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 in September 2018.
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 Crisis –The Atlantic’s David Frum
The Rogue White House Official Who Wrote That Times Op-ed Is a Moral Coward – The 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 House – The Financial Times’ Edward Luce
Crazytown: A Bob Woodward Book, an Anonymous New York Times Op-Ed, and a Growing Crisis for the Trump Presidency – The New Yorker’s Susan B. Glasser
Trump Staff’s Resistance Can’t Avert a Crisis. It Is One – Bloomberg’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 Amendment – The New York Times’ Adam Goldman and Michael S. Schmidt
Rod Rosenstein’s Job Is Safe, for Now: Inside His Dramatic Day – The 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 Last – Wired’s Garrett M. Graff
The New York Times Stands By Its Rod Rosenstein Scoop – Slate’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 Records – Buzzfeed 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 alibi – POLITICO’s Eliana Johnson
Once Christine Blasey Ford’s Humanity Was on Display, It Was All Over – The 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 One – The New York Times’ Peter Baker
Democrats, Puerto Ricans blast Trump’s ‘beyond ridiculous’ Hurricane Maria death toll claims – NBC’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 detention – NBC News’ Adiel Kaplan
Trump administration diverted nearly $10 million from FEMA to ICE detention program, according to DHS document – The Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker
Migrant Children Moved Under Cover of Darkness to a Texas Tent City – The New York Times’ Caitlin Dickerson
Trump administration to circumvent court limits on detention of child migrants – The 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 Was – Buzzfeed News’ Adolfo Flores
Life on the edge at Trump’s border – The Financial Times’ Barney Jopson
Government to expand, extend Texas tent shelter for children – AP’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 Shows – The Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender
Brock Long’s improper use of FEMA staff, SUVs included Hawaii pineapple plant tour, investigation says – The 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 Favors – The 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 UN – ABC 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 Weeks – The 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 Trump – The Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand