Norms Watch: Democracy, the Trump Administration, and Reactions to It (June 2-June 9)

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TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

Fired FBI Director James Comey goes on the record for the first time, building the case for obstruction against President Trump.

 

Comey Says Trump Directed him to Drop Investigation into Michael Flynn

Trump asked Comey to “see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go” in a one-on-one meeting in the White House, fired FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia inquiry. In Thursday’s hearing, Comey also said that he has passed memos recording his meetings with Trump to DOJ special counsel Robert Mueller, suggesting Mueller will look into Trump’s possible obstruction of justice. Comey painted Trump as a liar, said that he believed he was fired because of the FBI’s Russia investigation, and revealed that he had arranged for his memo about the Flynn conversation in the Oval Office to be leaked to the press to potentially trigger the appointment of a special counsel.

 

LONDON ATTACK

Trump uses a terrorist attack in London to argue for his travel ban and reignite dispute with London mayor.

 

As London News Breaks, Trump Tweets Unconfirmed Information

As the news about the weekend’s attack in London was breaking, and before British officials had spoken, Trump re-tweeted a headline from right-wing publication,the Drudge Report: “Fears of new terror attack after van ‘mows down 20 people’ on London Bridge.” NBC News said it would not share Trump’s tweet because the information was “unconfirmed”.

 

Trump Renews Feud With London Mayor in Wake of London Attack

In response to the weekend’s attack in London, Trump used Twitter to criticize London Mayor Sadiq Khan, taking out of context a statement that Londoners had no reason to be alarmed by an increased police presence. Asked for comment, Khan’s spokesperson said he had “more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet”.

 

Mike Bloomberg Voices ‘Full Support’ of Khan

 

US Ambassador to Britain Diverges From Trump’s Criticisms of Khan

The United States ambassador to Britain, Lewis Lukens, praised London Mayor Sadiq Khan in the wake of the weekend’s attack, contradicting Trump’s criticisms.

 

Former British Ambassador to the U.S. Tweets That Trump Makes Him “Puke”

 

Mayor Says London Shouldn’t “Roll out Red Carpet” for Trump

Asked if he would like Trump’s state visit to London to be called off, Sadiq Khan told a British TV station on Monday that they should not “roll out the red carpet” to Trump “in the circumstances where his policies go against everything we stand for. … There are many things about which Donald Trump is wrong”.

 

FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL SECURITY

Senior diplomats quietly rebel against Trump, as the president, his aides and officials continue to propagate inconsistent foreign policy.

 

Career Diplomats Break Ranks With Trump

A number of senior diplomats have publicly broken with Trump, including the ambassador to Qatar, the acting ambassador to Britain, and the charge d’affaires at Beijing’s American Embassy. “It’s an extraordinarily unusual situation for the Foreign Service,” given diplomats’ customary commitment to nonpartisanship, former undersecretary of state for political affairs R. Nicholas Burns told the New York Times.

 

Top U.S. Diplomat in Beijing Resigns Over Climate Change Withdrawal

David Rank, a 27-year veteran of the Foreign Service and former acting U.S. ambassador in Beijing, has resigned following Trump’s decision to exit the Paris agreement. Because the new ambassador has not yet arrived in Beijing, it was Rank’s responsibility to deliver formal notification of Trump’s decision on the climate accord, but he told his staff he could not participate in good conscience as “a parent, a patriot and a Christian.”  

 

Trump Incorrectly Describes Philippines Violence as “Terrorist Attack”

In the Rose Garden, before announcing the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, Trump referred to the “terrorist attack in Manila.” However, minutes later, officials said the attack on a Philippines casino was the result of a robbery.  

 

At Human Rights Council, Nikki Haley Diverges From Trump on Saudi Arabia

Addressing the UN Human Rights Council, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley “condemned” Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, just weeks after administration officials visiting Saudi Arabia indicated they would play down human rights with defense and trade partners. She went on to say that she would “continue to call out Saudi Arabia” and that “the administration is allowing me to say it.”

 

Trump Tweets Support of Saudi Arabia’s Decision to cut Ties With Qatar, Then Offers to Mediate Dispute

In response to a number of Gulf states’ decision to cut off ties with Qatar, Trump weighed in on Twitter to support the decision, partly taking credit for it. “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit … already paying off,” he tweeted. “They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

 

A Defense Department spokesman took a different tack, expressing appreciation to Qatar for its support of the U.S. military. Despite the tweets, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders each said on Monday that the U.S. was hoping to de-escalate the crisis. Trump spoke with Qatar’s Emir on Wednesday, offering to help mediate the dispute.

 

WHITE HOUSE

Despite Trump picking a new FBI Director, the White House continues to operate under the Russia “cloud” Trump previously complained to Comey about. The president is unhappy with his attorney-general, was rebuffed by high-profile lawyers he sought to represent him in Russia investigations, and is clamping down on congressional oversight to avoid risk. Meanwhile, the White House has been slow both to nominate national security officials and to send the subsequent paperwork the Senate’s way.

 

White House Refuses to Publicly Back Sessions

Both White House Spokesman Sean Spicer and Huckabee Sanders declined to say whether Trump has confidence in Attorney-General Jeff Sessions this week. The New York Times reported on Monday that Trump is increasingly unhappy with Sessions, particularly in light of his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. In recent weeks, Sessions reportedly even offered to resign, which Trump declined.

 

Trump Uses Twitter to Announce New FBI Director

Almost one month after firing Comey, Trump announced that he had chosen Christopher Wray to lead the FBI – on Twitter. He did not consult top lawmakers before announcing the decision, with several people indicating they learned about the decision from Twitter, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Sen. Diane Feinstein, and Rep. Paul Ryan.

 

Law Firms Decline to Represent Trump

High-profile lawyers from at least four major law firms have declined to represent Trump personally in the Russia investigations, partly due to concern that he would not take their advice and the reputational risk of acting for Trump. One lawyer told Yahoo!: “The concerns were, ‘The guy won’t pay and he won’t listen.’”

 

White House Tells Agencies to Ignore Democrats’ Requests for Information

A White House lawyer told top government officials this spring not to cooperate with Democratic lawmakers’ oversight requests because the information might hurt Trump, POLITICO reports.  

 

Trump Slow to Name Picks for National Security Posts

Trump has only filled five of the 53 top jobs at the Pentagon, the slowest pace in over half a century, McClatchy reports. The process has been slowed down by Trump’s distaste for anyone who criticized him during the election campaign, the business commitments of those under consideration, and the “chaos” of the administration.

 

White House Drags Feet on Submitting Nominees for Senate Approval

Even when Trump names nominees, his White House is taking weeks to actually submit them to the Senate, POLITICO reports. “I don’t know what happens,” the chairwoman of the Senate’s Energy Committee said when asked about the delayed paperwork for the nominee for chief deputy of the Energy Department. “They go into some dark hole. And eventually they come out. But still.”

 

Trump Campaign Email Links to Conspiracy Website InfoWars

 

CORRUPTION AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

The Trump Organization is to launch a budget hotel line with inspiration from the Trumps’ experiences on the campaign trail and echoes of Trump’s America First rhetoric, as it is revealed the company financially benefited from Eric Trump’s charity fundraisers.

 

Trump Funnels Money from Charity to Business

The Eric Trump Foundation paid the Trump Organization for use of a golf course for a charity fundraiser for children with cancer. Forbes reports that, despite Eric Trump’s earlier insistence that the charity uses the golf course free of charge, the Trump Organization received over $1 million in payments for the use of the golf course and other expenses.

 

Trump Organization to Debut ‘American Idea’ Hotel Chain in Mississippi

The Trump Organization is rolling out a budget hotel line called American Idea, evoking the ‘America First’ theme of the Trump campaign. The New York Times reports that the Trump children were unimpressed with the budget-friendly hotels they encountered on the campaign trail. The Organization will debut the “patriotic” hotels in towns in Mississippi, a state which voted heavily in Trump’s favor.

 

DC Trump Hotel Received $270,000 in Saudi Arabia-linked Payments Made after Trump’s Election

Saudi Arabia-linked lobbyists spent about $270,000 on lodging, catering and parking at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, across four months following Trump’s election. The payments were made during a lobbying campaign by Saudi Arabia against legislation which would allow Americans to sue foreign governments over the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

 

Kushner Companies Seeking $250 Million to Pay Off Chinese Backers Who Bought in Via EB-5 Visas

The company Jared Kushner once headed, Kushner Companies, is looking for a $250 million loan to repay Chinese investors in a New Jersey tower which was partially financed through the EB-5 visa program, which offers preferential treatment in permanent residency to people willing to invest large sums in American developments. Bloomberg reports that major U.S. banks are wary of lending the money in light of the link to Kushner and the visa program.

 

U.S. Pressures China to Release Activists Arrested Investigating Ivanka Trump Factory

The U.S. has called on China to release labor activists arrested for investigating conditions in a factory which produces Ivanka Trump-brand shoes. A spokeswoman for the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs said it was an internal Chinese matter.

 

THE PRESS AND PUBLIC DISCOURSE

A congressional candidate drops out due to death threats, as a Louisiana Congressman invites Christians to “hunt”, “identify” and “kill” radical Islamists.

 

Montana Rep. Apologizes for Body Slam, Donates $50,000 to Press Freedom Group

Greg Gianforte has followed up on his body-slam of a Guardian reporter and subsequent assault charge with a letter of apology and a $50,000 donation to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Gianforte, the newly elected congressman for Montana, wrote that his conduct was “unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful” as part of an agreement settling the civil dispute.

 

CNN host Reza Aslan Called Trump “a Piece of S—”

After Trump tweeted about the need for a travel ban in the wake of the London attack, CNN host Reza Aslan responded by calling him “a piece of s—” and “an embarrassment to humankind” on Twitter. Aslan tweeted an apology the next day.

 

Candidate for Iowa Congressional District Drops out, Citing Death Threats

A Democratic candidate for the Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, Kim Weaver, has pulled out of the race, partly attributing her decision to safety concerns. “Beginning during my 2016 campaign, I have received very alarming acts of intimidation, including death threats,” Weaver wrote on Facebook. “While some may say enduring threats are just a part of running for office, my personal safety has increasingly become a concern.”

 

Freshman Louisiana Congressman Says “Christendom” is “at war with Islamic Horror” in Facebook Post

New U.S. Representative and former police officer Clay Higgins (R-La.) has posted a call to arms on Facebook for Christianity to fight a war against “Islamic horror”. The post was accompanied by a picture of a British police officer standing over the body of one of Saturday’s attackers.

 

THE COURTS

Trump’s use of Twitter may get him in legal trouble, as Kellyanne Conway’s husband calls him out.

 

Trump Attacks DOJ and Courts on Travel Ban

The Justice Department should not have “watered down” the travel ban executive order and should seek a “much tougher version”, Trump tweeted in the wake of the weekend’s attack in London. In a series of tweets unlikely to assist the government’s case before the Supreme Court, Trump derided the courts as “slow and political”, and said that whatever lawyers and courts want, he will call it a “travel ban”, undermining the government’s argument that the order is a temporary halt to allow the U.S. to review its vetting procedures.

 

Kellyanne Conway’s Husband Calls out Trump’s Travel Ban Tweets

George Conway, an attorney and Kellyanne Conway’s husband, has criticized Trump’s travel ban tweets in a tweetstorm of his own. After writing that Trump’s tweets would not help the ban get a Supreme Court majority, Conway clarified that he supported the president and that “those who support him” needed to reinforce the point that tweets on legal matters were unhelpful. Conway was being considered for the role as head of the Justice Department’s civil division until he withdrew himself from consideration last week.

 

First Amendment Group Demands Trump Unblock Twitter Critics

Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute wrote to Trump this week, arguing that blocking critics from seeing his @realDonaldTrump tweets is unconstitutional and demanding that he unblock them.

Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty 

About the Author(s)

Hannah Ryan

Former Junior Research Scholar at Just Security, Former Fulbright Scholar and Frank Knox Fellow at Harvard Law School Follow her on Twitter (@HannahD15).