Norms Watch: Damage to Democracy and Rule of Law in November 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 November 2018. Please let us know if you think we missed any.

Trump appoints Whitaker as attorney general

After the midterm elections, President Donald Trump moved quickly to force out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with whom the president had long been frustrated because of his recusal in the Russia investigation. He replaced Sessions with Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist who had been working as Sessions’ chief of staff at the Justice Department. Whitaker faced immediate scrutiny for his critical public comments of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, his lack of experience and his involvement in a company accused of fraud.

Jeff Sessions Is Forced Out as Attorney General as Trump Installs Loyalist by The New York Times’ Peter Baker, Katie Benner and Michael D. Shear

Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far by Matthew Whitaker for CNN

Matt Whitaker: Sessions’s replacement a longtime critic of Mueller inquiry by The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs

Trump’s Appointment of the Acting Attorney General Is Unconstitutional by Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III for The New York Times

Whitaker May Be a Bad Choice, but He’s a Legal One by Stephen I. Vladeck for The New York Times

Acting attorney general Whitaker has no intention of recusing himself from Russia probe, associates say by The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett , Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey

Whitaker’s Ascent at Justice Dept. Surprised Investigators of Firm Accused of Fraud by The New York Times’ Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner

Trump plays up border crisis before midterm elections and then abandons it once voting is over

In the days and weeks leading up to the midterm elections, Trump used increasingly divisive and dangerous rhetoric when talking about the so-called “caravan” of Central American migrants who were making their way through Mexico toward the U.S. border to flee violence or poverty in their home countries. In a move widely viewed as a political stunt, Trump deployed thousands of active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border for a mission that he described in far different terms than the military commanders in charge. After the November 6 elections, Trump all but ceased to talk about the caravan, and the troop deployment started to lose steam and what little purpose it had.

Migrant caravan: Trump suggests immigrants could be shot if they throw rocks at military by USA Today’s Christal Hayes

Joint Chiefs chair says soldiers will not be involved in denying border entry to migrants by CNN’s Kate Sullivan and Ryan Browne

Deployed Inside the United States: The Military Waits for the Migrant Caravan by The New York Times’ Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Helene Cooper

Pentagon Dropping Use of ‘Faithful Patriot’ as Name for Border Deployment by The Wall Street Journal’s Nancy A. Youssef

A Week After the Midterms, Trump Seems to Forget the Caravan by The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Mark Landler

Corruption flourishes: Favors and rewards for Trump’s friends

November also saw more stories about friends and supporters of Trump receiving special rewards or opportunities to influence policy and make money. Meanwhile, Trump and his family members continued to make money off the properties they never divested, raising questions about conflicts of interest.

Watchdog office to probe Mar-a-Lago members’ influence at VA by POLITICO’s Lorraine Woellert

Wife of GOP megadonor to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom by POLITICO’s Quint Forgey

Trump picks handbag designer, Mar-a-Lago member to be envoy to South Africa by CNN’s  Nicole Gaouette and Elizabeth Landers

Trump picks another Mar-a-Lago member for ambassador by The Palm Beach Post’s Christine Stapleton

Ivanka Trump made $3.9 million from D.C. hotel in 2017 by POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn

China grants 16 trademarks to defunct Ivanka Trump business by CNN’s Steven Jiang and Serenitie Wang

Chief Justice Roberts Rebukes Trump

After Trump attacked the judicial branch yet again — this time calling a judge who ruled against the administration’s legally dubious asylum policy an “Obama judge” — Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts responded in a rare statement, defending the political independence of the judiciary. Trump responded to him via Twitter.

Chief Justice Defends Judicial Independence After Trump Attacks ‘Obama Judge’ by The New York Times’ Adam Liptak

Trump dismisses Roberts rebuke and blames judges for ‘bedlam and chaos’ by The Guardian’s Martin Pengelly

Trump’s misinformation on appeals court by the AP’s Calvin Woodward and Mark Sherman

Trump’s ceaseless attacks on the media continue

The pipe bomb sent to CNN by Cesar Sayoc, a Trump fanatic, in October, has done nothing to temper Trump’s attacks on the media. If anything, Trump has intensified criticism following the midterms elections. He’s shown open hostility toward reporters during briefings, insulting them regularly. In a spat with CNN’s Jim Acosta, the White House shared a doctored video to make it look like Acosta had aggressively handled a White House aide after she attempted to take the microphone from him at a briefing. The White House stripped Acosta of his White House badge, but then was forced to quickly reinstate it.

‘You’re a very rude person.’ ‘That’s enough.’ ‘Sit down.’ Trump’s news conference turns hostile by The Washington Post’s Lindsey Bever

White House bans CNN reporter Jim Acosta after a confrontation with Trump by the AP

White House shares doctored video to support punishment of journalist Jim Acosta by The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell

‘What a stupid question’: Trump demeans three black female reporters in three days by The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi

After the White House Banned Jim Acosta, Should Other Journalists Boycott Its Press Briefings? by The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen

CNN v Trump Might Be Over. But the Dangers Are Just Beginning. by Neal Katyal and Bruce Brown for POLITICO

Judge orders Trump administration to restore CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s White House press pass by CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger

CNN’s Jim Acosta Returns to the White House After Judge’s Ruling by The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum and Emily Baumgaertner

Trump Proposes State-Run TV Network to Show the World How Great He Is by Vanity Fair’s Bess Levin

Trump blames media for inciting violence “by not writing the truth” by Axios

Trump attacks his critics and threatens criminal prosecution of his political rivals and those investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia

A report in the New York Times revealed that Trump told White House General Counsel Don McGahn last spring that he wanted the Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comey, the former FBI director who was leading an investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia before Trump fired him in May 2017. Trump also went after retired Adm. William McRaven, who oversaw the special operations raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He called the revered military commander as a “Hillary Clinton fan” and an “Obama backer,” and suggested bin Laden could have been caught much faster. Why did Trump target McRaven? Because the retired Navy SEAL defended former CIA Director John Brennan after Trump revoked his security clearance this summer and has criticized Trump’s description of the news media as the “enemy of the people.”

Trump Wanted to Order Justice Dept. to Prosecute Comey and Clinton by The New York Times’  Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman

Trump retweets meme calling for imprisonment of his own deputy attorney general by Vox’s Aaron Rupar

Trump’s attack on retired admiral who led bin Laden raid escalates a war of words by The Washington Post’s Paul Sonne and Philip Rucker

RNC backs Trump attack on retired Navy Admiral William McRaven by Fox News’ Samuel Chamberlain

Ethics lapse: Trump family members continue to wield unusual influence; a raft of questionable practices by Trump officials draws scrutiny

From Ivanka Trump’s use of private email to First Lady Melania Trump helping to force out a senior National Security Council official, there were a host of news stories last month that raised serious questions about the influence of Trump’s family members, whether U.S. taxpayer money is being spent wisely by Trump’s cabinet and whether Trump officials are following basic ethical guidelines.

Trump under pressure from Melania to fire top aide by Reuters’ Mark Hosenball, Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton

Donald Trump Played Central Role in Hush Payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal by The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Palazzolo, Nicole Hong,  Michael Rothfeld, Rebecca Davis O’Brien and Rebecca Ballhaus

U.S. Marshals Service spending millions on DeVos security in unusual arrangement by NBC News’ Heidi Przybyla

Ivanka Trump used a personal email account to send hundreds of emails about government business last year by The Washington Post’s  Carol D. Leonnig and Josh Dawsey

Six White House officials violated the Hatch Act, agency finds by CNBC’s Christina Wilkie

Trump’s Interior secretary calls the Democratic congressman likely to oversee his department a drunk after he wrote a negative op-ed

In one of the month’s weirder moments, Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke called Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who is expected to chair the House Natural Resources Committee in January when the Democrats take over, a drunk. “It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Zinke tweeted. Why was Zinke so mad at him? Grijalva had written an op-ed calling for Zinke’s resignation because of the numerous ethics investigations Zinke faces. POLITICO described Zinke’s remark, “a stunning breach of decorum for a sitting Cabinet member.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke must resign. His multiple scandals show he’s unfit to serve. by  Rep. Raul Grijalva for USA Today

Zinke responds to ethics criticism by calling Democratic lawmaker a drunk by POLITICO’s Ben Lefebvre

Zinke picks fight with key Dem at an odd time by The Hill’s Timothy Cama

Trump spreads rumors of voter fraud and discourages counting all votes in tight elections

As votes were still being counted in tight election races across the country, especially in Florida and Georgia, Trump helped spread rumors of voter fraud.

Donald Trump Doesn’t Want All the Votes in Florida to Be Counted by Mother Jones’ Tonya Riley

As Florida Races Narrow, Trump And Scott Spread Claims Of Fraud Without Evidence by NPR’s Miles Parks, Emily Sullivan and Brian Naylor

Trump is lying about voter fraud in Florida, and media outlets are spreading it by Vox’s Aaron Rupar

Trump jumps into tight Senate races wielding conspiracy theories by CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk and Christina Wilkie

Trump’s “foreign” foreign policy

From Jamal Khashoggi’s murder to his visit to France, Trump’s diplomacy and foreign policy continued to stun the American public and the world as he repeatedly to stand up for traditional American values. Meanwhile the positions Trump takes — whether on Saudi Arabia or Russian aggression — often veer from those staked out by his party, the intelligence community and others in his administration.

US hits Russia with new Crimea sanctions after Trump blames Obama for annexation by CNN’s Nicole Gaouette and Donna Borak

Trump Unleashes Twitter Tirade Against Macron by The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus and Stacy Meichtry

Trump, stung by midterms and nervous about Mueller, retreats from traditional presidential duties by the LA Times’ Eli Stokols

To ease Turkish pressure on Saudis over killing, White House weighs expelling Erdogan foe by  NBC News’ Carol E. Lee, Julia Ainsley and Courtney Kube

CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination by The Washington Post’s By Shane Harris, Greg Miller and Josh Dawsey

In Extraordinary Statement, Trump Stands With Saudis Despite Khashoggi Killing by The New York Times’ Mark Landler

There’s nothing “America First” about Trump’s Saudi policy by Vox’s Matthew Yglesias

Trump skipped a U.S. cemetery visit abroad. The French army trolled him for avoiding the rain. by The Washington Post’s Alex Horton

Trump cancels US cemetery visit amid diplomatic embarrassment by The Guardian’s Martin Pengelly and Lois Beckett

Photo FRANCOIS MORI/AFP/Getty Images

 

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