Norms Watch: Damage to Democracy and Rule of Law in September 2018

Here is the latest installment of Norms Watch, our series tracking the flouting of democratic norms by the Trump administration and the erosion those norms suffer as a result. This is our collection of the most significant breaks with democratic traditions that occurred in September 2018. Please let us know if you think we missed any.

1. New reporting stoked concern about a constitutional crisis and Trump’s control over his own presidency

From Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, to an op-ed penned by an anonymous senior Trump administration official in the New York Times, new revelations emerged about how chaotic life is inside the White House and the steps administration officials are willing to take to thwart President Donald Trump’s worst impulses. These acts of resistance exacerbated fears of a constitutional crisis and the president’s fitness for office.  

I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration – op-ed by a senior official in the Trump administration writing for The New York Times

This Is a Constitutional CrisisThe Atlantic’s David Frum

The Rogue White House Official Who Wrote That Times Op-ed Is a Moral CowardThe New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz

Bob Woodward’s new book reveals a ‘nervous breakdown’ of Trump’s presidency The Washington Post’s  Philip Rucker and Robert Costa

The devil’s workshop: Bob Woodward on Trump’s chaotic White HouseThe Financial Times’ Edward Luce

Crazytown: A Bob Woodward Book, an Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed, and a Growing Crisis for the Trump PresidencyThe New Yorker’s Susan B. Glasser

Trump Staff’s Resistance Can’t Avert a Crisis. It Is OneBloomberg’s Timothy L. O’Brien

2. Rosenstein revelations

The New York Times reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who’s overseeing the special counsel investigation being led by Robert Mueller, proposed wearing a wire to secretly record the president during the chaotic days that followed the firing of FBI Director James Comey. The same article also said Rosenstein had even raised the idea of gathering cabinet members who could invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. The report was met with widespread skepticism but the paper and its reporters stood by the account. The story provoked immediate speculation about whether Trump would fire Rosenstein.

Rod Rosenstein Suggested Secretly Recording Trump and Discussed 25th AmendmentThe New York Times’ Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt

Rod Rosenstein’s Job Is Safe, for Now: Inside His Dramatic DayThe New York Times’  Michael D. Shear, Katie Benner, Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt

Even if Rosenstein Stays, The Mueller Investigation Status Quo Won’t LastWired’s Garrett M. Graff

The New York Times Stands By Its Rod Rosenstein ScoopSlate’s Isaac Chotiner

Rosenstein’s Hill tormentors surprisingly cautious after bombshell report POLITICO’s Rachael Bade, Kyle Cheney and John Bresnahan

3. Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing began with Democrats calling foul over missing documents

The decision by the White House and Republicans to withhold hundreds of thousands of documents about Kavanaugh’s record hung over the judge’s confirmation hearing, which took place over several days in September. It prompted a group of Democratic senators to sue the National Archives and Records Administration to force release of the records.

The story behind the withheld documents of the Kavanaugh hearing The Washington Post’s Michael Kranish

Senate Democrats Are Suing The National Archives To Get Brett Kavanaugh’s RecordsBuzzfeed News’ Zoe Tillman

Democrats Say Justice Department Is Stonewalling on Kavanaugh Files Bloomberg’s Andrew M Harris and Daniel Flatley

4. The Kavanaugh-Ford hearing and all that followed

After allegations of sexual assault surfaced against Kavanaugh, the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to hold a hearing to listen to and question Christine Blasey Ford, one of Kavanaugh’s accusers, as well as Kavanaugh himself. As the hearing approached, Kavanaugh’s supporters issued letters of support and floated bizarre alternative theories of who could have assaulted Ford. The hearing itself left the country reeling, as politicians and the public tried to grapple with Ford’s courageous testimony and Kavanaugh’s display of emotion and partisanship. As pressure mounted, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) put a pause on the process, calling for an additional FBI investigation, which, when launched, immediately drew suspicions of White House interference.

PR firm helped Whelan stoke half-baked Kavanaugh alibiPOLITICO’s Eliana Johnson

Once Christine Blasey Ford’s Humanity Was on Display, It Was All OverThe Atlantic’s Peter Beinart

American Politics Is Boofed POLITICO’s John F. Harris

Kavanaugh, Ford, emotion — and evidence – David Harsanyi in The New York Post

Trump HUD Secretary Ben Carson claims Kavanaugh allegations are part of a centuries old socialist plot CNBC’s Christina Wilkie

Was Kavanaugh saved when the GOP abandoned its ‘female assistant’ for bare-knuckled partisanship? – Luppe B. Luppen for Yahoo News

American Bar Association and Yale Law School Urge F.B.I. Inquiry Into Kavanaugh The New York Times’ Austin Ramzy and Christine Hauser

How the F.B.I. Will Investigate the Kavanaugh Accusations The New York Times’ Adam Goldman and Rebecca R. Ruiz

5. Trump refuses to accept the death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

In a series of tweets, Trump claimed the official death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where nearly 3,000 people died, was wrong and made up by Democrats to make him look bad.

As a New Hurricane Roars In, Trump Quarrels Over the Last OneThe New York Times’ Peter Baker

Democrats, Puerto Ricans blast Trump’s ‘beyond ridiculous’ Hurricane Maria death toll claimsNBC’s  Adam Edelman, Suzanne Gamboa and Nicole Acevedo

6. Family separation fallout continues

The country learned more about the emotional and financial costs of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, including its cruel practice of separating children from their parents at the border, a move so controversial that Trump was forced to end it in June. With family separations halted, the Trump administration is pushing for a way around the legal restriction on how long children can be held in detention.

DHS transferred $169 million from other programs to ICE for migrant detentionNBC News’ Adiel Kaplan

Trump administration diverted nearly $10 million from FEMA to ICE detention program, according to DHS documentThe Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker

Migrant Children Moved Under Cover of Darkness to a Texas Tent CityThe New York Times’ Caitlin Dickerson

Trump administration to circumvent court limits on detention of child migrantsThe Washington Post’s Nick Miroff and Maria Sachetti

Trump Officials Urge End of Time Limits on Detaining Migrant Children  – The New York Times’ Ron Nixon

The Secretary Of Homeland Security Said There Was “No Policy Of Separating Families.” A Memo Proves There WasBuzzfeed News’ Adolfo Flores

Life on the edge at Trump’s border The Financial Times’ Barney Jopson

Government to expand, extend Texas tent shelter for childrenAP’s Nomaan Merchant

7. FEMA Director Brock Long Joins Long List of Trump officials under investigation for misuse of government resources

Long racked up over $100,000 in unauthorized travel costs, which are now under investigation. He’s hardly the first Trump administration official who’s reportedly misused government funds and vehicles for personal use.

FEMA Chief Brock Long’s Unauthorized Travel Cost Government $151,000, Inspector General Report ShowsThe Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender

Brock Long’s improper use of FEMA staff, SUVs included Hawaii pineapple plant tour, investigation saysThe Washington Post’s Lisa Rein

8. Trump stuns with his United Nations press conference

Appearing at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, Trump gave an 81-minute freewheeling press conference, where he fielded questions about the accusations against Kavanaugh, among other topics. His transparency led some to describe it as more like a public therapy session than a Q&A session with reporters.

‘Give it to me’: Trump lets loose with 81 minutes of bluster, falsehoods and insults The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker

President Trump’s Surreal News Conference Didn’t Do Kavanaugh Any FavorsThe Atlantic’s Todd S. Purdum

9. World leaders laugh at Trump during his United Nations speech

During his speech at the United Nations, Trump claimed, “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.” The line generated laughter from the audience, which Trump administration officials were quick to argue was not because U.N. members were laughing at the U.S. president, but rather with him.

World leaders appear to laugh at Trump at UNABC News’ Cecilia Vega

Trump on world leaders laughing during UN speech: ‘They were laughing with me’USA Today’s Christal Hayes

Nikki Haley: United Nations Laughter Not A Diss But A Sign Of Respect For Trump’s ‘Honesty’The Huffington Post’s Hayley Miller

10. Cohen and Manafort talking to Mueller

Amidst the month’s crazy news, Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and campaign chief, Paul Manafort, were quietly and privately speaking to Mueller. The country waits to learn the consequences of their cooperation and what it will mean for Trump, his family and his administration.

Michael Cohen Has Talked With Mueller About Trump in Recent WeeksThe Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus,  Nicole Hong and Joe Palazzolo

Paul Manafort: Ex-Trump campaign chairman in plea talks with Robert Mueller USA Today’s Kevin Johnson

Paul Manafort’s Cooperation With Mueller Is the Biggest Blow Yet to TrumpThe Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

 

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