Norms Watch: Democracy, the Trump Administration, and Reactions to It (August 18-August 25)

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THE PRESS AND PUBLIC DISCOURSE

The fallout from the deadly events in Charlottesville two weeks ago continued, as Trump is accused of dog-whistles, rabbis condemn him, charities pull out of Mar-a-Lago events, and the UN warns of increasing racial tension. Trump also suggests he may pardon a sheriff convicted of contempt for carrying out unconstitutional immigration policies.

 

Trump Continues To Invite Criticism For Tolerating Racism

At a campaign rally in Phoenix Tuesday night, Trump said, “It’s time to expose the crooked media deceptions and to challenge the media for their role in fomenting divisions and yes, by the way, they are trying to take away our history and our heritage.” The reference to “our history and our heritage” has been interpreted by some as adopting the rhetoric of the white nationalists who marched on Charlottesville.

Trump also referred to fired CNN contributor Jeffrey Lord, whose position was terminated after he tweeted “Sieg Heil” at a liberal activist. “Poor Jeffrey,” he said. “I guess he was getting a little bit fed up and was probably fighting back too hard and they said, ‘We gotta get out of here.’”

 

Trump Flirts With Arpaio Pardon

Arizona’s former sheriff Joe Arpaio may enjoy a reprieve from his sentence after being convicted of criminal contempt for his failure to stop enforcing immigration detention policies a court found were unconstitutional. Arpaio, a Trump supporter, had ignored a federal judge’s order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants. On August 14, Fox News reported that Trump said he is “seriously considering a pardon” for Arpaio. Ahead of Tuesday’s Phoenix rally, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that he would not take any action on a pardon for Arpaio “today.” However, at the rally, he told the crowd Arpaio “should feel fine.” On Wednesday, CNN reported that Trump had the pardon paperwork ready. Arpaio became widely known for his anti-immigration stance with a focus on undocumented immigrants and harsh treatment of prisoners.

Professor Noah Feldman writes that to pardon Arpaio “would be an assault on the federal judiciary, the Constitution and the rule of law itself.” Professor Martin Redish argues that the Arpaio case is different from a usual pardon, as he was “convicted of violating constitutional rights, in violation of a court order involving racial profiling”: to pardon Arpaio would signal to other agents that unconstitutional actions are likely to be pardoned when they’re in line with Trump’s policies.

 

United Nations Racism Body Issues “Early Warning” Over US Conditions

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has issued an “early warning” over conditions in the U.S., urging the Trump administration to “unequivocally and unconditionally” reject discrimination. The warning referred to the racially charged violence in Charlottesville last week, including the death of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer by a car ramming. Other countries issued with early warnings in the last decade are: Burundi, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria.

 

Defending His Post-Charlottesville Remarks, Trump Omits Controversial “On Both Sides”

At the Phoenix rally Tuesday, Trump defended his response to the deadly events in Charlottesville, reading aloud the comments he made in response to the rally, counter-protests and death of anti-racist Heather Heyer. However, in re-reading his statement he left out the words “on many sides,” which suggested a moral equivalence between white nationalists and anti-racists, and which drew rebuke from all sides of politics. The omission led to criticism that he was lying to his audience.

 

Trump Rails Against Media

At the Phoenix rally, Trump spent over a half hour railing against the media, blaming the press for the fallout he has received over his response to violence in Charlottesville. Calling the media “sick people,” he said they refused to properly report his comments speaking out “forcefully” against bigotry and hatred. He also suggested that reporters “don’t like our country.” In doing so, the Guardian reports that he portrayed himself as the true victim of the deadly events.

 

Rabbis Boycott Traditional Conference Call Over Trump’s Racism Response

Four groups of rabbis have publicly denounced Trump and announced they will not participate a traditional annual conference call the president usually holds with hundreds of rabbis ahead of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The announcement on Wednesday used what the New York Times describes as “unusually pointed language,” accusing Trump of giving “succor to those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia” with his post-Charlottesville comments. The organizations claim the backing of over 4,000 rabbis and congregations. Other groups, like the Orthodox community’s Rabbinical Council of America, did not sign on to the letter. The Rabbinical Council told the Times that the group had “already addressed this issue through our public statements,” which had condemned drawing “moral equivalency between the White Supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and those who stood up to their repugnant messages and actions.”

 

Treasury Secretary’s Wife Hashtags Expensive Clothes, Blasts Instagram Commenter

The wife of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, actress Louise Linton, hit back at an Instagram commenter, apparently insulting her lack of wealth. On Monday, Linton posted an image of her and Mnuchin disembarking from a government plane, captioning it “Great #daytrip to #Kentucky!” and hashtagging various elements of her expensive outfit, including #hermesscarf, #tomford and #valentino. “Glad we could pay for you little getaway. #deplorable,” commented Jenni Miller of Portland, Oregon, a mother of three. In a condescending response, Linton belittled Miller for having less money than she does. “Aw!!! Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable!” she wrote. “Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country?” She also said: “I’m pretty sure we paid more taxes toward our day ‘trip’ than you did. Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours.” Linton later apologized for her conduct.

 

Charities Pull Out of Mar-A-Lago Events

In the ongoing fallout over Trump’s lacklustre response to violence and racism in Charlottesville last week, eighteen charities have canceled events at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club. Some charities have moved their events to other venues, and others have cancelled the events outright. These high-paying clients are a significant source of revenue for the club over winter.

 

Trump Confidante Roger Stone Says Any Politician Voting To Impeach Trump Would Endanger Their Life, Cause Civil War

Roger Stone, who was an adviser to the Trump campaign and is a personal friend of Trump’s, told TMZ in an airport Thursday that Trump’s impeachment would lead to civil war. “Any politician who votes for it would be endangering their own life,” he said.

 

Trump Administration Officials Go Quiet Over The Weekend

 

 

THE TRUMP-RUSSIA CONNECTION

As more details come to light about the Russian lobbyist at the Trump Tower meeting’s ties to the Russian government, Trump pushes back against Republican attempts to constrain him on Russia and the Mueller investigation.

 

Russian Lobbyist at Trump Tower Meeting Has Deep Ties To Russian Government

Rinat Akhmetshin, the Russian lobbyist and Soviet military intelligence veteran present at a meeting with senior Trump campaign officials in June last year has deeper ties to the Russian government than was previously known, the New York Times reports. Akhmetshin’s projects over two decades in Washington routinely advanced the Kremlin’s interests, especially after he became an American citizen in 2009. The meeting with Akhmetshin is of investigative interest to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking at possible Trump campaign involvement in Russian interference in the 2016 election. Jonathan Chait of New York magazine concluded from the Times report that Akhmetshin was “almost definitely a spy.”

 

Trump Clashes With Republican Senators Over Russia

Trump vented about legislation sanctioning Russia to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a call earlier this month. Politico reports that Trump argued that the law was unconstitutional and would damage his presidency. He had earlier complained about the sanctions in a call with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in which he suggested McConnell had refused to protect him from the Russia investigations. On August 7, Trump called Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and complained about a draft bill which would insulate special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by the president.

 

 

WHITE HOUSE AND ADMINISTRATION

Trump suggests he will force a government shutdown over border wall funding, tensions with fellow Republicans rise, and the administration is hit with a barrage of resignations mostly from advisory boards.

 

Trump Threatens Government Shutdown Over Border Wall

At a campaign rally in Arizona Tuesday night, Trump threatened to shut down the government if he did not get funding for his planned Mexico border wall. “If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” he told the crowd. Trump wants $3.6 billion for the wall over the next two fiscal years. He repeatedly said during his campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall.

 

Trump’s Economic Adviser Criticizes Administration’s Response to Charlottesville

Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn has told the Financial Times that he felt “enormous pressure” in the wake of the events in Charlottesville and their aftermath, saying that “this administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities.” In an implicit critique of Trump, he continued: “As a patriotic American, I am reluctant to leave my post… But I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks… Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK.” Cohn reportedly even drafted a letter of resignation. Axios predicts the interview will “enrage” the president, as a subordinate has publicly criticized him.

 

McConnell: Trump is Unwilling to Learn the Basics of Governing

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have not spoken in nearly two weeks, and their last exchange ended in “a profane shouting match,” the New York Times reports. Trump has criticized McConnell publicly on Twitter. Privately, McConnell has described Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing. “There are few recent precedents for the rift,” write the Times’ Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, pointing to a dispute between George W. Bush and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott in 2002, after the latter made racially charged remarks.

 

Trump Turns On Republican Senators

In the same speech, Trump implicitly rebuked Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans of Arizona, over their votes on health care. He did not mention them by name, joking that it made him “very presidential” not to. However, by repeatedly noting that the GOP was “one vote away” from repealing Obamacare and referring to “your other senator, who’s weak on the border, weak on crime,” it was apparent who he meant. 80-year-old McCain is undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

Sen. Flake is up for re-election next year. Trump has previously criticized him on Twitter, apparently endorsing his primary competitor Kelli Ward last week.

On Friday morning, Trump also tweeted criticism of Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), writing that the Senator had privately asked him whether he should run for re-election. Corker had criticized Trump’s response to Charlottesville.

 

White House and Administration Bodies Hit With Resignations

Seven members of the White House’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council resigned this week, citing Trump’s response to the events in Charlottesville. On Wednesday, a science envoy for the State Department also resigned. His resignation letter referred to Trump’s “attacks on core values of the United States,” including Trump’s Charlottesville response. The first letter of each paragraph spelled out “IMPEACH.”

 

Carson May Have Violated Hatch Act At Phoenix Rally

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson appeared at Trump’s Phoenix rally Tuesday, where he was introduced with his cabinet title. The appearance may violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their positions for political gains. Cabinet secretaries are not supposed to participate in political events in an official capacity, so that they don’t use their positions to promote a particular political party.

 

Secret Service Reaches Yearly Salary Cap Early

The Secret Service has already hit its caps for salary and overtime allowances for the year, largely due to the size of Trump’s family and multiple residences. The agency is tasked with protecting 42 people under the Trump administration, up from 31 during the Obama administration. Trump has traveled to his properties nearly every weekend of his presidency, and his children have travelled across the country and internationally on business and vacation. If Congress does not act, the agency will not be able to pay agents for work they have already done. The agency is already dealing with large attrition rates.

 

Trump Fails To Meet Self-Imposed Deadlines

During his presidency, Trump’s administration has only met 23 of 52 deadlines for actions he prescribed himself by executive orders and memoranda, The Intercept reports. For example, the State Department is supposed to publish a monthly list of immigrant and nonimmigrant visa issuances, according to a memorandum related to the travel ban, but it has not published the July report.

 

 

CORRUPTION AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

An adviser to Trump may face criminal sanction for advising on regulations which affect his own financial interests.

 

Billionaire Trump Adviser Icahn In “Legal Jeopardy” For Trying To Influence Trump Policy

Billionaire Carl Icahn announced this week that he would end his role as special adviser to Trump, shortly before The New Yorker reported that Icahn could be in “legal jeopardy” for his work on an environmental policy which would affect his financial interests. Bush era ethics lawyer Richard Painter said Icahn was “walking right into possible criminal charges,” citing a statute which prohibits government employees from working on any matter in which they have a direct financial interest.

 

Image: Ralph Freso/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).