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

Editor’s Note: 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 July 2019.

Trump falsely said he was asked to mediate India-Pakistan conflict

India and Pakistan have fought over the Kashmir region for decades, with both countries claiming the land. President Donald Trump, in a mid-July White House meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, told reporters that he would happily play mediator in talks about the region––claiming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to. Trump’s remarks caused a fury in India, and Modi’s government refuted Trump within an hour, saying the prime minister never made such a request. Edward Luce, the Financial Times’s U.S. editor, tweeted about Trump: “He is profoundly ignorant. He thinks he can solve any crisis –– his own genius is all that is missing. Therefore he does not need to know anything about said crisis. The only knowledge worth knowing is that Trump’s skills are absent.”

Trump touches off storm in India with Kashmir mediation offer by Reuters’ Sanjeev Miglani

Trump’s ignorance was on full display in his meeting with Imran Khan by The Washington Post’s Barkha Dutt

Fury in India over Donald Trump’s Kashmir claims by The Guardian’s Rebecca Ratcliffe

House Democrats apologize to India ambassador for Trump’s ‘amateurish’ claim about Kashmir by Roll Call’s Griffin Connolly 

Trump administration seeks to fast-track deportations, undermining due process

The White House announced a plans to speed up the deportations of undocumented people who cannot prove they have been in the U.S. for more than two years. This plan allows federal agents to arrest and deport more people before they are able to see an immigration judge. Critics say the new rule not only infringes on immigrants’ due process, but also prevents asylum seekers from even applying for refuge before they are deported. Advocates are also concerned that U.S. citizens may be erroneously removed because they cannot prove their citizenship well enough to satisfy I.C.E. As Just Security’s Steve Vladeck tweeted: “This is an enormous shift in immigration law—and would be a dramatic expansion in the number of individuals who would be subject to ‘expedited removal.’ Among other things, those in that category are entitled to far less judicial review of their asylum (and other legal) claims.”

Trump administration expands fast-tracked deportations for undocumented immigrants by The New York Times’ Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Caitlin Dickerson

Trump administration to expand its power to deport undocumented immigrants by The Washington Post’s Maria Sacchetti 

Trump administration expands scope of rapid deportation by POLITICO’s Ted Hesson

Trump administration tries to further restrict asylum claims 

The White House announced a change in asylum policy that The New York Times calls “one of its most restrictive rules yet for a system, enshrined in international law, that Mr. Trump has called ‘ridiculous’ and ‘insane.’” With this move, the Trump administration plans to deny asylum to migrants who failed to apply for protections in at least the country through which they passed on their way to the U.S. The administration announced the change before either Guatemala or Mexico consented to the plan, although the president of Guatemala eventually conceded after enormous political pressure and economic threats from the White House. This move would virtually stop all Central Americans fleeing persecution and poverty from entering the U.S., and, according to ProPublica, would specifically bar certain folks who previously followed Trump administration-dedicated rules. Filippo Grandi, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, rebuked the rule, saying: “It will put vulnerable families at risk … It will undermine efforts by countries across the region to devise the coherent, collective responses that are needed.” A federal judge has temporarily blocked the change, ordering the Trump administration to continue accepting asylum claims for all eligible migrants. But the Justice Department is set to appeal the decision. 

Most migrants at border with Mexico would be denied asylum protections under new Trump rule by The New York Times’ Michael D. Shear and Zolan Kanno-Youngs

Asylum seekers that followed Trump rule now don’t qualify because of new Trump rule by ProPublica’s Dara Lind

Trump threatens Guatemala after it backs away from ‘safe third country’ asylum deal by The Washington Post’s John Wagner and Mary Beth Sheridan 

Trump’s latest attempt to bar asylum seekers is blocked after a day of dueling rulings by The New York Times’ Miriam Jordan and Zolan Kanno-Youngs

Questions surround secretive U.S.-Guatemala agreement by Susan Gzesh for Just Security

Disarray at the Commerce Department

The Commerce Department, under the direction of Wilbur Ross, is dysfunctional, with top officials fighting, senior staffers departing without explanation, and Ross himself disengaged and falling asleep in meetings, according to new reporting in July. Ross reportedly spends much of his time at the White House trying to retain Trump’s favor, effectively leaving his department unattended. “With our ongoing trade wars and the census looming, Commerce needs functional leadership to be effective. And right now they just don’t have it,” Theo LeCompte, a former top Commerce official, told POLITICO.

‘It’s a disaster over there’: Commerce reaches new heights of dysfunction by Politico’s Daniel Lippman 

Wilbur Ross is falling asleep in Commerce Department meetings: report by New York Magazine’s Matt Stieb

USAID official campaigns for Trump, violating the Hatch Act

Federal workplaces are supposed to be apolitical, as mandated by the Hatch Act, a law that White House counselor Kelleyane Conway has repeatedly violated, so far without consequence. But at a State Department-hosted conference, Samah Norquist, a special adviser on religious pluralism in the Middle East at the U.S. Agency for International Development, told the crowd  that “hopefully he will be reelected,” referring to Trump. Norquist’s comments are an obvious violation of the Hatch Act––like those of Conway before her––according to legal ethics experts. Both have so far gone unpunished by the White House, which has also directed Conway not to comply with a House subpoena on the issue. 

It’s illegal for federal officials to campaign at work. A Trump official just did so. by ProPublica’s Yeganeh Torbati

White House Directs Kellyanne Conway to Defy House Subpoena by The New York Times’ Catie Edmondson 

Border Protection holds a U.S. citizen in poor conditions for nearly a month 

Francisco Erwin Galicia, a Dallas-born U.S. citizen, was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for 23 days, a period during which he lost 26 pounds. He says officers at a South Texas immigrant detention center did not provide him with enough food; that he wasn’t allowed to shower; that some men had to sleep on the restroom floor. Federal officials refused to acknowledge his citizenship, doubting the validity of his documents. “It was inhumane how they treated us,” he said. “It got to the point where I was ready to sign a deportation paper just to not be suffering there anymore. I just needed to get out of there.”

No shower for 23 days: U.S. citizen says conditions were so bad that he almost self-deported by The Dallas Morning News’ Obed Manuel 

A Border Patrol chief testifies that Francisco Galicia never claimed U.S. citizenship, but document says otherwise by The Dallas Morning News’ Obed Manuel 

U.S. citizen freed after nearly a month in immigration custody, family says by The Washington Post’s Meagan Flynn  

Trump’s racist comments prompt condemnation at home and abroad

Trump has in the last month unleashed various racist attacks on the “squad” of Democratic minority congresswomen, which includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayana Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, tweeting in early July that they should “go back” to the “corrupt” countries from which they came. All four of the women are U.S. citizens and only Omar was not born in the United States. Days later, Trump allowed a crowd at his rally to chant without interruption “send her back,” an epithet directed primarily at Somali-born Omar. His racist attacks were largely met with silence from Republicans, but drew harsh criticism from Democrats, and even some foreign figures weighed in. Ireland’s Foreign Minister tweeted: “This is chilling…. targeting individuals, fueling hatred based on race is not acceptable in political discourse… history tells us where this leads!” While Trump tried to distance himself from the chants at his rally, his behavior has not shifted and his racist remarks only continued as the month went on.

Trump’s racist tirades against “the Squad,” explained by Vox’s Matthew Yglesias 

In ‘send her back’ fallout, Trump amplifies praise from right-wing British commentator by The New York Times’ Michael Crowley 

Trump disavows ‘send her back’ chant after pressure from G.O.P. by The New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Maggie Haberman and Michael Crowley 

The Trump racism spin cycle by Vox’s Jane Coaston 

Trump continues to attack black Americans

In late July, Trump targeted Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and the city of Baltimore, which is partly included in the lawmaker’s largely black district. Cummings, who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, is overseeing several investigations into the Trump administration. “Cumming [sic] District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” Trump tweeted. “If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.” Cummings’ district is the second-wealthiest majority-black district in the country. The president later expanded his targets to include civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton. 

Trump calls Cummings as ‘racist’ in second day of attacks on lawmaker, Baltimore by NBC News’s Allan Smith

Trump’s Baltimore tirade expands to include Sanders and Sharpton by POLITICO’s Quint Forgey

Trump’s racially charged attacks on Elijah Cummings by National Review’s Jim Geraghty 

“Hates Whites and Cops”: Trump Starts Monday with New Racist Tirade by Vanity Fair’s Bess Levin

Trump, in meeting with refugees, seems unaware of their persecution

In a White House meeting with victims of religious persecution, Trump repeatedly seemed unaware of the world’s most pressing humanitarian crises. He revealed a troubling lack of familiarity with the problems faced by the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Uighurs in China, as well as those faced by the Yazidi community in Iraq. He said to Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist who won the Nobel peace prize in 2018 for seeking justice for the women and girls kidnapped, raped and held captive by the Islamic State: “And you had the Nobel Prize? That’s incredible. They gave it to you for what reason?”

Trump met a lot of refugees and seemed to learn about their crises for the very first time by Vox’s Zeeshan Aleem 

A Yazidi woman from Iraq told Trump that ISIS killed her family. ‘Where are they now?’ he asked. by The Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz 

‘You had the Nobel Prize?’ Trump learns of Yazidi activist Murad by AFP

Army court says Trump engaged in “unlawful command influence”

In mid-July, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Bowe Bergdahl’s claims that Trump’s previous comments about him interfered with his right to a fair trial. The court still determined, however, that there “was some evidence of unlawful command influence” by Trump. All three judges held that Trump, the commander-in-chief, had unfairly tried to influence the outcome of a military trial; the majority held the error to have been harmless, and that it did not affect Bergdahl’s trial. Just Security’s Steve Vladeck called the decision “an important precedent––and a harsh indictment of the President.” 

Bowe Bergdahl loses unlawful command influence appeal based on Trump tweets by Army Times’ Kyle Rempfer 

What is ‘unlawful command influence’ in the military justice system? By NPR’s All Things Considered 

Coats resigns as intel chief, making way for a Trump loyalist

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats announced in late July that he was resigning his office in August, seemingly because his relationship with Trump had soured. Coats had provided assessments on issues from Russia to North Korea that contradicted Trump’s views, most notably in late 2018, when he expressed shock and disapproval of Trump’s invitation to Putin to come to Washington. Similarly, when Coats, in January 2019, undercut Trump’s comments on Iran, North Korea, and Russia to Congress, Trump called the intelligence chief “naive.” The White House plans to replace Coats with John Ratcliffe, a Republican congressman from Texas and Trump loyalist, known for his vociferous criticism of Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation. Democrats and other observers have warned that Ratcliffe may politicize the American intelligence community like Attorney General William Barr has politicized the Justice Department. There is also concern that he lacks the required experience: Ratcliffe has been in Congress for less than five years and has served on the House Intelligence Committee for only six months. He was previously the mayor of an 8,000-person town in Texas. It also appears he has inflated his resume to beef up his counterterrorism experience. 

Dan Coats spoke truth to Trump. Now he’s out. by The Atlantic’s Kathy Gilsinan

Trump to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe to replace Dan Coats as DNI by Axios’ Jonathan Swan

Trump nominates staunch loyalist John Ratcliffe to become chief US spymaster by CNN’s Nicole Gaouette, Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju

John Ratcliffe: AG William Barr will deliver justice to any Obama officials who committed crimes by The Washington Examiner’s Daniel Chaitin and Jerry Dunleavy 

Alex Acosta resigns as labor secretary 

Trump’s labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, resigned in early-July over the controversy surrounding his previous handling of sex crimes committed by Jeffrey Epstein, who is now facing sex trafficking and conspiracy charges in New York. Acosta was a U.S. attorney in Florida in 2007 when he agreed to a secret plea deal––which a Miami Herald investigation described as the “deal of a lifetime”––under which Epstein served only 13 months in prison, and was allowed to leave jail six days a week on “work release.” While Trump expressed public support for Acosta, public pressure quickly forced his resignation. “He made a deal people were happy with … now they’re not,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “In so many ways I hate what he’s saying now cause we’re gonna miss him.”

Acosta to resign as labor secretary over Jeffrey Epstein plea deal by The New York Times’ Annie Karni, Eileen Sullivan, and Noam Scheiber 

Acosta resigns amid furor over Epstein plea deal by CNN’s Maegan Vazquez and Jim Acosta 

Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. resigns because of leaked memos critical of Trump 

British Ambassador to the U.S. Sir Kim Darroch resigned in early July after The Daily Mail published leak cables in which he had described Trump as “inept,” “insecure” and “incompetent,” and the White House as “uniquely dysfunctional.” Trump promptly said the U.S. would not engage with Darroch, calling him a “pompous fool.” Trump’s comments prompted indignation from British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who tweeted: “These comments are disrespectful and wrong to our Prime Minister and my country.” Still, Darroch resigned his post soon after, largely because he lacked backing from incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who appeared to side with Trump. 

Britain’s man in the U.S. says Trump is ‘inept’: Leaked secret cables from ambassador the President is ‘uniquely dysfunctional and his career could end in disgrace’ by The Daily Mail’s Isabel Oakeshott

U.K. ambassador to U.S. resigns after Trump vowed he won’t ‘deal with him’ by NPR’s Amy Held

Trump revokes medals for military prosecutors who brought war crimes case

Trump ordered the Navy to rescind awards given to military leaders who prosecuted the war crimes case of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, who was accused by his fellow SEALs of murdering a wounded Islamic State fighter two years ago in Iraq. The president took personal interest in Gallagher’s case, removing him from solitary confinement in March. Gallagher was acquitted of most charges in early July, although he was convicted of improperly posing for a picture with the murdered prisoner’s body. Still, Navy officials presented members of the prosecution with medals for their work on the case. Trump soon after lashed out, calling the decorations “ridiculously given,” and directing Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson to withdraw the awards.

Navy rescinds awards to prosecutors in case of SEAL acquitted of murdering captive by NPR’s Scott Neuman 

Trump orders lawyer’s achievement awards revoked in Navy SEAL murder case by The Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz

After Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher was found not guilty of murder, the prosecutors who lost the case received awards for ‘super results’ by Task & Purpose’s Paul Szoldra

Image: President Donald Trump hosts survivors of religious persecution from 17 countries around the world, including Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad (L), in the Oval Office. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

 

About the Author(s)

Charles Dunst

Freelance journalist, incoming M.Sc. candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics, worked in the offices of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Follow him on Twitter (@charlesdunst).