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 from June 9-June 16, 2017.
POLITICAL VIOLENCE AND ITS RESPONSE
In response to the shooting of a Republican lawmaker, some point the figure at Democratic rhetoric and call for more guns in DC.
Congressman Steve Scalise Shot in Alexandria, Virginia
Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.) and three others were shot on Wednesday when a gunman opened fire at the Republican congressional baseball team’s practice session in Alexandria, Virginia. The gunman, who was shot dead, was said to be opposed to Trump and was a supporter of Bernie Sanders, who said in a statement that he was “sickened by this despicable act”. The three other people shot in the incident included members of Scalise’s Capitol Police security detail. As of Thursday, Scalise was in critical condition.
GOP Representative Links Shooting to Democrats’ Political Rhetoric
Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) linked the Alexandria shooting with the rhetoric of Democrats on Wednesday. In an interview with a Buffalo radio station, Collins said Democrats’ rhetoric had been “outrageous…the finger-pointing, just the tone and the angst and the anger directed at Donald Trump, his supporters.” He suggested it was inevitable that someone would act based on the rhetoric towards Trump and the Republican Party.
Republican Lawmakers Seek to Bring Guns Onto Capitol Grounds
In the wake of the Alexandria shooting, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) introduced legislation that would allow anyone with a concealed carry permit in their home state to use it in D.C. Other representatives have argued they should be able to carry firearms into the Capitol. Other options floated include increasing law enforcement presence and giving Capitol Police more advanced weapons.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who was on the field this morning, tells reporters Congress should look into letting members carry guns in DC pic.twitter.com/SUwU5YAqT8
— Ashley Killough (@KilloughCNN) June 14, 2017
Trump considers firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is now investigating him personally for obstruction of justice.
Trump Tweet Seems to Confirm he is Under Investigation, Criticize Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
With a tweet on Friday morning, Trump acknowledged for the first time that he was under investigation. He appeared to attack his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, saying he was leading a “witch hunt”.
Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein Reportedly Considering Recusal
The deputy attorney general, who has ultimate authority over special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion with Russian interference in the election, has acknowledged to his colleagues that he may have to recuse himself, ABC News reported Friday morning. Rosenstein’s comments reflect the expansion of Mueller’s investigation, which now encompasses obstruction of justice. Rosenstein wrote a memorandum recommending the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Special Counsel Reportedly Investigating Trump for Possible Obstruction of Justice
Mueller has expanded his investigation to include an examination of whether Trump tried to obstruct justice, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday. Fired FBI Director James Comey had previously assured Trump that he was not under investigation, but that changed shortly after he fired Comey. Mueller has reportedly started interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of the obstruction inquiry.
Trump Considers Firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Says Friend
An old friend of Trump told PBS’ “NewsHour” that Trump was “considering, perhaps, terminating” the special counsel appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. White House press secretary Sean Spicer later said that the friend, Christopher Ruddy, had not spoken to Trump about that issue.
Trump Considered Firing Mueller, but Staff Talked him Away From the Edge
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Trump began entertaining the idea of firing special counsel Mueller shortly after he was appointed as special counsel, but that his staff dissuaded him from following through. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Tuesday that the president had “every right” to fire Mueller, but “no intention to do so”.
Special Counsel Reportedly Investigating Jared Kushner’s Business Dealings
Mueller is also investigating Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s finances and business dealings as part of his Russia investigation, the Washington Post reported on Thursday. FBI agents have also been looking into the financial dealings of others in Trump’s orbit, including former national security advisor Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and former foreign policy campaign advisor Carter Page.
Trump Brands Comey a “Leaker” and Threatens Official Complaints
Trump responded to Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee by tweeting that Comey was a leaker and that the testimony vindicated him. Trump’s lawyers have threatened to file official complaints against Comey, but have not yet done so. However, legal experts have said that there is no reason sharing the content of private conversations with the press would be illegal, that the memos Comey arranged to share with the press appeared not to be classified, and that any privilege claim would not apply to sharing the documents with the press.
Putin Offers Comey Asylum
Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered Comey asylum if he is politically persecuted. In his annual Q&A with the Russian people, Putin drew parallels between Comey and Edward Snowden.
Manafort Reportedly Invokes Access to President in International Work
Despite his entanglement in the investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is reportedly continuing to work internationally and to emphasize his ongoing access to Trump as he does so. POLITICO reports that Manafort has recently consulted for or worked with a Chinese billionaire looking to expand internationally, a telecommunications firm seeking regulatory approval from foreign governments, and a Chinese government-linked investment fund. In that work, he has apparently touted his connection to Trump and ability to influence foreign policy. A spokesman denied that Manafort was “engaged in government affairs/lobbying or public relations work for corporations, governments, or individuals.”
FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL SECURITY
The Trump Administration continues to contradict on foreign policy and Trump delegates Afghanistan authority to Secretary Mattis. Trump faces mockery and criticism from the Australian Prime Minister and British Opposition Leader.
Trump Delegates Authority to Decide Afghanistan Troop Levels to Pentagon
Trump has delegated authority to determine the U.S.’ troop levels in Afghanistan to the Pentagon, giving Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the power to authorize the deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan. The decision is similar to an earlier one giving the Pentagon greater authority to set troop levels in Iraq and Syria. Micah Zenko writes at Foreign Policy that “this latest transfer of commander-in-chief-like powers from the White House to the Pentagon is unprecedented for such a consequential decision, and it establishes a dismal model for the remainder of the Trump presidency and for future presidents as well”, changing the White House-Pentagon dynamic. “The buck for war and peace no longer stops in the White House Oval Office but in the Pentagon E-Ring.”
Mattis is so thoughtful about proper WH-Pentagon dynamics. Why doesn't he refuse to make Commander-in-Chief strategic-level decisions. https://t.co/3F7inJ7ad5
— Micah Zenko (@MicahZenko) June 14, 2017
Total abdication. I have more faith in Mattis than Trump. But the Commander in Chief must take responsibility here. https://t.co/lfinCtfwyh
— Colin Kahl (@ColinKahl) June 14, 2017
Trump and Tillerson Contradict Each Other on Qatar on Same Day
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned the Saudi Arabia-led blockade of Qatar to reporters at the State Department last Friday, only for Trump to contradict him the same day. At a joint news conference with the Romanian president that afternoon, Trump spoke about “confronting Qatar over its behavior” and said that “the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding.”
Qatar’s Ambassador to the U.S. Tweets About Current Crisis
We appeal to the US administration to rely on their own sources and not on countries with political agendas
— Meshal Hamad AlThani (@Amb_AlThani) June 10, 2017
Trump’s State Visit to Britain put on Hold Until British Public Supports him Coming
Trump told British Prime Minister Theresa May that he did not want to visit Britain if there were large-scale protests, and would wait until the public supported him coming, the Guardian reports. May invited Trump to Britain soon after his inauguration, and said at the time she was “delighted that the president has accepted that invitation”.
Jeremy Corbyn Welcomes Trump’s ‘Cancellation’ of State Visit
British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that the cancellation of Trump’s state visit was “welcome”, particularly in light of his attacks on London Mayor Sadiq Khan and his decision on the Paris climate agreement.
Cancellation of President Trump's State Visit is welcome, especially after his attack on London's mayor & withdrawal from #ParisClimateDeal.
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) June 11, 2017
Australian Prime Minister Mimics Trump in Leaked Video
In a leaked video of a recent speech, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull mimicked Trump, making jokes about his poll numbers, connection to Russia and relationship with the media. In the speech, made at the Australian equivalent of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Turnbull said: “The Donald and I, we are winning and winning in the polls. … You know, the online polls. … They are so easy to win. I have this Russian guy.” The speech may test the relationship between the two men, which got off to a bad start with a tense phone call in February in which Trump reportedly hung up on the leader of one of the U.S.’ closest allies. The two leaders met in New York last month. The New York Times reports there is speculation the recording was leaked deliberately to make Turnbull look less subservient to Trump.
Turkish Guards Face Charges over Embassy Protest Violence
The security guards from the Turkish president’s security detail who were involved in an attack on anti-Erdogan protests outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in D.C. will be charged, officials have said. This is the most significant response to the May violence that the government has taken so far, which American authorities have seen as an attack on free speech and American law enforcement. The attack took place in broad daylight on Embassy Row, and the Turkish president watched the attack play out from a car a few yards away.
Trump solicits public praise from his Cabinet members as questions are raised over his firing of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Trump Makes Cabinet Members Praise him Before the Media at Cabinet Meeting
Senior Trump advisors were invited to praise Trump on camera during his first full cabinet meeting this week. After opening the meeting by declaring that there had never been a president, with few exceptions, “who has passed more legislation, done more things”, Trump asked his advisors to “go around, name your position” and say a few words about the administration’s work.
WH Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to Trump: “We thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda” https://t.co/L7DEdZUjV3
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 12, 2017
Vice President Mike Pence said it was “the greatest privilege of my life” to serve as Trump’s Vice President, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus thanked Trump “for the opportunity and the blessing you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people”.
Never have seen a Cabinet meeting photo op quite like that one. Each member took turns praising Trump as he sat & nodded approvingly
— Julie Davis (@juliehdavis) June 12, 2017
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote that he had “never seen anything like” the meeting, and it was “the most chilling measure yet of Trump’s narcissism, and it’s a breathtaking glimpse into what that means for the people around him.” A Princeton Professor described the event in TIME as “a kind of political theater not typically associated with democracies.”
The meeting also inspired a parody video from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
GREAT meeting today with the best staff in the history of the world!!! pic.twitter.com/ocE1xhEAac
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) June 12, 2017
Fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara Says Trump Tried to Build Relationship With Him
Formed U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said reading stories of Trump’s contacts with James Comey “felt a little bit like deja vu”, and that the president also tried to cultivate a relationship with him before his firing in March. Bharara told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that his interactions with Trump were “a very weird and peculiar thing”, and that they contravened the Department of Justice’s rules on communicating with the White House.
Trump’s Personal Lawyer Said He Got Bharara Fired
Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, has told friends and colleagues that he played a central role in the firing of Preet Bharara, ProPublica reported on Tuesday. The report suggests that Kasowitz is not restricted to giving advice on the president’s personal legal affairs, but is also involved in governance matters.
Sheesh, I haven't even had my covfefe yet. https://t.co/50v0h1I3uF
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) June 13, 2017
Role of Trump’s Personal Lawyer Raises Questions About Line Between Personal and Private Interests
Trump’s personal lawyer advised the president’s aides that it was not yet necessary for them to hire their own lawyers, the New York Times reported on Sunday. Conversations between a president’s private lawyer and government employees are “highly unusual”, and Kasowitz’s role is raising questions about the line between the president’s private interests and the public interest.
Significant Federal Regulation Has Almost Slowed to a Halt Since Inauguration
Significant federal regulation has almost totally ceased under the Trump presidency, POLITICO reported this week. At the end of May, fifteen regulations had been approved by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs during this administration, far fewer than in the same period at the start of the Obama and Bush presidencies.
Trump Appoints Son’s Wedding Planner to Department of Housing and Urban Development
Trump has appointed event planner and longtime loyalist Lynne Patton to oversee federal housing programs in New York, the New York Daily News reported Thursday. Patton arranged Eric Trump’s wedding and served as the Trump family’s liaison during the campaign, but has no housing experience. Her LinkedIn page lists a law degree from the Quinnipiac University School of Law, which says she never graduated. In her new roles as head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Region II, she will oversee the distribution of billions of dollars.
Agency Says White House Employee Violated Federal Law With Political Tweet
The White House Director of Social Media, who had earlier worked on the Trump campaign, violated federal law when he weighed into a Republican primary on Twitter, the Office of Special Counsel has found. The agency did not punish Dan Scavino Jr. for his tweet, instead warning him that if he again “engages in prohibited political activity while employed in a position covered by the Hatch Act,” the office could enforce the law.
Trump Continues to Regularly say Things That Aren’t True
Donald Trump said 13 false things last week; he's now up to 294 since inauguration: https://t.co/uq1LvHarYW #TrumpCheck
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) June 12, 2017
Trump Blocks Novelist Stephen King on Twitter
“Trump has blocked me from reading his tweets,” the horror novelist Stephen King tweeted on Tuesday. King had previously described Trump on Twitter as a “crazy, ranting uncle” and a “rabid coyote with bad hair”. King is only one of a number of critics blocked by Trump, which some have argued is unconstitutional.
Trump has blocked me from reading his tweets. I may have to kill myself.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) June 13, 2017
Wyoming Mayor Removes Portraits of Trump and Pence from Town Hall
The mayor of Jackson, Wyoming last week had portraits of the president and vice president removed from his town hall, in favor of a photo of Native American Chief Washakie. “We aren’t required to display signs of respect – our respect is earned, not demanded,” the mayor Pete Muldoon said in a statement. He denied politics motivated the decision.
CORRUPTION AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Trump sued by attorneys general and Democratic lawmakers under the emoluments clause, but DOJ lawyers argue it doesn’t extend to fair commercial payments.
DC and Maryland Sue Trump Sue Trump over Foreign Payments
The attorneys general for DC and Maryland have filed a lawsuit against Trump, alleging “unprecedented constitutional violations” arising from Trump’s failure to divest from his company. The suit argues that Trump has breached his constitutional oath and the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. The suit is the first of its kind brought by government entities. Maryland’s attorney general Brian E. Frosh said that the plaintiffs would seek Trump’s tax returns if the lawsuit reaches the discovery stage.
Almost 200 Democratic Lawmakers Sue Trump Over Emoluments Clause
Close to 200 Democratic members of Congress filed a lawsuit against Trump on Wednesday, arguing that he has violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause by accepting foreign government payments through his businesses. The litigants say the suit represents the largest numbers of lawmakers ever to sue a president.
China Overturns Rejection of Nine Trump Trademarks
The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that China has granted preliminary approval for nine Donald Trump trademarks it had rejected eight to fifteen weeks prior. Trump’s trademarks have been raised in the context of lawsuits alleging Trump has violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause, given that they are issued by foreign states and can be valuable.
Good God! if this is not a Chinese attempt to bribe trump with #Emoluments, i dont know what is. @CREWcrew @kinetz https://t.co/p2qL1ZxErP
— Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) June 14, 2017
Top Government Ethics Official Criticizes Retroactive Waiver
The head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, wrote to lawmakers on Tuesday describing as “problematic” a waiver that permits Steve Bannon to talk to Breitbart, the media organization he used to chair. The ethics waiver, which does not refer specifically to Bannon, is undated and purports to have retroactive effect. Shaub described its language as “inconsistent with the very concept of a waiver”.
Ivanka Trump’s Brand Called off Deal With Japanese Company Backed by Government
The Ivanka Trump fashion brand pulled out of a deal with a Japanese apparel company whose largest shareholder was a bank owned by the Japanese government, the company told the House Judiciary Committee in a letter made public this week. The New York Times reported the connection in December, writing that the company was finalizing the agreement when Ivanka Trump sat in on a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
THE PRESS AND PUBLIC DISCOURSE
Julius Caesar Causes a Stir.
Sponsors Withdraw Support for ‘Julius Caesar’ Over Trump Resemblance
Delta Airlines and Bank of America have withdrawn their sponsorship from a New York production of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ because it depicts the assassination of a ruler resembling Trump. The decision followed outrage and criticism at the depiction online and in right-leaning media outlets. In 2012, Delta sponsored a production of the play which featured an Obama-like Caesar. That production did not inspire outrage.
Congressman-Elect Pleads Guilty and is Sentenced to Community Service for Assaulting Guardian Reporter
Greg Gianforte, recently elected to represent Montana in Congress, pleaded guilty this week to assaulting a Guardian reporter asking him questions during his campaign. He was sentenced to community service, a $385 fine and anger management sessions.
Gianforte pleads guilty. #MTAL #mtpol pic.twitter.com/3JaxFwPQni
— Cassie Schirm (@cassieschirmtv) June 12, 2017
Reporters on Capitol Hill Told They Cannot Film in Hallways
Breaking with a longstanding practice, reporters on Tuesday were told they could not record senators in the hallways of Capitol Hill.
ALERT: Reporters at Capitol have been told they are not allow to film interviews with senators in hallways, contrary to years of precedent
— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) June 13, 2017
After reporters and senators criticized the move, the Senate Rules Committee clarified that there had been no rule change.
Trump’s tweets appear in court decisions and submissions, as the Ninth Circuit finds the travel ban is unlawful.
Ninth Circuit Finds Travel Ban’s Primary Purpose is to Disfavor Muslims
The Ninth Circuit has largely upheld the decision of Hawaii’s District Court to stay Trump’s travel ban, finding that the executive order exceeded the scope of authority granted to the president by Congress.
Ninth Circuit Cites Trump Tweets as it Holds Travel Ban Unlawful
In its decision upholding the stay on Trump’s revised travel ban, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals cited Trump’s recent tweets, and a White House statement that said all Trump’s tweets were “considered official statements by the President of the United States.” Citing a tweet from June 5, the court wrote that “the President recently confirmed his assessment that it is the ‘countries’ that are inherently dangerous, rather than the 180 million individual nationals of those countries who are barred from entry under the President’s ‘travel ban’.”
Look here: 9th Circuit cites President Trump's tweet from @realdonaldtrump account as an official statement of the president. pic.twitter.com/FhiEkCkQEj
— Rick Hasen (@rickhasen) June 12, 2017
Hawaii Cites Trump’s Tweets in SCOTUS Argument that Travel Ban is Unlawful
In their arguments submitted to the Supreme Court in the upcoming travel ban case, attorneys for the state of Hawaii cited Trump’s series of tweets last week describing the courts as “slow and political” and saying his administration was already “EXTREME VETTING” people coming into the U.S.
Judiciary Committee Confronts Judicial Nominees Over Political Blog Posts
The Senate Judiciary Committee has questioned two Trump nominees for the bench over hundreds of blog posts they had written. John Bush, nominated to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, had called slavery and abortion “the two greatest tragedies in our country” and in other posts cited alt-right sources peddling conspiracy theories, including that President Obama was not born in the U.S. Bush described his 400+ posts published under a fake name as “political” and said that, as a judge, he would apply the law and would uphold the Supreme Court’s abortion decision of Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, Damien Schiff, nominated to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, called Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy a “judicial prostitute” in one his posts. “There is no circumstance under which a person who displays such obvious contempt and lack of respect for a Supreme Court justice should be given a seat on a federal court,” said the president of the liberal group Alliance for Justice.
GOP bill on health care kept secret
Republicans Keep Draft Health Care Bill Under Wraps
Senate Republicans have nearly finished their draft health care bill, but have told reporters they do not plan to release it publicly. The decision to keep it under wraps comes amidst Democratic criticism of the secrecy of the GOP’s bill writing process.