Norms Watch: Democracy, the Trump Administration, and Reactions to It (June 23-June 30)

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THE PRESS AND PUBLIC DISCOURSE

Trump targets women journalists, tweets his way into trouble, and takes umbrage with CNN, MSNBC and the Washington Post, while the White House continues to restrict press briefings. An NRA ad stirs controversy for the vivid language it uses to criticize anti-Trump protesters.

 

Press Briefings Proceed Without Cameras

The White House has again caused a stir amongst the press corps by prohibiting audio and video recording at briefings this week. On Monday, journalists were permitted to record audio, but not video. On Tuesday, the briefing was allowed to be filmed. On Wednesday, it was a no-audio, no-video affair.

On Thursday, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders delivered the briefing with no recording restrictions.

The White House Correspondents’ Association has said it is working to make briefings more transparent, with its president writing in a memo to members last week that, “we are not satisfied with the current state of play, and we will work hard to change it.”

 

White House Spokesperson Encourages People to Watch Video “Whether it’s Accurate or Not”

At her Tuesday briefing, the White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders encouraged Americans to watch an anti-CNN video made by an rightwing activist, even though she couldn’t vouch for it’s accuracy. “There’s a video circulating now, whether it’s accurate or not, I don’t know, but I would encourage everyone in this room and everyone in this country to take a look at it,” Sanders said after criticizing CNN for running a story it later retracted. The video’s maker, James O’Keefe, was convicted of entering a senator’s office under false pretences in 2010. He has habitually edited his videos in a misleading way.

 

Trump Tweets Personal Attacks on “Morning Joe” Hosts

On Thursday morning, Trump issued a two-tweet attack on his old friends Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the engaged couple who host MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. He labelled the two “low I.Q. crazy Mika” and “Psycho Joe”, and said he saw Brzezinski “bleeding badly from a face-lift”. A photo from the time shows no bleeding, and the two published an op-ed Friday denying that the events Trump describes in his tweets ever happened

 

The first lady Melania Trump, who earlier committed to take on cyberbullying, supported her husband’s tweet. “As the First Lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder,” her spokesperson said.

 

A number of Republican lawmakers criticized the president’s tweets.

 

NRA Ad Prompts Anger

An advertisement for the National Rifle Association focusing on leftist protests has inspired criticism and anger arising from its strong language. In the ad, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch says that, “they use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.” Loesch invites NRA supporters to “fight this violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth”.

Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau called the ad “revolting and frightening”, and activists and gun owners alike have criticized the ad on social media. Loesch rejects the characterization of the video as an incitement to violence, telling the New York Times, “I hardly think that condemning violence is inciting violence.”

Trump Criticizes Washington Post, Says Owner’s Company Amazon Should Pay “Internet Taxes”

Trump attacked the Washington Post and Amazon in a tweet on Wednesday, accusing Amazon of not paying “internet taxes”. The tweet said: “The #AmazonWashingtonPost, sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon not paying internet taxes (which they should) is FAKE NEWS!.” Amazon collects state sales taxes. Its CEO Jeff Bezos (and not Amazon) owns the Washington Post. The attack followed a report by the Washington Post that Trump’s golf clubs displayed fake TIME magazine covers featuring Trump.

 

CNN Journalists Resign Over Retracted Story About Trump-Linked Russian Bank

Three high-ranking CNN journalists have resigned and the channel has apologized after its website published a story saying a Russian bank linked to a close ally of Trump was under Senate investigation. The story was retracted. The White House has used the mistake to criticize the media, with Trump tweeting: “Wow, CNN had to retract big story on “Russia,” with 3 employees forced to resign. What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!” Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders invoked the retraction in her briefing, using it to scold journalists.

 

Man Who Called for Clinton’s Shooting Death Invited to White House

Al Baldasaro, a New Hampshire state lawmaker and Republican National Convention Trump delegate, called a radio show last year to complain about Hillary Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi attack, saying that she “should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.” Last Friday, he was at the White House to watch Trump sign a bill reforming the Veterans Affairs department. Reporters asked press secretary Sean Spicer how he could reconcile Baldasaro’s invitation with the administration’s criticism of similar rhetoric towards the president, with Spicer replying that he was “not aware” of Baldasaro’s previous comments.

 

Trump Halts Conversation with Irish Prime Minister to Compliment Journalist’s “Nice Smile”

In the middle of a telephone conversation with Ireland’s new prime minister, Trump pointed at an Irish journalist looking on and beckoned her to come over to. “And where are you from?” he asked Caitriona Perry. “Go ahead. Come here, come here. Where are you from? We have all of this beautiful Irish press.” Trump then told the prime minister Leo Varadkar that Perry “has a nice smile on her face so I bet she treats you well.” A sociology professor described the incident to the New York Times as “textbook paternalistic sexism”.

 

Trump Energy Appointee Once Tweeted That Obama was a “Kenyan Creampuff”

“I think Obama was given his mission in Tehran long ago, and it suits him just fine,” tweeted William C. Bradford last December. “How else can a Kenyan creampuff get ahead?” Six months later, Bradford has been picked to run the Energy Department’s Office of Indian Energy, which assists Native American and Alaska Native tribes with energy development. The Obama tweet was just one of several tweets Bradford issued disparaging people, including Megyn Kelly and Mark Zuckerberg, for their race, gender, and religion. Bradford has now deleted his account and apologized for his “disrespectful and offensive comments.”

 

Playboy Journalist Accuses White House Spokesperson of “Inflammatory” Media Criticism

A journalist interrupted deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and accused her of “inflaming everybody” with her criticisms of the media, which had focused on the use of anonymous sources and CNN’s retracted story on the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. “You’re here to provide the answers, and what you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at this and say, ‘See, once again, the president’s right and everybody else out here is fake media,’” Brian Karem told Sanders. “And everybody in this room is only trying to do their job.” Karem is executive editor of two Maryland newspapers and columnist with Playboy Magazine, where he later justified his anger, saying “I don’t like bullies.” The Washington Post reports that Sanders’ criticism of the media took up nearly five minutes of her 17-minute question-and-answer session.

 

No Press Events for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

 

ELECTIONS

Trump fails to act on Russian election interference, but commission on voter fraud is to convene soon.

 

Trump Drags Feet on Election Security

The trump administration has done little to protect the 2018 elections from the hacking, leaking and disruption seen in 2016 even though intelligence officials warn it will happen again, NBC News reports. Trump has shown no interest in protecting future elections from foreign interference, according to recent congressional testimony, and his press secretary said he has not discussed the issue with him. State officials say they have received little direction about what to do, and experts and government officials told NBC that the inaction also stems from the administration leaving key jobs at the Department of Homeland Security empty.

 

Commission Investigating Alleged Voter Fraud to Meet in July

An election integrity commission created by Trump after he repeatedly claimed that millions of illegal votes were cast in last year’s election will meet for the first time next month. Trump made the claim without evidence and blamed the ‘fraud’ for his popular vote loss. Vice president Pence, who is the chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, announced the meeting on Wednesday, telling the commission’s members that the group’s primary work will be to “protect and preserve the principle of one person, one vote.”

 

On Thursday, the commission reportedly invited all states to share voter data with them, including voters’ names, birthdays, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers and their voting history dating back to 2006. A number of states have already refused to comply. Virginia’s governor Terry McAuliffe issued a statement saying the commission was based on the “false notion” of widespread fraud in last year’s election. “At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump’s alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression,” he said. California’s Secretary of State also refused to comply, saying the state’s participation “would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, Vice President, and [Kansas Secretary of State Kris] Kobach.”

 

As at Friday morning, Kentucky and Massachusetts were the other states to decline to hand over the data.

 

 

THE COURTS

After the Supreme Court partially reinstates travel ban, Trump’s personal lawyer speaks to Fox and Donald Jr complains of lower court “activism”.

 

Supreme Court Takes Travel Ban Case, Partly Reinstating It

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the travel ban in October, and lifted significant parts of the lower court stays on the executive order in the meantime. The 90-day ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and the 120-day suspension of the refugee resettlement program, can be enforced against people without a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity” in the U.S. Trump described the interim decision as a “clear victory for our national security”. On Wednesday, the Trump administration issued criteria for the bona fide relationship, requiring a “close” family or business ties. State Department instructions say new visa applicants will have to prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the U.S.

 

Trump’s Personal Lawyer Calls Fox to Talk About Supreme Court’s Travel Ban Order

Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow appeared on Fox to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision to partially reinstate the travel ban. In Monday’s briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to explain the president’s understanding of the ruling, referring reporters to the Department of Justice. Sekulow, who is representing Trump in the Russia investigations, was more forthcoming. Asked whether the ruling meant that the administration could block some people’s entry immediately, Sekulow replied: “Yes, the 90-day pause, the 120-day pause, all of those stay in place.” The Washington Post identifies this as a part of a trend of Sekulow becoming increasingly visible and Spicer receding, pointing out that Spicer is a taxpayer-funded government spokesman, while Trump’s personal lawyers “are loyal only to Trump. They have no obligation to represent the interests of the press or the public.”

 

Trump Son Derides 9th Circuit’s “Activism” After Supreme Court Travel Ban Order

 

 

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATIONS

Trump casts wide net of blame for Russian hacking, demands apology for Russia investigations, and admits using “tapes” tweets to influence Comey.

 

Trump Pushes Inconsistent Lines on Russian Hacking

Trump has blamed his predecessor Barack Obama for failing to take action on Russian email hacking, after earlier suggesting China might have carried out the hacking, speculating that it might be the work of an overweight lone wolf, and casting doubt on the fact that any hacking happened at all.

On Saturday, Trump sent out a tweet indirectly acknowledging Russian interference in the election, a concept he has routinely dismissed:

“Since the Obama Administration was told way before the 2016 Election that the Russians were meddling, why not action? Focus on them, not T!”

 

Trump Says He Should Receive Apology for Russia Investigations

Trump has tweeted that he deserves an apology for the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as he says they have failed to prove collusion or obstruction. “With 4 months looking at Russia under a magnifying glass, they have zero ‘tapes’ of T people colluding,” the tweet read. “There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!”

 

Republican Researcher Implied Connection to Flynn as he Sought Russian-Hacked Emails

A Republican opposition researcher independently hunting for emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, probably by Russians, implied he was working with then-adviser to Trump Michael Flynn, the Wall Street Journal reports. “He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this—if you find anything, can you let me know?’” a computer-security expert engaged by Smith told the Journal. Emails written by Smith and his associates reportedly show they considered Flynn as an ally in their search for the emails. A Trump campaign official said that Smith was not part of the campaign and that any coordination with Flynn was not endorsed by the campaign.

 

Trump Suggests he Tweeted About Tapes to Influence Comey Testimony

In an interview on Fox News, Trump suggested that his tweet implying he secretly recorded his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey was designed to influence Comey’s testimony. “Fox & Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt asked Trump to explain his tweet last week that he had no such tapes. “I didn’t tape. …But when he found that I, you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether it’s governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows, I think his story may have changed,” Trump told Earhardt. Asked whether the suggestion there might be recordings of their conversations was a “smart way to make sure he stayed honest in those hearings”, Trump replied: “Well, it wasn’t – it wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that. … He did admit that what I said was right. And if you look further back, before he heard about that, I think maybe he wasn’t admitting that.”

 

House Intelligence Committee Threatens to Subpoena Trump’s Comey “Tapes”

The chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee suggested on Thursday they might subpoena any recordings of conversation between Trump and Comey. The committee had previously requested that “tapes” referred to in Trump’s tweets be handed over if they existed. The White House responded by referring the committee to Trump’s tweets last week denying that he made or possesses any recordings of their conversations. The chair, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Tx.) and ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Cal.) say the tweets are not enough and the committee will consider using “compulsory process” to get a fuller response.  “By only referring to the President’s statement, the White House’s letter stops short of clarifying for the Committee whether the White House has any responsive recordings, memoranda, or other documents,” they said.

 

Trump Delays Filing Complaint to DOJ About Comey’s Conduct

Trump will put off filing a complaint with the Justice Department about James Comey’s leaked memos of their conversations, Bloomberg reports. The postponement is an attempt to stop antagonizing special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump reportedly plans to file the complaint later.

 

FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL SECURITY

White House warns Syria against chemical attack, catching American defense officials by surprise, but UN Ambassador Nikki Haley says inconsistent foreign policy is helpful.

 

White House Accuses Syria of Planning Another Chemical Attack, Warns it Will Pay “Heavy Price”

In a statement late on Monday, the White House said the U.S. had identified preparations for another chemical weapons attack, similar to those made before the Syrian government’s April 4 sarin gas attack on civilians at Khan Sheikhoun. “If Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price,” threatened a White House statement. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley followed up with a tweet saying that any further attacks in Syria would be blamed on Assad”, “but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.”

 

BuzzFeed reports that the Pentagon channels which would usually have coordinated such a statement were left in the dark about the intelligence behind it. POLITICO reports that the statement was drafted quickly, that there were “minimal deliberations” about the strategy to issue a public warning, and that only a small number of top military officials knew about the intelligence and statement. The White House followed up with a Tuesday statement saying that “all relevant agencies — including State, DoD, CIA and ODNI — were involved in the process from the beginning”. Heather Hurlburt writes at the New York Magazine that “it is not normal to move decision-making around highly sensitive intelligence from the president’s intelligence briefing directly to the press office, and only later back to the security professionals to work the text.”

 

 

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Says Unpredictable Foreign Policy Is A Good Thing

The U.S.’s ambassador to the United Nations has told Congress the unpredictability of the U.S.’s foreign policy is a good thing, making her negotiations easier. “For me, it’s been helpful,” Nikki Haley told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I deal with 192 [countries] and the overwhelming feeling is that we are unpredictable…It has kept them more on alert, of wanting to be there with us, not wanting to get on the wrong side of us.”

“The suggestion by Haley, a diplomatic novice, that U.S. leadership in the world is enhanced by its unpredictability struck some delegates as naive and a bit troubling,” writes Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch. “Traditionally, American allies have looked to the United States as a force for consistency and stability.”

 

Trump Asks Team to Come Up With “Deliverables” Ahead of Putin Meeting

The Guardian reports that Trump has asked his aides to brainstorm possible concessions to offer Vladimir Putin ahead of their planned meeting next week. National Security Council staff have been directed with suggesting “deliverables”, which could include easing sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in response to Russia’s interference with the 2016 election. It is unclear what Trump might ask for in response. Trump reportedly wants to have a formal bilateral meeting with Putin alongside the G20 summit in Germany, but this is opposed by officials who believe a brief “pull-aside” would be more appropriate in light of the ongoing investigations into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia.

 

Anti-White Extremism Group Dropped From DHS Funding Program

The Department of Homeland Security is re-starting a grant program that funds countering violent extremism, but has denied funding to a group which fights white extremism, POLITICO reports. The group, Life After Hate, was set to get $400,000 of a $10 million pool in the last days of the Obama administration, but the Trump administration halted the program for review and then dropped them from the list when it resumed the program. Life After Hate’s founder said the group had seen a twenty-fold increase in requests for help since election day.

 

WHITE HOUSE

As Senate Republicans negotiate on health care, Trump stays on the sidelines and above the details.

 

Senate Republicans Would Rather Negotiate Health Care With Pence Than Trump

Trump has largely remained on the sidelines as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tries to gather the votes to pass his health care bill repealing Obamacare, the New York Times reports. Although health care reform was one of Trump’s key campaign promises,  McConnell has kept him at arm’s length as he has overseen negotiations, and the Senate Republican leadership has made it know they would rather negotiate with vice president Mike Pence than with Trump. Several undecided senators have clashed with Trump, during the presidential campaign or since. Reports have raised questions about Trump’s mastery of the details of the policy. One senator told the Times that at a meeting with all GOP senators Trump did “not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan”. Officials have described Trump as either detached from or barely interested in the complicated details of health care policy, the Daily Beast reports. One former campaign aide said the president confuses Medicare and Medicaid.  

 

Trump Golf Courses Displayed Fake TIME Cover

A TIME cover from 2009 featuring Trump on its cover was hung up in at least five of his golf clubs – but it’s a fake, the Washington Post revealed this week. The headline read, “Donald Trump: The ‘Apprentice’ is a television smash!” The cover also said “TRUMP IS HITTING ON ALL FRONTS…EVEN TV!” Trump did not appear on any 2009 cover of TIME, and there was no issue of that date. The magazine confirmed the cover is fake.

 

 

Ivanka Trump, Special Assistant to the President, Says “I Try to Stay Out of Politics”

Despite working as special assistant to the president, Ivanka Trump told “Fox & Friends” that she tries to “stay out of politics”. Asked about her father’s use of Twitter, Trump praised her father’s political instincts and said, “but I don’t profess to be a political savant.” Ivanka Trump moved to Washington in January with her husband, senior Trump advisor Jared Kushner, and has been a frequently-used Trump surrogate, including delivering a speech at the Republican convention.

 

Trump Accuses Clinton of “Colluding” With the DNC to Beat Sanders

“Hillary Clinton colluded with the Democratic Party in order to beat Crazy Bernie Sanders. Is she allowed to collude? Unfair to Bernie,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. The tweet, another re-litigation of the 2016 presidential election, comes when Trump has been in the job for five months. It also muddies the waters of the legal term “collusion”, for which the special counsel and congressional committees looking into Russian electoral interference are investigating Trump’s campaign.

 

Trump Ignores White House Tradition of Ramadan Dinner

Trump has broken a near two-decade tradition of hosting an iftar dinner at the end of Ramadan. Instead of hosting legislators, diplomats and Muslim community leaders for dinner as presidents have done every year since 1996. Donald and Melania Trump issued a statement to mark the end of Ramadan.

 

CORRUPTION AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

Two Trump family associates begin work in the government, Trump’s lawyer is investigated over charity payments, and a former campaign official registers as a foreign agent.

 

Paul Manafort Registers as Foreign Agent

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has retroactively registered as a foreign agent, following in the footsteps of fellow ex-Trump campaign official Michael Flynn. Manafort’s lobbying firm earned $17.1 million from a pro-Russia party in Ukraine between 2012 and 2014. He advised the party on “their interaction with U.S. government officials…to advance the goal of greater political and economic integration between the Ukraine and the West,” according to his filing.

 

Trump 2020 Campaign Raises $10 Million From Fundraiser at Trump Hotel

Some 300 guests paid $35,000 each to attend a fundraiser for Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign 40 months out from the election – totalling $10 million. The event was hosted at Trump International Hotel on Wednesday, raising conflict of interest questions. In a break from tradition, and contrary to earlier indications from deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, reporters were not allowed in. Leaked audio reveals the president used the occasion to criticize CNN, asking whether he ought to sue the “horrible human beings”.

 

Family of Trump’s Lawyer Receives Millions From Charities They Control

When he’s not representing Trump in the investigations into Russian election interference, Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow is chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a charity which pursues Christian causes in the courts. A Washington Post investigation revealed that Sekulow and five family members were directly paid $5.5 million over five years through a complex arrangement involving ACLJ and another charity. Another $23 million went to firms owned entirely or in part by family members. Following the report, the attorneys general of North Carolina and New York said they would investigate the nonprofits.

 

Haley Accused of Violating Hatch Act by Retweeting Trump

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley violated federal law by retweeting a Trump tweet from June 19 endorsing a South Carolina Republican running for Congress, an ethics watchdog group claims. The Hatch Act prohibits executive employees from using their “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” Haley later deleted the re-tweet, but her 350,000 followers may already have seen it. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has asked the Office of Special Counsel to investigate.

 

Trump Family Associate With no Housing Background Begins Role as Federal Housing Official

Lynne Patton, a self-described “loyal” Trump family associate, began her new job as head of the New York and New Jersey office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development this week. Patton had no housing experience before her employment as the department’s senior adviser and director of public engagement for the housing secretary several months ago. She defended her ability to do the job in an interview with the New York Times, saying “I am, more than anyone, best suited to serve as this liaison because … I have a direct line to both the secretary and the president of the United States.” Patton had previously worked as vice president of the Eric Trump foundation, a liaison between the Trump family and government officials, and an event planner.

 

New White House Chief Usher is Former Trump International Hotel Director of Rooms

The newly appointed White House chief usher previously worked as a senior manager at Washington’s Trump International Hotel, the Washington Post reports. Timothy Harleth joined the hotel’s staff last year, and will now oversee the staff in the first family’s living quarters. While chief ushers historically serve long tenures, the job has changed hands three times in the last decade. Former Obama ethics chief Norm Eisen told the Post the move was part of a trend of the new administration using “family and personal retainers.” “The problem with it is that you have people whose first loyalty is to the man” instead of the institution, he said.

 

Image: 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).