Norms Watch: Democracy, the Trump Administration, and Reactions to It (June 30-July 7)

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Trump heads to Europe for the G20 – without booking a hotel – and meets with Putin for the first time. Foreign affairs posts stay empty and critics decry a lack of American global leadership.


Senators in Afghanistan Complain of Diplomatic Vacancies

A delegation of U.S. Senators led by Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) visiting American troops in Kabul has urged the Trump administration to fill vacancies in the embassy and the State Department. The U.S. is without a permanent ambassador to Afghanistan, and many senior positions in the State Department dealing with regional policy have not been filled. “All of us realize that it’s more than just dropping bombs that will win in Afghanistan,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “Secretary Tillerson needs to come to Afghanistan quickly.” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) added that the military was concerned about “the hollowing out of the State Department”. The New York Times reports that American commanders are taking on some of the diplomatic responsibilities around Afghanistan, highlighting the military’s outsize role in the country.


Diplomatic Posts Remain Unfilled

Nearly six months into his presidency, Trump has failed to nominate candidates for a number of State Department and embassy posts, including several related to North Korea. Unfilled positions include ambassador to South Korea, secretary for arms control and international security affairs, assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and assistant secretary for arms control, verification and compliance. Fifty countries and international organizations are currently without a U.S. ambassador.



Trump Says “Everyone” At G20 Talking About John Podesta

“Everyone” at the G20 in Hamburg is talking about former Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, according to a Trump tweet on Friday morning. “Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA,” read the president’s tweet. “Disgraceful!” The tweet inspired some pushback from those who doubted that Podesta was on the minds of the world’s leaders, including from Eliot E. Engel (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Public Service Announcement for the President: Your meetings are in Europe, not on Mars,” Engel tweeted (the tweet has since been deleted). 

Others noted that the Podesta emails would not be within the CIA’s responsibilities, and that Podesta was not a DNC and would not have access to its server.



Iraqi Vice President Bemoans Lack of American Leadership

The vice president of one of America’s key Middle East allies, Iraq, has complained that the U.S.  is “absent” in the region. “There is a vacuum in the overall leadership in the world,” Ayad Allawi told CNN. “The Americans need to … get back to their role as an international power, an important international power.” He claimed the U.S. had no “international strategy”, and said it lacked clear policies in the fight against Islamist extremism. National security adviser H.R. McMaster told CNN that the U.S. was being “successful” with partners in Syria and Iraq, defending the Middle East strategy.

Obama Describes “Temporary Absence of American Leadership”

Former president Barack Obama indirectly criticized Trump in a speech in Indonesia on Saturday, describing a lack of “American leadership”. “In Paris, we came together around the most ambitious agreement in history about climate change,” Obama told the Fourth Congress of Indonesian Diaspora in Jakarta, “an agreement that even with the temporary absence of American leadership can still give our children a fighting chance.” In contrast to Trump’s “America first” rhetoric, Obama advocated for global cooperation, arguing that states would have to confront “the challenges of our times” together, including economic inequality, changing climate, terrorism, and mass migration.


Facing American Uncertainty, Germany Concludes It Can Legally Fund Nuclear Weapons

A review commissioned by the German Parliament has found that the country can legally finance British or French nuclear weapons in exchange for their protection. The document refers to fears “that the U.S. could reduce its nuclear commitment” to Europe, arising from Trump’s “contradictory statements on NATO”. While the review was only into the plan’s legality and not a decision to carry it out, it indicates the plan has risen to official policy-making channels. The review comes after discussion in Germany over whether Europe can rely on the U.S. to provide security and calls for what the New York Times calls “a pan-European nuclear umbrella” of French and British warheads.


Trump First President To Skip Out On Warsaw Ghetto Visit Since 1989

In Poland this week, Trump became the first president to visit Warsaw and skip a visit to the site of the Warsaw Ghetto since the fall of communism in 1989. Jewish community leaders issued a statement expressing regret that Trump would not be visiting the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. “Ever since the fall of Communism in 1989, all U.S. presidents and vice-presidents visiting Warsaw had made a point of visiting the Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto….We deeply regret that President Donald Trump, though speaking in public barely a mile away from the Monument, chose to break with that laudable tradition. We trust that this slight does not reflect the attitudes and feelings of the American people.” Trump mentioned the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising a speech on Thursday, and his daughter Ivanka visited to lay a wreath.


“#ThanksNorthKorea:” Haley Complains About Spending July Fourth in Meetings

North Korea’s successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday sparked fear in some, given the missile is capable of reaching Alaska. For U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, it prompted frustration that she would have to spend her holiday in meetings. Haley took to Twitter to complain, writing: “Spending my 4th in meetings all day. #ThanksNorthKorea”. The tweet prompted a backlash on Twitter, with many users suggesting she should get on with the job.


“So Much For China Working With Us” On North Korea, Trump Tweets

Following North Korea’s successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, Trump tweeted about increasing trade between China and North Korea and followed with: “So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!” The tweet signals a shift in tone and perhaps policy, after Trump appeared to get on well with Chinese president Xi Jinping early in his presidency.


No Room at the Inn for Trump and Entourage at G20

White House officials reportedly held off on booking accommodation for Trump and his entourage too long, leaving him hotel-less in Hamburg. Trump’s preferred digs, the Four Seasons, was already booked out by the time his team got in touch, as was every other luxury hotel in the German city. He will now reportedly stay in the official Senate guest house of Hamburg. The organizational mishap follows an earlier incident in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was forced to stay at a sanitarium in a German village 30 minutes from his counterparts in his first overseas trip, to Bonn. Vox speculates that a reason for the booking delay might be understaffing at the State Department: no one has been nominated as the director of Office of Foreign Missions, which is responsible for planning U.S. missions when officials travel overseas.




Trump takes on CNN, tweeting violent imagery and considering blocking Time Warner-AT&T Deal, while CNN reporter receives death threats. Kushner reportedly used tabloid story to try to extract apology from Morning Joe host.


Trump Tweet Depicts Him Bashing Head of CNN Avatar

Trump tweeted an animated GIF on Saturday, depicting him body-slamming and then bashing the head of a figure representing CNN. The New York Times described the video as “cartoonish in quality” and “an unorthodox way for a sitting president to express himself”.  The tweet prompted claims he is inciting violence against journalists. The latest salvo in Trump’s grudge against CNN was criticized by politicians from both major parties as violent. White House aides defended the tweet as harmless, with homeland security adviser Tom Bossert telling ABC viewers that “no one would perceive that as a threat”. A presidential historian told the Washington Post that “Nixon didn’t air his grievances as publicly as Trump does. We’ve never seen anything quite like the ongoing performance of President Trump.”


CNN Journalist Faces Death Threats After Writing Story About Redditor Who Created Trump Gif

A CNN reporter who wrote a story about the Reddit user behind the GIF posted by Trump is facing death threats, harassment, and the prospect of a protest outside his house. The story by Andrew Kaczynski identified the GIF creator’s Reddit username as HanAssholeSolo but withheld his real-life identity. However, it suggested he might reveal the user’s identity if his social media behavior changed. Multiple Twitter users, including Donald Trump Jr., criticized the piece as blackmail and suggested the Redditor was a teenage boy, which Kaczynski denies.


Alt-right identity Mike Cernovich, using the hashtag #CNNBlackMail, wrote “We are coming for you” on Twitter, and also tweeted that a protest would be held in front of Kaczynski’s home. On Thursday, the Daily Beast reported that Kaczynski’s parents and wife had received around 50 harassing phone calls each by Wednesday.


White House Reportedly Considers Using Pending Time Warner-AT&T Deal as Leverage in War With CNN

White House advisers have considered using the pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T in its ongoing war with the TV channel, the New York Times reports. To go ahead, the merger must be approved by the Department of Justice. Media columnist Will Bunch writes in the Philadelphia Daily News: “What’s really scary about the feud … is the idea that Trump and his administration could start pulling the awesome levers of power within the federal government — the ability to regulate, tax, audit and investigate — to bully CNN or other news organizations into favorable coverage of the president.”


Kushner Tried to Trade National Enquirer Story for Morning Joe Apology to Trump

Jared Kushner told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough that he could stop the National Enquirer tabloid publishing a story about his affair with co-host Mika Brzezinski, if Scarborough personally apologized to Trump, New York Magazine reports. Regular guest Donny Deutsch described using a tabloid hit-piece to extract an apology from journalists as “blackmail”.


Kathy Griffin Interviewed by Secret Service in Ongoing Investigation

Comedian Kathy Griffin, who was depicted in a controversial photo holding Trump’s bloodied and severed head, has reportedly been interviewed by the Secret Service for over an hour. The photograph was distributed in May.  


White House Holds Another Off-Camera White House Briefing

Following a recent trend away from transparency, the White House press briefing on Friday, June 30 was an off-camera affair. Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ comments were to be broadcast only in audio.


Trump Criticizes Media in Poland Visit




States resist Trump voter fraud commission.


Forty-Five States Refuse to Hand Over Voter Data to Voter Fraud Commission

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have formed a bipartisan stumbling block for Trump’s voter fraud commission, either refusing to release any of the data requested by the commission or providing only limited information. The Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, asked the states to turn over extensive personal information about voters, including their dates of birth, political party, last four digits of social security number, and information about felony convictions. NBC News reports that 19 states have totally refused to comply, referring to privacy concerns and arguing the panel is politically motivated, 26 states will only hand over public information per state laws, and five states are either still waiting for the request or reviewing it.


Lawsuit Challenges Pence-Kobach Commission

A privacy group has filed a lawsuit asking the District Court for the District of Columbia to block the voter fraud commission’s request for voter information as an invasion of privacy. The Department of Justice told the court that the lawsuit, initiated by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, could prevent the panel from investigating voter fraud.




Trump still reluctant to acknowledge Russia behind 2016 election interference, as fake news comes into focus for investigators


“Nobody Really Knows For Sure”, Trump Says on Russia Election Interference

In a departure from the U.S. Intelligence Community’s conclusion on Russia’s election interference in the 2016 election, Trump has said that while he accepts Russia was involved it may not have been the only state to do so. “I think it could very well have been Russia.” Trump said in remarks in Poland. “I think it could well have been other countries. I won’t be specific. But I think a lot of people interfere. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.” Trump did not identify his other suspects.


Former acting attorney general Sally Yates, whom Trump fired after she instructed the Justice Department not to defend his travel ban in court, has criticized Trump’s response to evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election. “POTUS’ inexplicable refusal to confirm Russian election interference insults career intel pros & hinders our ability to prevent in future,” the new Twitter user wrote on Friday morning.


Investigators Look Into Possible Collusion Around Russian-Made Fake News Stories

Multiple investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia are looking into the spread of Russian-made fake news stories, the Guardian reports. Reporting on the investigations has so far focused on the hacking and release of emails, but the separate question about fake news is emerging as an “important line of inquiry”. “Investigators are looking into whether Trump supporters and far-right websites coordinated with Moscow over the release of fake news, including stories implicating Clinton in murder or paedophilia, or paid to boost those stories on Facebook,” writes the Guardian’s Julian Borger. The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, has said there is evidence that Russian fake news generation appeared to be focused on key voters in swing states, which raises the question whether U.S. politicos helped to strategize in targeting the stories. The Trump campaign’s digital head has reportedly been asked to appear before the House Intelligence Committee, and special counsel Robert Mueller is thought to be looking into the issue as well.



“People with matches are inside the house.” Government officials resign after taking issue with Trump administration.


Government Ethics Office Chief Steps Down


The director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics resigned on Thursday, suggesting he was frustrated with the Trump administration. In his letter of resignation, Walter Shaub wrote that it was a “privilege” to work with OGE’s staff and federal ethics officials, who are “committed to protecting the principle that public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principles above private gain.”


On Twitter, Shaub wrote that working in the Trump administration, it became “clear to me that we need improvements to the existing ethics program.” Shaub had clashed with the president several times, including criticizing him for maintaining ownership of his real estate business. Shaub had been OGE’s head since 2013 and will join the Campaign Legal Center.


DOJ Corporate Crime Watchdog Quits, Blaming Trump Ethics Issues

A top corporate crime watchdog at the Department of Justice has blamed her resignation on the “cognitive dissonance” she experienced as she tried to impose ethics standards on corporations that the administration she worked in did not live up to. “To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck hair on the Titanic,” wrote former compliance counsel Hui Chen on LinkedIn. As she worked, she thought about the conflicts of interests litigation pending against Trump, investigations of “potentially treasonous conduct”, and “investigators and prosecutors fired for their pursuits of principles and facts.” Chen’s role was to help guide the DOJ’s enforcement of criminal law against corporations.


Engineer With Government’s Internal Tech “Startup” Resigns, Blaming Government

An engineer working at 18F, the federal government’s internal tech startup, has resigned eight months after publicly declaring he would stay on no matter who won the election. In a blog post explaining his decision, Noah Kunin cited fired FBI Director James Comey’s claim that Trump had asked him for his loyalty, and a change in the Federal Acquisition Service commissioner role, making it a White House appointment rather than an executive office. The “people with the matches are inside the house. … It’s now on fire because the people in charge want to burn it down,” wrote Kunin. He had been the Infrastructure Director of the digital services agency since 2014.


Typical Female White House Employee Earns 63.2% of Male Salary, in Widening Pay Gap

The White House gender pay gap has more than tripled under the Trump administration, the Washington Post reports. The median female White House staffer gets $72,650, while the median male earns $115,000 – so women get 63.2 cents to the male dollar. The gender pay gap of 37% is more than double the 17% national pay gap. In the last year of the Obama White House, the pay gap was 11%.


White House Fails to Recognize Pride Month

The Trump White House let June pass without recognizing LGBT Pride Month, in a break with a tradition set by Bill Clinton and taken up again by Barack Obama. The practice of recognizing Pride Month was paused under George W. Bush’s administration. Trump had previously promised to be an ally to the LGBT community. His daughter Ivanka Trump tweeted in celebration of Pride Month.



Questions about Kushner’s undeclared stake in a real estate company.


Ethics Watchdog Group Files Complaint About Kushner’s Online Real Estate Company Ownership

An ethics watchdog group has filed a complaint with the Office of Government Ethics, complaining that Jared Kushner failed to declare his significant stake in an $800 million online real estate investment company. Kushner cofounded the company, Cadre, in 2014. “Kushner’s failure to disclose his ownership in Cadre is very troubling,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “It appears to be one of his larger investments, not something he could easily overlook, and it is impossible to ensure that senior government officials are behaving ethically if they fail to disclose key assets.”

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).