on their hands.” The statement also belittled the federal judge who issued the ruling by diminishing him as an “unelected judge” and accusing him of ignoring and undermining the rule of law. Unsurprisingly, President Trump joined this attack on the judiciary with a series of Tweets characterizing the ruling as “ridiculous” and biased. In an interview with the Washington Examiner, he went as far as to say that he has considered proposals to split up the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has now blocked two of his executive orders.
White House Staff Have a “Game” of Lying to the Press
An article in the May/June edition of POLITICO Magazine quotes three sources close to the West Wing who described how the White House habitually lies to the media, just for the fun of it. “They will screw with you. They will feed you things that are not true,” one source was warned by a transition official. “They all lie. It’s a game to them,” said a conservative journalist. This is creating an environment where the White House simply cannot be trusted as a source of even the most insignificant information, “I don’t trust anything I’m told by a comms person,” one reporter stated.
Competition and Mistrust Between White House Aides So Severe, They Employ Personal P.R. Advisers
The White House is “gripped by paranoia and insecurity, paralyzed by internal jockeying for power,” according to POLITICO. The situation has become so severe that many White House staffers have their own personal P.R. advisers to ensure that their own narratives make it into the media.
Ivanka Takes the Stage with the Chancellor of Germany and the Director of the IMF
On Tuesday, Ivanka’s trip to Germany raised more concerns about nepotism in the U.S. government, when she took the stage alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde. Needless to say, Ivanka’s experience and stature pales in comparison to these leaders, making it painfully obvious that she was only afforded this opportunity because of who her father is.
The “Trump Slump”: Tourism to the U.S. Faces “Devastating Drop”
Tourism to the U.S. has declined 6.8 percent largely as a result of Trump’s travel ban, according to Travel Weekly. The phenomenon, known in the travel industry as the “Trump Slump,” is on track to cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs and billions in lost revenue for the industry.
CORRUPTION and CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
The State Department advertises for the Trump Organization. Another special interest group books Trump’s D.C. hotel. Millions of dollars flow from public pension funds into Trump’s pocket, and new ties are emerging between the Trump team and foreign entities.
Mar-a-Lago was Promoted on Two State Department-Run Websites
In what may be the Trump administration’s most glaring conflict of interest yet, the State Department promoted Trump’s business property, Mar-a-Lago, on two different government run websites. The webpages were removed after the news surfaced on Monday and the State Department was slammed by Senator Ron Wyden, among others, for promoting “kleptocracy.” Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman wrote that, if Trump ordered or was aware of the posts, the incident may constitute one of several violations that, when taken together, could amount to an impeachable offense.
Trump has Now Visited a Trump Property a Full 34% of his Days in Office
Trump’s dinner at his D.C. hotel last Saturday marked his 31st visit to a Trump property in his then 92 days in office. With all the free advertising that comes from having the White House press pool spend 1 out of every 3 days at Trump’s hotels and resorts, it is no wonder that the Trump Organization brand is “the hottest it has ever been.”
Venezuela Donated $500,000 to Trump’s Inauguration
According to the Associated Press, recently released records show that the Venezuela’s state-owned oil company made a $500,000 contribution to events surrounding the inauguration through its U.S. subsidiary, Citgo. Earlier this month, the State Department voiced its “grave concern” about the cash-strapped Venezuelan government’s crackdown on political dissent, once again highlighting the mixed messages the administration is sending to anti-democratic governments around the world.
Funeral Directors: The Latest Special Interest Group to Book Trump Hotel
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that the National Funeral Directors Association has booked an event at the Trump International Hotel as part of a lobbying trip to DC, raising concerns about conflicts of interest with the administration. While there is no dead giveaway that this was a corrupt undertaking, critics are making no bones about the ethical red flags raised by the “growing list of special interest groups bringing their business to Trump properties.” In the end, one doesn’t have to dig too deep to see that using Trump properties to curry favor with the administration isn’t a passing trend, but a permanent fixture of this administration.
Public Pension Money is Going to Trump
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that public pension funds in at least seven states have invested millions in an investment fund that pays one of Donald Trump’s companies. In a graphic produced by Reuters, you can trace the millions of dollars flowing from these public funds into Trump’s pocket.
Jared Kushner Has Many Unknown Foreign Ties
On Wednesday, The New York Times revealed that Kushner has extensive business history with Raz Steinmetz, an Israeli businessman with potential connections to massive alleged bribery scheme. Records reviewed by The Times indicate that Raz Steinmetz has shared offshore investment vehicles, employed the same company director and was once connected to the same Swiss bank accounts as his uncle, billionaire Beny Steinmetz, who is under scrutiny by law enforcement authorities in four countries for bribery. Regardless of whether Kushner or Raz Steinmetz is connected to any wrongdoing, the allegations underscore how troubling it is that Kushner refuses to reveal the identities of his foreign business partners.
EPA Administrator Withdraws from GOP Fundraiser After Ethics Complaint
On Tuesday, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) filed an ethics complaint against EPA chief Scott Pruitt arguing that his decision to speak at an Oklahoma Republican Party gala–which specifically promoted him in his capacity as an EPA official–would violate a law that limits political activity by government officials. On Thursday, an EPA spokesman announced Pruitt’s withdrawal from the event, noting that the specific framing of his participation would violate ethical guidelines.
MEDIA and TRANSPARENCY
Trump compares his television performance to 9/11. Rallies continue as if the Trump campaign never ended, and the president ditches the White House Correspondents Dinner for the first time in decades.
Trump Brags that He Achieved the Highest TV Ratings Since 9/11
“It’s the highest [ratings] since the World Trade Center. Since the World Trade Center came down,” Trump said of his appearance on the CBS show “Face the Nation.” Indecency aside, his numbers are way off. For his appearance on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Trump told The Associated Press, “It had 9.2 million people. It’s the highest they’ve ever had.” The sit-down interview with Wallace in December actually scored 2.3 million viewers, which was “the second-most viewers in the program’s 20-year history.” Again, this is a pattern. He said 5.2 million people tuned into his Face the Nation interview in January, when it was actually 4.6 million.
Trump Skips White House Correspondents Dinner for Another Campaign Rally
Last Saturday, Donald Trump announced that he is holding a campaign rally on the night of the White House Correspondents Dinner. As NPR reported in February, Trump will be the first president in 36 years to skip the party. Although a senior White House official said that the decision not to attend was”about focusing on the people,” the break from tradition is a reminder of Trump’s disturbing hostility to the media, and his never-ending focus on campaigning, rather than governing.
Trump wants law and order, but hasn’t nominated any U.S. Attorneys to implement his agenda. The Department of Homeland Security introduces the anti-immigrant VOICE office.
Trump Hasn’t Nominated Any U.S. Attorneys
At 100 days into the presidency, Trump has failed to nominate, let alone see the confirmation of a single U.S. Attorney, each of whom are essential for implementing the criminal justice priorities of the administration. In addition to these 93 vacancies, the Department of Justice operating without leaders of its civil rights, criminal, and national security divisions.
Anti-Immigrant VOICE Office Comes to Life
On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security and ICE rolled out Trump’s new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, which works to demonize undocumented immigrants while offering very little in the way of actual services for crime victims. At this point, it seems that the only tangible things that VOICE does are provide information about specific immigrants in custody, and “explain the immigration enforcement and removal process” to victims of crimes committed by immigrants. In an effort to fight back against the “administration’s use of bigoted language and racist stereotypes of criminality,” activists have taken to calling the VOICE office en masse with stories about crimes committed by aliens…from outer space.