Norms Watch: Damage to Democracy and Rule of Law in May 2019

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 May 2019.

Attorney General Barr acts like Trump’s personal attorney

Attorney General William Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1. During the hearing, Barr deflected criticism from Democrats, saying the “evidence” showed that President Donald Trump was “falsely accused of colluding with the Russians,” and criticized a letter from Special Counsel Robert Mueller as “a bit snitty” and “probably written by one of the special counsel’s “staff people.” The attorney general also said he hadn’t reviewed the underlying evidence before reaching his conclusion that Trump hadn’t obstructed justice, a decision never made by Mueller and not supported by his report.

Barr then proceeded to cancel his scheduled appearance the next day before the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee over disagreements with panel Chairman Jerrold Nadler on the format. After which, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the attorney general of lying to Congress and the House Judiciary Committee threatened to hold him in contempt.

Barr Defends Handling of Mueller Report Against Withering Rebukes by the New York Times’ Peter Baker

Barr says he didn’t review underlying evidence of Mueller report before making obstruction call by the Hill’s Olivia Beavers

Barr calls Mueller’s letter expressing concerns ‘a bit snitty’ by CNN’s Kate Sullivan

Attorney General Bill Barr Defended His Decision Not To Tell Congress About A Letter He Got From Robert Mueller by Buzzfeed’s Zoe Tillman

We Asked William Barr Straight Questions. He Gave Crooked Answers by Sheldon Whitehouse for the Daily Beast

Pelosi Accuses Barr of Law-Breaking as Democrats’ War With Him Boils Over by the New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos 

Pelosi says AG Barr committed a ‘crime’ by lying to Congress by NBC’s Rebecca Shabad

Barr Assigns U.S. Attorney in Connecticut to Review Origins of Russia Inquiry by the New York Times’ Adam Goldman, Charlie Savage and Michael S. Schmidt

The White House continues to block congressional oversight

After a raft of refusals to comply with congressional subpoenas for testimony and documents in April, the White House continued its strategy in May by blocking demands for information on the security clearance process. As House Democrats continued to subpoena former administration officials, the White House instructed them not to comply with the subpoenas. Trump also tweeted that Mueller should not testify.

White House Rejects House Panel’s Request for Documents on Security Clearances by the Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus and Natalie Andrews

House panel subpoenas Trump’s former top staffer, aide to McGahn by the Washington Post’s  Josh Dawsey, Rachael Bade and Carol D. Leonnig

Trump directs former White House counsel McGahn to defy subpoena, not appear before Congress by NBC News’ Dartunorro Clark

In reversal, Trump says Mueller ‘should not testify’ before Congress by the Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez

Trump Objects to Mueller Testifying Before Congress by the New York Times’ Michael Tackett and Maggie Haberman 

Trump sues in bid to block congressional subpoena of financial records by the Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold, Rachael Bade John Wagner

Trump suggests his political opponents should be prosecuted for crimes, including treason

Keeping with the “investigate the investigators” theme, Trump accused the FBI, and those who investigated his campaign for its ties with the Kremlin, of treason. It wasn’t the first time he leveled the baseless charge, but his use of the term is becoming more frequent and direct.

Trump says John Kerry should be prosecuted for talking to Iran by POLITICO’s Jordyn Hermani

Trump’s reckless “treason” accusation against the FBI, explained by Vox’s Aaron Rupar

The Double Bind of Trump’s Outrageous Statements by the Atlantic’s David A. Graham

Trump, not understanding treason, names people he thinks committed the capital crime by the Washington Post’s Philip Bump

Impeachment talk

Following the release of the report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the evidence it contained that the president obstructed justice, Democrats in the House are still grappling with the question of impeachment and its political consequences. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not interested in pursuing it for now, worried about how it could affect voters’ choices in 2020, but some Democratic presidential candidates have voiced support for it, saying it must be done on principle.

All of the Impeachable Offenses by Quinta Jurecic for the Atlantic

Trump would have been charged with obstruction were he not president, hundreds of former federal prosecutors assert by the Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky

If This Is a Constitutional Crisis, Act Like It by the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg

In conversation with Putin, Trump doesn’t mention Russian interference in U.S. elections

Trump announced on Twitter that he had a “long and very good conversation with President Putin,” including discussing the “Russian hoax,” in their first conversation after the release of the redacted Mueller report. When asked by a reporter whether he warned Putin not to interfere again in U.S. elections, Trump chided her, called her “very rude,” and said, “We didn’t discuss that.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders insisted the topic was broached “very, very briefly … essentially in the context of that it’s over and there was no collusion.”

Trump calls Putin and talks of ‘Russian hoax’ by BBC News

Russia Claims Trump Reached Out to Putin for Lengthy Friday Call by New York Magazine’s Matt Stieb

Trump Says He Discussed the ‘Russian Hoax’ in a Phone Call With Putin by the New York Times’ Mark Landler

Trump agitates for pardons for U.S. service members accused and convicted of war crimes

As Memorial Day approached, it was reported that Trump was considering pardons for a handful of U.S. service members either accused of, or already convicted of, war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. After the report surfaced, opposition to the potential pardons was voiced inside and outside of the Trump administration. Several retired military leaders, including Adm. William McRaven and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey slammed the move, with Dempsey tweeting that they would represent an “abdication of moral responsibility.” Memorial Day weekend came and went and the pardons were never issued.

Trump May Be Preparing Pardons for Servicemen Accused of War Crimes by the New York Times’ Dave Philipps

Admiral William McRaven cautions Trump on prospective pardons by CBS News’ David Morgan at CBS News

Sticking It To Yourself: Preemptive Pardons for Battlefield Crimes Undercut Military Justice and Military Effectiveness by Chris Jenks for Just Security

Corruption Watch

It wouldn’t be Norms Watch without a slew of stories about corruption in the Trump administration. From emoluments concerns to violations of the Hatch Act to administration officials mixing self-interest with their government roles, it’s all become business as usual in Washington.

Exclusive: Foreign government leases at Trump World Tower stir more emoluments concerns by Reuters’ Julia Harte

In Tiger Woods, Trump Finds a Hero and a Business Opportunity by  Annie Karni and Kevin Draper

Complaints grow that Trump staffers are campaigning for their boss by POLITICO’s Anita Kumar

HUD’s Ben Carson broke law with furniture order, GAO says by POLITICO’s Katy O’Donnell

Trump amplifies far-right voices on Twitter

As social media companies took steps to regulate hate speech on its platforms, Trump took to Twitter to criticize the moves, and, in doing so, promoted the very people being targeted. He “retweeted complaints about Facebook’s recent social media ban from people like Paul Joseph Watson, who has helped promote conspiracy theories that 9/11 was an inside job and was banned from Facebook, and Lauren Southern, who claims that immigrants and Islam ‘screwed’ her generation,” ABC News reported.

President Trump amplifies far-right voices in protest of Facebook ban by ABC News’ Meridith McGraw

Trump Retweets Far-Right Activists in Attack on Social Media by Bloomberg’s Ros Krasny

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

 

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