It’s been less than five months since Donald Trump became commander-in-chief. But for the president’s detractors, it’s felt like centuries — long medieval centuries chock-full of plague, illiteracy, and barbarians running roughshod through the ruins of the old republic. But we aren’t actually living in the dark ages (yet). So we might as well shed some light on what the barbarians have been up to.
Trump has given progressives so many causes for fear and outrage, it can be difficult — both practically and psychologically — to keep on top of them all as they happen.
To help you stay informed despite this challenge, Daily Intelligencer will provide regular inventories of Trump’s assaults on civic norms, common decency, and/or liberal democracy. Here is a rundown of everything the president has done on that front in the period between April 28 (the date of our last edition of “Terrifying Things”) and June 9, arranged in rough order of each affront’s apparent significance and severity. Prior editions can be found below.
Fired the director of the FBI for failing to demonstrate personal loyalty to him.
The president has the authority to fire the director of the FBI. But before last month, that authority had only been exercised once — and in that case, Bill Clinton only fired William S. Sessions after a Justice Department investigation found him guilty of flagrant ethical violations.
Historically, presidents have avoided firing the head of the FBI out of respect for federal law enforcement’s independence. After all, FBI directors serve ten-year terms precisely to ensure a measure of distance from the Oval Office’s occupant.
Respect for the rule of law has also, typically, prevented presidents from demanding the FBI director’s personal loyalty; suggesting that he demonstrate that loyalty by dropping investigations into White House allies; and then firing the head of federal law enforcement for failing to honor such requests.
But Donald Trump is not a typical president. And so, he did precisely that.
The president did not give James Comey the opportunity to resign. Instead, the FBI director learned of his unemployment when his gaze drifted to a television monitor, in the middle of speech to bureau employees in Los Angeles. Comey laughed, and complimented the officers on a “fairly funny prank.” Then someone asked him to step into a nearby office.
Meanwhile, the White House had the chutzpah to claim it had fired Comey because he had been unfair to (“Crooked”) Hillary Clinton during the investigation of her email server. Last October, Jeff Sessions had applauded Comey’s handling of that investigation. But then, the attorney general had also recused himself from the Russia investiation — and this did not stop him from advising the president to fire the man leading that inquiry.
But the bizarre nature of Comey’s ouster was far less significant than the reasons behind it. By all accounts — including, to some extent, his own — Trump seemed to view the FBI director as his private detective and/or PR representative. When the president accused Barack Obama of wiretapping his phone — an allegation made on the basis of news articles that he had misread — Trump was reportedly furious that Comey wouldn’t publicly vouch for his baseless felony accusation.
According to accounts from Comey and his associates, Trump asked the FBI director to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn; redirect the bureau’s resources toward combating leaks to the press; and consider imprisoning journalists who report on classified information.
According to the president himself, Comey’s firing was the direct result of the FBI director’s handling of the investigation into his campaign.
“When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,” Trump told NBC News’s Lester Holt, contradicting the White House’s narrative — and, arguably, confessing to obstruction of justice.
Tried to intimidate his former FBI director into silence by threatening to release secret recordings of their conversations.
After Comey’s associates told the New York Times that Trump had demanded a loyalty pledge, the president sought to prove that he wasn’t an amateur authoritarian, by tweeting this:
Encouraged America’s intelligence chiefs to undermine the FBI’s Russia probe.
Trump also, reportedly, asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to kill the FBI’s investigation into Comey for him. As the Washington Post reported:
On March 22, less than a week after being confirmed by the Senate, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats attended a briefing at the White House together with officials from several government agencies. As the briefing was wrapping up, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey’s handling of it, said officials familiar with the account Coats gave to associates. Two days earlier, Comey had confirmed in a congressional hearing that the bureau was probing whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 race.
At a Senate Intelligence Hearing this week, Coats was asked whether the president had ever requested that he encourage Comey to back off the FBI’s investigation of Flynn.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate for me to address that in a public session,” Coats said.
Undermined international cooperation on climate change — and America’s credibility on the world stage — out of mindless spite.
The Trump administration was always going to sabotage the Paris climate accord. You can’t put a climate-change denier in charge of the EPA without jeopardizing the international community’s collective commitment to curbing emissions.
Still, there were more and less destructive ways for the president to go about expediting the onset of ecological catastrophe. Since the Paris agreement is non-binding, and allows its signatories to set their own emissions targets, Trump could have rolled back Obama’s Clean Power Plan, slashed funding for renewable energy, and, heck, established a tax credit to incentive rolling coal — all without forcing the United States to join Syria and Nicaragua at the climate-pariahs’ table.
In fact, by remaining in the agreement, Trump may have been better able to advance the interests of the American energy industry, which must compete in foreign markets, and, thus, comply with international regulations. Big Oil implored Trump to remain in the agreement for precisely this reason.
But keeping the U.S. in the agreement would have made it harder for Trump to damage our nation’s credibility as a diplomatic player; cede moral authority to Beijing; make Steve Bannon smile; and, most critically, perform his independence from “globalists” in a jingoistic Rose Garden speech, full of demagogic lies about how our European allies had used “climate change” as an excuse to steal our nation’s wealth.
In the end, giving a middle finger to Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel — and validation to his party’s most reactionary billionaires and troglodytic info-warriors — proved more important to the president than anything else.
Mendaciously accused London’s first Muslim mayor of being indifferent to terrorism, hours after a terrorist attack in London.
When news first broke of the attack at London Bridge last Saturday, the president of the United States retweeted an unsubstantiated report from Matt Drudge; reiterated his call for banning immigration from several Muslim countries; and suggested that a low-casualty attack committed by men with knives somehow validated his opposition to gun control.
He also, briefly, expressed solidarity with the people of London.
The morning after the attack, London mayor Sadiq Khan told his constituents that they shouldn’t “be alarmed” if they see an “increased police presence” in the city, as the mobilization of law enforcement was strictly precautionary.
Shortly thereafter, Trump ostensibly decided that the best way for him to “help out” would be to take Khan’s words out of context, and suggest that London’s first Muslim mayor views terrorist attacks with blithe indifference.
When reporters and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic dared to note the context of Khan’s remarks, Trump doubled down on his attack.
Trump has said things so patently dishonest, they undermine the very concept of objective reality. He has made dog-whistle appeals to anti-Muslim animus that validate the worldviews of white supremacists and ISIS militants alike. And he has crassly exploited public tragedies to stoke fears of vulnerable minority groups.
In his tweet about Khan, Trump managed to do all three.
Shared highly classified Israeli intelligence with a core ally of Israel’s top geopolitical foe.
The president does not like homework. In deference to this fact, national security officials have tried to condense Trump’s briefings to single-page lists of bullet points. But even these test his patience.
And so, Trump tends to “wing” his high-level diplomatic meetings, deciding what is or is not wise to say to his counterparts on a whim. On the morning after firing James Comey, Trump deemed it prudent to tell Russia’s ambassador and foreign minister that his former FBI director was a “nut job” whose departure would take “great pressure” off of him.
Then, he decided to let the Kremlin in on the hot new ISIS gossip. Specifically, Trump shared highly classified intelligence that Israel had provided to the United States, on the condition that it not be shared without Israeli permission. Trump’s disclosure was so detailed, Putin’s regime could plausibly deduce the sources and methods that Israel had used to produce it.
This was alarming to Israel, since Russia is a top ally of its enemies in Tehran. And it was also alarming to U.S. intelligence officials, since Trump’s violation of Israel’s trust threatens to jeopardize intelligence-sharing agreements on which the American spy state depends.
Then, accidentally, publicly confirmed that he had done so.
Still, when Trump arrived in Jerusalem, no one in the U.S. or Israeli government had publicly confirmed that he had spilled Israel’s beans. Best to retain official ambiguity, the two governments ostensibly reasoned, even if extensive reporting made Trump’s unauthorized disclosure difficult to deny.
But then some Israeli journalists shouted questions about the matter at the end of a Trump-Netanyahu photo op — and the president decided to defend himself by accidentally, implicitly confirming that he’d let Russia in on the Jewish state’s secrets.
“Just so you understand,” Trump said,“just so you understand — I never mentioned the word or the name Israel in conversation. Never mentioned it.”
Abandoned an alliance with a longtime Middle East ally over Twitter.
Donald Trump went to Saudi Arabia last month with the goals of securing a lucrative arms sale for America’s weapons manufacturers, and winning a commitment from the leaders of the Arab World to cease abetting Islamic extremism.
Or, more precisely: Trump went to Riyadh with the goal of appearing to do those things. The president’s disinterest in actually cracking down state sponsors of terrorism was reflected in his silence about the Saudis’ role in financing the spread of Wahhabism. And his contentment to project the appearance of a diplomatic breakthrough over an actual one was confirmed by the ersatz nature of his $110 billion arms “deal.”
Shortly after Trump left, the Saudis decided to exploit the president’s indifference to reality. Riyadh organized a blockade against Qatar, on the grounds that Doha was uniquely guilty of aiding terrorist groups in the Middle East. In truth, the Saudis’ actions are rooted in a long-standing regional rivalry with Qatar, and resentment of Doha’s occasional openness to engaging with Iran.
But Trump proved powerless to resist an opportunity to declare his own success.
These were problematic tweets.
Qatar is an ally of the United States — one that is allowing the U.S. to run its air operations over Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan from a giant military base outside Doha.
Trump, who has claimed to “know more about ISIS than the generals,” seems to have been ignorant of this fact when he disavowed Qatar over Twitter.
Praised a foreign leader for his policy of sanctioning the extrajudicial killings of thousands of suspected drug dealers and users.
Trump had already displayed a malign indifference to this policy, praising Duterte’s leadership and inviting him to visit the White House (over the outraged objections of human rights groups and U.S. senators). But last month, we learned that in a late-April phone call with Duterte, Trump praised his counterpart specifically for treating a public-health problem with mass murder.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte, according to a transcript obtained by the Intercept. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
Released a budget with a $2 trillion math error.
The White House’s official budget dramatically increases military spending; maintains Medicare and Social Security retirement benefits at their current levels; radically reduces taxes on the rich; and, according to the Trump administration, balances the federal budget within ten years.
If that last point strikes you as mathematically incompatible with the previous ones, then you may be too numerate to work in the Trump administration.
The White House budget director Mick Mulvaney did his best to resolve Trumpism’s fiscal contradictions. The Trump budget proposes cuts to to federal agencies and anti-poverty programs so draconian, multiple Republicans declared them dead on arrival.
Unfortunately for Mulvaney (and America’s poor), the United States spends very little money on feeding, clothing, and housing its least fortunate. And so, the White House was forced to repeal the laws of arithmetic.
The Trump budget (baselessly) assumes that his enormous supply-side tax cut will pay for itself, by generating $2 trillion in growth-induced revenue gains. It also assumes that the estate tax will generate $328 billion in revenue over the next decade, even though the White House’s official tax plan abolishes that revenue stream. But even with the supply-side voodoo and Schrödinger’s death tax, the Trump budget still comes $2 trillion shy of balancing.
And so, it just counts the $2 trillion that’s supposed to pay for its tax cuts a second time.
Mulvaney later justified this apparent error by saying, “I wouldn’t take what’s in the budget as indicative of what our proposals are.”
Shoved the prime minister of Montenegro out of his way, so that he could stand at the front of a group of NATO leaders.
Disputed the Office of Government Ethics’s legal authority to oversee government ethics.
In one of his first official acts as president, Donald Trump signed an executive order prohibiting all lobbyists and industry lawyers hired as political appointees from working on issues that involve their former clients.
Trump proceeded to appoint dozens of lobbyists and industry lawyers to positions throughout the government, granting many of them special waivers allowing them to work on issues that involve their former clients.
By itself, this sequence of moves was not wholly unusual. The Obama administration did allow some ex-lobbyists to flout its own, very similar ethics rule. But any time the Democratic administration provided such a waiver, it automatically published a detailed explanation as to why an exception was being made. These justifications typically cited the unique skill set of the individual in question, and/or the fact that the individual’s new responsibilities would only bring her into peripheral contact with her former employer’s interests.
Trump, by contrast, has not only failed to offer a public justification for his waivers, but also neglected to disclose which members of his staff have received waivers, and which have not.
Without such information, it’s impossible for the Office of Government Ethics to know who is and is not flouting the administration’s own ethics rule.
So, the OGE asked all federal agencies (including the White House) to provide a copy of every ethics waiver they’ve issued by June 1. The office has clear legal authority to request such information. In fact, “data requests” are OGE’s primary tool for providing ethical oversight.
However, the office does not have the power to take enforcement actions against agencies that refuse to honor its requests. Which is to say: The OGE’s capacity to police federal ethics has always depended on norms of cooperation, not legal powers.
And the Trump administration has little use for norms.
“This data call appears to raise legal questions regarding the scope of O.G.E.’s authorities,” Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney wrote in a letter to the ethics office. “I therefore request that you stay the data call until these questions are resolved.”
Allowed the Justice Department to prosecute a woman for laughing at Jeff Sessions.
At the attorney general’s confirmation hearing in January, Alabama senator Richard Shelby claimed that Jeff Sessions’s history of “treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.”
Federal prosecutors decided that Fairooz’s laugh “amounted to willful ‘disorderly and disruptive conduct’ intended to ‘impede, disrupt, and disturb the orderly conduct’ of congressional proceedings.”
She was prosecuted and convicted, and may soon find herself in jail.
Knowingly hired a paid agent of the Turkish government as his national security adviser.
Last month, we learned that Michael Flynn informed the Trump administration that he was under investigation for secretly lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests — and the president decided to appoint him to one of the most powerful national security posts in the government, anyway.
Flynn then used his short time in office to veto a plan for retaking the Islamic State’s de facto capital, despite the plan’s strong support from the Pentagon and Obama administration. The operation would have involved partnership with Syrian Kurdish forces — a prospect vehemently opposed by Turkey’s government, for domestic political reasons.
Signed Yad Vashem’s Book of Remembrance as though it were a middle-school yearbook.
The Trump administration is awkward about the Holocaust. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the White House released a statement that didn’t mention Jews. Its press secretary once argued that Adolf Hitler’s use of chemical weapons was less outrageous than Bashar al-Assad’s, because at least the former never used poison gas “on his own people” (Hitler only used that stuff at his “Holocaust centers,” Sean Spicer explained).
So, it wasn’t terribly surprising that Trump refused to allot more than 15 minutes for his trip to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. Nor was it unexpected that his inscription in the museum’s “book of remembrance” would be less than moving. But it was still a bit odd that he signed said document as though it were the guest book at a bar mitzvah.
As Times of Israel reporter Raoul Wootliff notes, Barack Obama struck a slightly different note during his trip to Yad Vashem.
(March 28 through April 28)
Baselessly accused President Obama’s national security adviser of committing a crime — after his White House conspired with the head of the House Intelligence Committee to foment a false scandal.
On Monday, March 20, James Comey revealed that the FBI was investigating ties between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. A little over 24 hours later, the Republican tasked with leading the House’s investigation into Russian hacking, Devin Nunes, was invited onto the White House grounds. There, administration officials provided him with access to classified intelligence reports. And what Nunes saw shook him to the core.
The contents of those reports were so alarming, the House Intelligence Committee chair brought them to public’s attention the next day, even before sharing them with his fellow committee members. Nunes proceeded to personally brief the president — an ostensible subject of his own investigation into Russian interference — on what he had learned. These actions jeopardized the integrity of the House’s investigation. And they may also have constituted an unlawful disclosure of classified information. That latter issue, eventually, forced Nunes to step aside from his committee’s Russia inquiry.
But all this was a small price to pay for bringing the terrible truth to the American public: Some members of the Trump transition team were incidentally surveilled when they contacted foreign agents who had already caught the eye of the American spy state. Granted, that’s perfectly legal. But when private citizens have their communications incidentally collected, their identities are supposed to be masked in intelligence reports, unless there is intelligence value in unmasking them. And these reports revealed the names of Trump team members — and did so unnecessarily, at least in Nunes’s opinion.
Later, Bloomberg revealed that former national security adviser Susan Rice — an official who has the legal authority to unmask names in intelligence reports — ordered the unmasking of the names of Trump officials in some intelligence reports.
Conservative media outlets heralded this news as a “vindication” of Trump’s claim that Barack Obama had wiretapped his phones during the 2016 election, even though Nunes’s darkest insinuations did not vindicate a single detail of that claim. The White House declared itself shocked and awed: Nunes hadn’t merely uncovered a scandal far greater than alleged collusion between a presidential campaign and a hostile foreign government — but one bigger than that which took down Nixon.
Watergate was “a little spat in the sandbox in the kindergarten” compared to what Susan Rice had done, White House aide Sebastian Gorka told Fox News. The president suggested that Rice had committed a crime, insisting that he would share supporting evidence for that allegation “at the right time.”
And then, House members not named Devin Nunes were finally given access to the incriminating documents:
After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, multiple sources in both parties tell CNN … One congressional intelligence source described the requests made by Rice as “normal and appropriate” for officials who serve in that role to the president.
Anonymous intelligence sources told the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza a more detailed version of the same story:
What the intercepts all had in common is that the people being spied on made references to Donald Trump or to Trump officials. That wasn’t even clear, though, from reading the transcripts…The Trump names remain masked in the documents, and Rice would not have been able to know in all cases that she was asking the N.S.A. to unmask the names of Trump officials.
…The intelligence source told me that he knows, “from talking to people in the intelligence community,” that “the White House said, ‘We are going to mobilize to find something to justify the President’s tweet that he was being surveilled.’ They put out an all-points bulletin”—a call to sift through intelligence reports—“and said, ‘We need to find something that justifies the President’s crazy tweet about surveillance at Trump Tower.’ And I’m telling you there is no way you get that from those transcripts, which are about as plain vanilla as can be.
If Lizza’s reporting is true — and, as of this writing, no outlet has published anything to contradict it — then the White House leaked and misrepresented classified intelligence material so as to validate a presidential tweet, and disrupt the House’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Then, on the basis of those misrepresentations, the president publicly suggested that the previous administration’s national security adviser was a criminal.
But the most shocking aspect of the whole faux surveillance-scandal saga may be this: The Trump White House produces novel outrages at such a frenetic clip, an apparent conspiracy between the Executive branch and a high-ranking member Congress to mislead the public and defame the previous administration dropped out of news cycle days after it was reported.
On the 96th day of his presidency, unveiled a tax-reform plan that was less detailed than the blueprint he had campaigned on.
After three months in office, most presidents have at least introduced — if not passed — multiple pieces of major legislation. Trump failed to secure so much as a House vote for Paul Ryan’s health-care plan. And the administration has yet to even translate its second priority — the one that the White House planned to take the lead on and that “nobody knows more” than Donald Trump about — into a proposal more substantial than the president’s detail-less campaign plan.
This week, the administration tried to pretend otherwise. Anxious to demonstrate progress ahead of his 100th day, Trump blindsided his advisers by promising that his tax package would be unveiled on Wednesday of this week. The president’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, had said that it might be June before the administration released a detailed plan, and that even broad principles would likely be weeks away.
But in a reality star’s White House, optics trump policy. And so the administration scrambled to put together a broad outline of its vision to radically reform the world’s largest national economy.
The result was as audaciously regressive as expected. Trump’s proposal amounted to a blueprint for a raid on the federal treasury — one that would deliver the lion’s share of its spoils to the wealthiest individuals and businesses in the United States, while tossing a few bucks in hush money to the witnesses in the middle class. And almost no one would stand to benefit more from this heist than the president himself: By abolishing the Alternative Minimum Tax, repealing the Estate Tax, and slashing the top rate on “pass-through” businesses to 15 percent, Trump stands to gain tens of millions of dollars from his “reform” — while his children are poised to gain multiple billion.
Less ethically dubious, but decidedly more surprising, was how bereft of substance the plan was. At the proposal’s unveiling, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn and Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said, over and over, how much time and effort the administration had put into tax reform. And then, they handed out a less substantive version of the plan Trump campaigned on last fall.
The administration’s proposal included virtually no ideas for how to offset the multitrillion dollar hole its regressive tax cuts would generate. It did not explain how the administration plans to prevent high-income individuals from abusing the new pass-through rate by reframing their salaries as business income. Instead, the plan merely stipulates that a subsequent version will definitely solve that problem. Most stunningly, the plan calls for consolidating America’s seven income-tax brackets into three, but doesn’t propose any specific income bands for those brackets.
In one sense, this incompetence may be comforting. Trump’s ambitions for tax reform are repugnant to all but the small minority of Americans who believe that income and wealth are distributed too equally in this country. If the White House is incapable of actually developing their plan into a coherent, politically tenable piece of legislation, perhaps that’s all for the best.
But at some point in the next four years, Americans of all ideological stripes are going to be invested in the competence of their country’s Executive branch. In the wake of a natural disaster or economic crisis, blue America will not benefit from the White House’s ineptitude. And this week’s tax-reform presentation suggests that this administration is more inept than many of its harshest critics ever realized.
Threatened to sabotage America’s insurance markets as a means of coercing Democrats into voting for his plan to finance a large tax cut for the rich by throwing millions off of Medicaid.
Earlier this month, Trump announced that he planned to use the powers of his office to jeopardize health-care access for millions of low-income people, while destabilizing America’s insurance markets — because he believed that voters would blame the ensuing chaos on the Democratic Party, leaving Chuck Schumer desperate to negotiate with the White House over Obamacare repeal. As the Wall Street Journal reported:
In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said the White House may lack authority to make the payments established under his predecessor to reduce copayments and deductibles for some of the poorest customers who buy insurance under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Cutting off the payments could trigger turmoil in insurance markets.
“I don’t want people to get hurt,” Mr. Trump said. “What I think should happen—and will happen—is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”
There were a couple obvious problems with Trump’s gambit:
(1) The president’s hostage and his ransom were the same thing: He threatened to cut off health-insurance subsidies for poor people if Democrats didn’t vote for his health-care plan, which significantly reduces health-insurance subsidies for poor people.
(2) It would be hard to convince the public to blame Democrats for Obamacare’s destruction, after you publicly declared your intention to destroy Obamacare so that people would blame the Democrats for what you did. And, in fact, polls suggest that large majorities of Americans would blame Trump for anything bad that happens to the American health-care system under his watch.
As of this writing, the president appears to have discerned these facts, and promised to continue the Obamacare payments, at least for now. But the fact that the president mulled deliberately hurting his constituents for (wholly imaginary) partisan gain is unnerving.
Said he was “absolutely” considering “breaking up” the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Wednesday, a federal district court judge temporarily blocked the Trump administration from enforcing its (essentially toothless) executive order denying federal funds to so-called “sanctuary cities.”
Weeks earlier, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had struck down Trump’s travel ban. And so, when the president heard that another one of his executive orders had been repudiated by the Judicial branch, he didn’t waste time reading an actual news report on the details of the ruling — he already knew which court was responsible.
Of course, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals did not, in fact, rule on the “sanctuary cities” order (courts of appeals tend to prefer to rule on, well, appeals).
But that didn’t stop Trump from telling the Washington Examiner that he had “absolutely” looked into “breaking up” the 9th Circuit Court, noting, “There are many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit. It’s outrageous.”
Typically, respect for the separation of powers prevents presidents from threatening to disband courts that rule against them (while respect for objective reality prevents presidents from criticizing courts for rulings that they never actually made).
But Donald Trump is not a typical president.
Decided to upend the North American economy to win a desired headline — then changed his mind when he was informed that people who voted for him would be among those most adversely impacted by such a measure.
Earlier this week, Trump was readying plans to announce America’s withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement. This decision was inspired by the president’s desire “to be able to announce he was making good on a major campaign promise during a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Saturday night, his 100th day in office,” White House advisers told the New York Times.
“You know I was really ready and psyched to terminate NAFTA,” Trump told Reuters. “I was all set to terminate … I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it.”
But just before the president ripped up the foundation governing $1.3 trillion in annual trade flows, his advisers suggested that he first consider the economic consequences of such an action.
[Agriculture Secretary Sonny] Perdue even brought along a prop to the Oval Office: A map of the United States that illustrated the areas that would be hardest hit, particularly from agriculture and manufacturing losses, and highlighting that many of those states and counties were “Trump country” communities that had voted for the president in November.
“It shows that I do have a very big farmer base, which is good,” Trump recalled. “They like Trump, but I like them, and I’m going to help them.”
And, thus, NAFTA was saved.
That Trump considered radically disrupting economic and diplomatic relations on the North American continent without giving much thought to either is discomfiting. But his rationale for scrapping that idea is, too.
On the night of his election, Trump promised “every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans.” Now, he has publicly suggested that he makes policy decisions not on the basis of what would be best for the United States, but rather, what would benefit that portion of the country that likes him.
Refused to turn over documents on his first national security adviser’s financial relationships with foreign governments, despite requests from the House Oversight Committee.
Michael Flynn’s tenure as national security adviser was cut short by revelations that he had misled Vice-President Pence about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Weeks after his departure, Flynn acknowledged that he had been on the payroll of the Turkish government while serving as a top surrogate and adviser to Trump’s campaign — even as the GOP standard-bearer accused his rival of making “pay-to-play” arrangements with foreign governments.
Weeks after that, news broke that Flynn had neglected to list three Russia-linked sources of income — including $45,000 in speaking fees from the Kremlin-backed RT news network — in his legally required White House ethics forms.
Both of those actions appear to have contravened federal law, House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz told reporters this week. As a former general, Flynn was required to seek the government’s permission before accepting payments from a foreign government. Then, after accepting the foreign payments, Flynn had a legal obligation to disclose them fully before taking a job with the Trump administration.
To further its investigation into Flynn’s apparent misconduct, the Oversight Committee asked the White House for access to Flynn’s security clearance paperwork, receipts from payments he received from foreign governments, and other documents related to the hiring and firing of the former national security adviser.
The Trump administration has refused to honor a single one of those requests, informing the committee that it was “unable” to provide the desired documents, as some of the papers were not in its “custody or control” while others were “likely” to contain classified information.
“The White House has refused to provide this committee with a single piece of paper,” the committee’s ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings said Tuesday. “And that is simply unacceptable.”
Allowed the State Department’s website to advertise his Florida resort.
Donald Trump’s Florida resort has amply monetized its owner’s newfound public power. The club’s annual membership fee has doubled since Election Day, while the president has used virtually every major meeting with a foreign dignitary as an occasion to showcase his for-profit business. And for a brief period this month, the State Department even advertised Trump’s resort on one of its official, government webpages.
The page offered a triumphalist version of the property’s history — one in which the resort’s former owner, cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, had always dreamed that her home would be used as a vacation spot for American presidents. “Post’s dream of a winter White House came true with Trump’s election in 2016,” the government website explained.
The page was quickly removed following public complaints.
When measured against Trump’s other outrages, this incident may appear unremarkable. But if one measures it against precedent instead — and imagines how the public would have reacted to Barack Obama plugging Dreams From My Father as recommended summer reading on the Education Department’s official website — the absurd impropriety of the thing becomes stark.
Had his daughter meet with the Chinese president the same day that her company won trademarks from the Chinese government.
On April 6, White House adviser Ivanka Trump’s company won three trademarks from the Chinese government. That night, she dined with the Chinese president at her father’s resort. Shortly thereafter, president Trump announced that China was not actually a currency manipulator, and was really, probably, doing all it could to pressure North Korea over the latter’s nuclear program — dizzying reversals from the administration’s previous positions.
There was a time when the mere “appearance of corruption” was considered an intolerable affront to our democracy.
Referred to several different North Korean leaders as “this gentleman.”
In the early 1990s, Bill Clinton negotiated a deal to curb North Korea’s nuclear program with the nation’s dictator Kim Il-Sung. That deal was signed in October 1994, after Il-Sung’s death had brought his son, Kim Jong-il to power. In 2011, Jong-il died, and his son, Kim Jong-un became North Korea’s leader.
Our president is, apparently, unaware of this basic history: Recently, Trump gave an interview to Fox News in which he suggested that North Korea has had the same leader for more than two decades:
I hope things work out well. I hope there’s going to be peace, but you know, they’ve been talking with this gentleman for a long time. You read Clinton’s book, he said, ‘Oh we made such a great peace deal,’ and it was a joke. You look at different things over the years with President Obama. Everybody’s been outplayed, they’ve all been outplayed by this gentleman and we’ll see what happens. But I just don’t telegraph my moves.
To be fair to Trump, it’s possible that he believes the soul of the Supreme Leader is indivisible and eternal — passing from father-to-son at the moment of the former’s death, such that the “gentleman” in power remains forever the same.
But whether Trump lapsed into momentary ignorance of basic North Korean history — or believes that Kim Jong-un is a kind of deity — the mogul probably isn’t the ideal commander-in-chief for America to have, as Pyongyang creeps closer to possessing a nuclear missile capable of reaching the coast of California.
Praised a cable-news anchor who was fired for serial sexual harassment, days after declaring April “National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.”
One day after Trump made his declaration, the New York Times reported that Bill O’Reilly and Fox News had, together, paid out $13 million settling sexual-harassment claims against the host. Four days after that, the president expressed his disappointment in O’Reilly — for giving those lying, gold-diggers a single cent.
“I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” Trump told the New York Times. “I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled … Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.’”
Granted, Trump’s remarks probably did raise awareness of how and why certain perpetrators of sexual crimes can escape comeuppance for so long.
(February 28 through March 28)
Baselessly accused his predecessor of illegally wiretapping his phones.
(February 28 through March 28)
Baselessly accused his predecessor of illegally wiretapping his phones.
(February 28 through March 28)
Baselessly accused his predecessor of illegally wiretapping his phones.
On the first Saturday of this month, President Trump announced that Barack Obama had personally wiretapped his phones during the final month of the 2016 campaign.
The president later revealed that this extraordinary allegation was based entirely on publicly available news reports — none of which actually supported the substance of his claim. Asked by Tucker Carlson how he came to discover that his predecessor had spied on him, Trump cited a New York Times article that did have the words “wiretapped data” in its headline. But the story was about intelligence agencies monitoring Russian officials — and how, through that regular surveillance, they may have discovered contacts between those officials and Trump associates.
The article says nothing about Trump Tower being surveilled, let alone about Obama wiretapping Donald Trump himself.
Despite Trump’s tacit admission that his claim was baseless, he continued to insist on its accuracy — even after his allegation was rebuked by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Bill O’Reilly, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, and the FBI.
It is unprecedented in modern times for a president to publicly accuse his predecessor of seeking to illegally undermine the democratic process — let alone to do so on the basis of nothing but a paranoid hunch.
Allowed his White House to defame the intelligence agency of a core U.S. ally for the sake of defending the infallibility of his tweets.
Eventually, the president’s inability to admit he was wrong on the internet sparked a diplomatic spat with the United Kingdom. The crisis seems to have been generated by a glaring contradiction facing Trump’s defenders: On the one hand, the president claimed that his “wiretap” allegation shouldn’t be taken literally, and that news reports about the Obama administration legally investigating his campaign’s Russia ties should be taken as proof that he was right. On the other hand, the White House had previously denied the existence of such an investigation — and suggested that reports to the contrary were “fake news.”
In other words: The Trump administration didn’t want to admit that the president made a bad tweet. But it also didn’t want to admit that American intelligence agencies had found cause to investigate ties between the president and Russia.
And then, a Fox News host’s conspiracy theory provided Sean Spicer with a way to square the circle.
“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command,” the White House press secretary told reporters, quoting, verbatim, from the commentary of Judge Andrew Napolitano, a conservative pundit who has claimed that the government concealed what really happened on 9/11. “He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI, and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ. What is that? It’s the initials for the British intelligence-finding agency.”
Obama deputized the redcoats!
Apparently, Spicer was so taken by how elegantly this reconciled the president’s contradictory claims, it didn’t occur to him that accusing a core ally’s intelligence service of participating in the illegal surveillance of an American presidential candidate might not sit well with said ally.
“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense,” GCHQ said in a rare public statement. “They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”
The White House then promised the British government that it would not accuse GCHQ of wiretapping Donald Trump ever again, according to U.K. prime minister Theresa May’s official spokesman.
Later, Trump defended the propriety of his press secretary’s slander of our ally.
“We said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television,” the president told reporters. “That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox, so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”
To be clear: The president of the United States argued that it’s perfectly appropriate for the White House to spread conspiracy theories that implicate close allies — so long as a 9/11 truther on Fox News spread them first.
Suggested that being wiretapped by Barack Obama was the one thing he and the prime minister of Germany had in common.
At a press conference with Angela Merkel, a German reporter asked Trump whether “it was a mistake to blame British intelligence” for wiretapping him. Instead of conceding this point, the president decided to remind the world of a recent diplomatic crisis between the United States and Germany.
“As far as wiretapping, I guess, by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump said, gesturing to Merkel.
Documents released by WikiLeaks in 2015 suggested that America’s National Security Agency (NSA) had tapped phone calls by the German chancellor and her closest advisers for years.
Gave his daughter an office in the White House and a security clearance — while keeping her immune from conflict-of-interest laws.
Last month, the president used his bully pulpit to upbraid a private company for dropping his daughter’s fashion line. Now, he’s giving that daughter an office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — and access to classified national-security information.
Ivanka Trump will, effectively, be a full-time White House staffer. However, she will not receive a salary or formal title, and, thus, won’t be bound by federal conflict-of-interest laws.
Ivanka claims that she will honor those rules anyway. But as Obama’s former ethics czar Norm Eisen told Politico, “If she can voluntarily subject herself to the rules, she can voluntarily un-subject herself to the rules.”
Allowed his budget director to argue that cutting funding to Meals on Wheels is “probably one of the most compassionate things we can do.”
President Trump’s proposed budget would increase defense spending by $54 billion — while slashing funding for medical research, climate science, public housing, education, aid to the indigent, development grants for poor and rural areas, infrastructure, and many, many other things.
Shortly after the proposal went public, the White House’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, explained that these changes were inspired by one simple question: “Can we ask the taxpayer to pay for this?” Mulvaney then explained that, while he could ask a “coal miner in West Virginia” or a “single mother in Detroit” to pay for an increase in defense spending, he couldn’t justify taking their money to finance public broadcasting.
At a White House press briefing hours later, CNN’s Jim Acosta asked Mulvaney to address some of the tensions in this rationale.
“Just to follow up on that, you were talking about the steelworker in Ohio, coal worker in Pennsylvania, but they may have an elderly mother who depends on the Meals on Wheels program or who may have kids in Head Start,” Acosta said. “Yesterday, or the day before, you described this as a hard-power budget. Is it also a hardhearted budget?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Mulvaney replied. “I think it’s probably one of the most compassionate things we can do.”
“To cut programs that help the elderly and kids?” Acosta asked, incredulously.
“You’re only focusing on half of the equation, right? You’re focusing on the recipients of the money. We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place,” Mulvaney explained. “And I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not gonna ask you for your hard-earned money, anymore, single mother of two in Detroit … unless we can guarantee to you that that money is actually being used in a proper function.”
Mulvaney went on to explain that the key distinction between the Defense Department and the anti-poverty programs that Trump wishes to cut is that the latter have failed to show “results.”
But for many a “single mother in Detroit,” funding for rental assistance, home energy aid, and food assistance deliver such “results” as keeping her family out of homelessness, her home warm in the winter, and her child well nourished. For many a resident of coal country, the Appalachian Regional Commission has provided desperately needed job training.
Here is how Trump described the return on investment that the Pentagon has provided the American people, back when he was running for president.
We’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that, frankly, if they were there and if we could have spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems — our airports and all the other problems we have — we would have been a lot better off, I can tell you that right now.
… I wish we had the 4 trillion dollars or 5 trillion dollars. I wish it were spent right here in the United States on schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart!
Demanded the passage of a health-care bill that he, himself, admitted would hurt his own supporters.
While campaigning for the presidency, Donald Trump promised to pass a new health-care law that would cover everyone; leave Medicaid’s funding untouched; and provide relief to the “forgotten men and women” of middle America.
Shortly after taking the oath of office, Trump threw his support behind a bill that would have thrown 24 million Americans off their health insurance; cut funding for Medicaid by $880 billion; and drastically increased the cost of health care for older, low-income people in deep-red rural counties.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson confronted Trump with that last finding.
“A Bloomberg analysis showed that counties that voted for you — middle-class and working-class counties — would do far less well under this bill than the counties that voted for Hillary, the more affluent counties,” Carlson said.
“Oh, I know,” Trump replied. “But this is going to be negotiated.”
But in negotiations with House Republicans, Trump did not push for any changes that would have significantly ameliorated the negative effects he acknowledged. Instead, the president offered to make the bill even more draconian, so as to appease the tea-party hard-liners in the House Freedom Caucus.
What’s more, Trump expressed utter indifference about the substance of the bill in those negotiations, arguing that what really mattered was that passing something would improve his chances for reelection, according to Politico:
“Forget about the little shit,” Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. “Let’s focus on the big picture here.”
The group of roughly 30 House conservatives, gathered around a mammoth, oval-shaped conference table in the Cabinet Room of the White House, exchanged disapproving looks. Trump wanted to emphasize the political ramifications of the bill’s defeat; specifically, he said, it would derail his first-term agenda and imperil his prospects for reelection in 2020. The lawmakers nodded and said they understood. And yet they were disturbed by his dismissiveness. For many of the members, the “little shit” meant the policy details that could make or break their support for the bill—and have far-reaching implications for their constituents and the country.
Surely, Trump isn’t the first president to ever champion a substantively flawed proposal for purely political reasons. But the scale of his nihilism is breathtaking. By all accounts, the president knew virtually nothing about the substance of his health-care law — beyond the fact that it would violate some of his core campaign promises, while hurting millions of people — and he demanded that lawmakers pass it, as an act of personal loyalty to him, anyway.
Failed to staff nearly 2,000 vacant Executive branch positions.
Trump is governing the world’s most powerful country with a skeleton crew. The president’s dysfunctional transition left him without a pool of nominees-in-waiting when he took the oath of office. Since then, Trump’s incompetence — combined with his aversion to hiring any Establishment Republican who opposed his campaign — has allowed nearly 2,000 Executive branch positions to collect dust.
As of mid-March, Trump had not nominated anyone for more than 500 top-tier administrative posts, making his transition “the slowest in decades,” according to the New York Times.
Back in February, Trump tried to sell this dereliction of duty as an innovative act of cost cutting.
“A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have,” Trump told Fox News. “I say, ‘What do all these people do?’ You don’t need all those jobs.”
But the president has drafted no formal plan for cutting the vacant senior positions, and White House spokesperson Lindsay E. Walters told the Times earlier this month that Trump intended to fill them, eventually.
For now, the executive offices at the State Department remain “virtually empty.” And the high-ranking civil servants who are in place have been largely ignored. As Julia Ioffe reported for The Atlantic:
[M]any State staffers are surprised to find themselves on the outside. “They really want to blow this place up,” said the mid-level State Department officer. “I don’t think this administration thinks the State Department needs to exist. They think Jared [Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law] can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.”
The White House lent credence to this claim on Monday, when it announced that — in addition to being the administration’s point man on trade deals, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and broader Middle East policy — the president’s son-in-law will lead a new government office with “sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises ― such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction.”
Signed an Energy Independence Executive Order that will not make America more energy independent — but will likely prevent America from honoring its international commitments to reduce carbon emissions.
On Tuesday, Trump signed an executive order that began the process of reversing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would have required states to reduce their carbon emissions by decreasing their reliance on dirty energy sources, like coal. Trump’s order also rescinds a temporary ban on new coal leases on federal land.
The official goal of the law is to decrease America’s dependence on foreign energy, while reviving the long-suffering coal industry.
But there is no rational basis for believing the measure will do either of those things. The United States does not import coal. Reducing regulations on carbon emissions will not allow America to replace foreign energy sources with domestic ones, but rather to prioritize dirty domestic energy sources over clean ones.
This shift would do nothing to bolster Americans’ employment prospects. At present, solar companies employ twice as many Americans as the coal industry does. What’s more, Trump’s executive order won’t even have a significant impact on the economic fortunes of coal miners themselves.
While the new order will keep older coal plants open for a few years longer, “the mines that are staying open are using more mechanization … they’re not hiring people,” energy economist Robert W. Godby told the New York Times.
“So even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs,” Godby told the paper.
Thus, the cost-benefit analysis on Trump’s executive order is effectively this: On the plus side, coal magnates will enjoy a few more years of profits before natural gas, wind, and solar make their industry obsolescent. On the downside, it may very well accelerate the onset of an ecological catastrophe that threatens to drown major American cities in the next century.
(February 11 through February 28)
Declared the mainstream media the “enemy of the American people.”
Trump and his administration have been waging a war on objective reality — and those tasked with describing it — from the moment he was sworn in. In his first appearance as White House press secretary, Sean Spicer demanded that reporters believe the president’s estimate of the size of his inaugural crowd over their own lying eyes.
Trump’s tumultuous (and not terribly productive) first month only widened the chasm between the president’s grandiose self-conception and what he sees reflected back at him in the mirror of the mainstream press. And this gap has produced evermore extreme attempts to nullify the Fourth Estate.
In late January, chief White House strategist Steve Bannon branded the mainstream media “the opposition party,” and suggested that it “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”
Bannon’s remarks were widely described seen as outrageous; at a subsequent White House press briefing, Spicer distanced the administration from Bannon’s sentiments, saying, “The press plays a very healthy role in democracy, no question about it.”
But last week, the president decried the media in terms far more inflammatory than even the former Breitbart mastermind had mustered.
Trump did not have second thoughts about describing several of America’s leading journalistic institutions as enemies of its people. Nor did he subsequently evince concern for whether his rhetoric would inspire some “Second Amendment people” to defend the American people against its “enemies” through extralegal means.
Instead, he reiterated his charge one week later, at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people,” Trump said. “Because they have no sources, they just make ’em up when there are none … I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources.”
Previously, the president had criticized the press for printing “illegal leaks” from anonymous government officials and suggested that those officials have often shared false information. But he’d never before claimed that major newspapers were fabricating sources out of whole cloth and presenting works of fictions as reportage.
Still, Trump insisted that he had no problem with the real media.
“I’m not against the media. I’m not against the press,” Trump said. “I am only against the fake-news media or press.”
He then lambasted the “fake news” media for failing to appreciate this nuance. “Fake,” the president said. “Fake. They have to leave that word.”
On Friday afternoon, the White House appeared to put the president’s distinction into practice: When reporters from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, CNN, and other major mainstream outlets showed up for a scheduled, off-camera briefing from Sean Spicer, they were denied entry to the White House press secretary’s office.
Breitbart News, the Washington Times, and One America News Network were waved in. Spicer also welcomed some mainstream outlets, including erstwhile “enemies of the people” ABC and CBS. Reporters from Time magazine and the Associated Press were allowed in, but chose to boycott the briefing in protest of the other outlets’ exclusion.
“Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, said in a statement. “We strongly protest the exclusion of The New York Times and the other news organizations. Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.”
Held a nuclear strategy session in the public dining room of his Florida resort.
Instead of hosting the Japanese prime minister at the White House, Trump opted to fly Shinzo Abe down to the private resort he owns in Palm Beach, Florida. This choice of venue cost American taxpayers millions in additional travel-and-security expenses. But it also allowed the president to directly profit off the diplomatic meeting, while increasing the perks of being a member of his club. Now, Mar-a-Lago members don’t merely have access to golf, a private beach, and a network of fellow plutocrats — they also get seats in the president’s open-air Situation Room. Per CNN:
The iceberg wedge salads, dripping with blue cheese dressing, had just been served on the terrace of Mar-a-Lago Saturday when the call to President Donald Trump came in: North Korea had launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile, its first challenge to international rules since Trump was sworn in three weeks ago…As Mar-a-Lago’s wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning in the background, Trump and Abe’s evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN.
The White House later claimed that Trump and Abe did not engage in detailed security discussions in Mar-a-Lago’s dining room. But Trump indisputably took a break from discussing the nuclear crisis to reward one of his longtime members with a wedding-night visit from himself and the leader of Japan.
Trump also allowed one of his guests to post a picture to Facebook of the man tasked with carrying America’s “nuclear football.”
Trump’s weekend visits to Mar-a-Lago cost American taxpayers more than $10 million in his first month in office, according to the Washington Post.
Allowed one of his senior advisers to complain about CNN’s political coverage to the network’s parent company — which has a proposed merger pending before the government.
The fact that the American president has displayed a fondness for authoritarianism — and an indifference to ethical norms — is concerning for a whole host of reasons. One is that these qualities raise the possibility that Trump might use the powers of his office to coerce private industry into doing his administration’s bidding. Shortly after the mogul’s victory, Vox’s Matt Yglesias treated this subject at length in an essay titled, “We have 100 days to stop Donald Trump from systemically corrupting our institutions.”
In that piece, Yglesias argues that America has long been prey to venal corruption, which consists of rich people buying favors through campaign contributions. The U.S. is not, however, a systematically corrupt nation — one in which “political favor becomes the primary driver of economic success.”
To explain how Trump might begin systemically corrupting American institutions, Yglesias writes the following:
Trump is not going to crush the free media in one fell swoop. But big corporate media does face enough regulatory matters that even a single exemplary case would suffice to induce large-scale self-censorship. AT&T, for example, is currently seeking permission from antitrust authorities to buy Time Warner — permission that Time Warner executives might plausible fear is contingent on Trump believing that CNN has covered him “fairly.”
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that senior White House adviser (and Trump son-in-law) Jared Kushner “complained to Gary Ginsberg, executive vice president of corporate marketing and communications at CNN’s parent Time Warner, about what Mr. Kushner feels is unfair coverage slanted against the president.”
Allowed his administration to ask the FBI to leak favorable information, in violation of rules protecting the Justice Department’s independence.
Earlier this month, anonymous U.S. officials told the New York Times that Trump campaign aides contacted Russian intelligence operatives, multiple times, during the 2016 race.
The day after the Times reported on the Trump campaign’s Russia contacts, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had a conversation. Which one of these men brought up the Times story is unclear — according to the White House, McCabe told Priebus that the paper’s report was overblown. However the subject came up, Priebus eventually asked McCabe to tell the press that the Times story was baloney — or, at least, have that information leaked, anonymously.
Even if the White House’s story is true — and the Times’ story is false — this request was problematic for at least two reasons. For one, Justice Department rules forbid the White House from discussing the details of ongoing investigations with the FBI — let alone investigations into the president himself — unless those details are “vital” to the president’s duties. For another, the FBI is not supposed to publicly comment on ongoing investigations.
Hours after his administration admitted that it had asked the FBI to leak classified information, the president condemned the FBI for leaking information.
Declined to publicly condemn the shooting of two India-born engineers by a man who (allegedly) said “get out of my country,” as he fired.
Declared himself the “least racist person” — then asked a black reporter to set up a meeting for him with her friends in the Congressional Black Caucus.
Minutes after declaring himself the least racist person in existence, Trump took a question from American Urban Radio Networks’ D.C. bureau chief, April Ryan.
Ryan asked if Trump planned to seek the advice of “the CBC” when crafting his urban agenda. The president was confused. Ryan explained that she was referring to the Congressional Black Caucus.
“Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” Trump asked the African-American journalist.
“No, I’m just a reporter,” Ryan said.
“Set up a meeting,” the president interrupted. “I would love to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus.”
Trump also informed a Jewish reporter that he was the “least anti-Semitic person you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” before explaining that a lot of supposed acts of anti-Jewish intimidation are really just false-flag attacks designed to make Donald Trump look bad.
*An earlier version of this list included the president’s failure to condemn the shooting of two India-born engineers in Kansas by a man who (reportedly) shouted, “get out of my country,” as he fired. But, after more than a week of silence, the White House did release a formal statement condemning the shooting on Tuesday.
“Week” 8 (February 4 through February 10)
Declared the “court system” a threat to national security.
Donald Trump spent much of his presidential campaign promising to use executive power to discriminate against Muslims. Upon election, he promptly banned immigration from several Muslim-majority nations, via an executive order that was Breitbart-tested but not cabinet-agency-approved.
Last week, judges in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and California stayed the order — or aspects of it — on a variety of legal grounds. Then, on Friday night, U.S. District Judge James Robart delivered the body blow.
Unlike other plaintiffs, the state of Washington did not challenge discrete provisions of the executive order, or merely the process by which it was implemented. Rather, the state argued that the order was in fundamental tensions with both federal law and the Constitution. Robart ruled that Washington’s argument was likely to succeed on the merits — and ordered a halt to nationwide enforcement of the travel ban.
The president responded by suggesting that Robart might not actually be a judge.
Then, he framed the existence of judicial review as a sign of national decline.
Still, superficially, Trump’s complaint was with an individual judge, not the Judicial branch, itself. But then the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the White House’s request for an emergency stay of Robart’s decision — and the president made his contempt for the rule of law explicit.
This was not merely an intemperate tweet. It was the president instructing the American people to view the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil as an indictment of the judiciary. And it isn’t just Trump himself who’s pushing this line. In its legal challenge to Robart’s ruling, the White House argued that the federal judge was in no position to rule on the propriety of the executive order, because he lacks access to classified intelligence.
This is an argument for allowing our fear of terrorism to overwhelm our commitment to the rule of law — a line of reasoning that poses a far greater threat to the American form of government and way of life than any closeted-jihadist refugee ever could.
Insisted that his Supreme Court pick had no problem with attacks on the judiciary, in the face of blatant evidence to the contrary.
Trump’s Supreme Court nominee had little choice but to condemn the president’s attacks on his branch of government. In private meetings with senators ahead of his confirmation hearings, Neil Gorsuch described Trump’s remarks “demoralizing” and “disheartening.”
But the president found it hard to believe that his Supreme Court pick would object to attacks on “the court system.” And so — even though White House adviser Ron Bonjean had confirmed that Gorsuch had criticized Trump’s comments in his meeting with Richard Blumenthal — the president accused the Democratic senator of lying.
The president’s case here was airtight: Richard Blumenthal once apologized for saying that he had served “in Vietnam,” when, in fact, the senator had merely served as a Marine Corps Reserve during the Vietnam War, but was never sent overseas. (By contrast, the president spent his Vietnam fearlessly weathering round after round of unprotected sex.) Therefore, both Blumenthal and Bonjean are lying.
Trump proceeded to chastise CNN’s Chris Cuomo for refusing to ask Blumenthal about his Vietnam record during a Thursday-morning interview … even though Cuomo asked Blumenthal about his (utterly irrelevant) Vietnam record during that Thursday-morning interview.
There seems to be no lie too obvious — nor attack too hypocritical — for the president to deploy as a means of evading responsibility for his mistakes.
Trashed New START during a call with Putin — after putting the phone aside to ask his advisers what that (nuclear-arms treaty) was.
“I was a good student. I understand things,” President Trump assured America on Wednesday. “I comprehend very well, okay? Better than, I think, almost anybody.”
But many within the White House beg to differ. In leak after leak, anonymous administration officials paint the president as less teacher’s pet than class clown — one who refuses to do his homework, demands the Cliffs Notes for every reading assignment, and struggles to comprehend the most basic aspects of the curriculum.
The latest SOS from the West Wing was intercepted by Reuters:
In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two U.S. officials and one former U.S. official with knowledge of the call.
When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said.
Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favored Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.
New START is pretty fundamental to U.S.-Russian relations. At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed his support for the agreement. Trump, himself, was aware of the treaty’s significance — if not of its proper name — last year, when he complained that Russia outsmarted Obama on “START Up.”
To avoid such lapses in memory, presidents typically request an in-depth briefing from the National Security Council before dialing up world leaders. But, according to Reuters’ sources, Trump received no such briefing before hopping on the horn with Putin. (Considering that Trump has often bragged about being too smart to read long things, it seems safe to take Reuters’ word on this one.)
The source of Trump’s antipathy for New START is unclear. On the one hand, the president has expressed enthusiasm for a new arms race. On the other, he has called nuclear weapons the “single greatest threat we face” — and has a habit of disparaging any deal that he did not, himself, negotiate.
Which is to say: The best-case scenario here is that our president would like there to be fewer nuclear arms in the world — but is willing to jeopardize that objective if it means honoring an agreement Obama negotiated.
Publicly condemned a private company for dropping his daughter’s (increasingly unpopular) fashion line.
Trump long ago concluded that it would be unreasonable for the American people to expect him to divest from his business interests, just because they elected him president. To forfeit the empire he spent his whole life building was simply too great a sacrifice. While he would cease managing the Trump Organization, he would, nonetheless, retain majority ownership of its assets.
Most Americans sympathized with this position.
Then, Trump decided that having someone outside his family run the organization in his stead — so as to put meaningful distance between himself and its management — was also too great a burden for him to bear.
Trump proceeded to reason that he couldn’t fairly be expected to not invite the children running his business to policy meetings with tech entrepreneurs; or to not meet with his business partners while president-elect; or to ensure that his D.C. hotel did not court the patronage of foreign diplomats (in arguable defiance of the Constitution).
Suggested that publicly criticizing his military decisions is tantamount to aiding “the enemy.”
Last week, President Trump sent a team of Navy SEALs to raid a compound in Yemen — with the aim of capturing or killing the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Qassim al-Rimi.
When the raid was over, al-Rimi was still alive, and on the lam — while one SEAL, 14 (alleged) Al Qaeda fighters, an 8-year-old American citizen, and an unconfirmed number of other civilians lay dead.
The SEALs did manage to collect some phones and computers, though the value of the information contained therein is not publicly known. Meanwhile, in light of the raid’s many civilian casualties, the Yemeni government is starting to rethink its support for U.S. ground operations on its soil.
Surveying these results, Arizona senator and prominent war enthusiast John McCain dubbed the mission a “failure.”
On Thursday, Trump suggested that McCain’s comment was harmful to national security — and also the kind of thing that a loser would say.
Got angry at his press secretary for being impersonated by a woman.
[T]he devastating “Saturday Night Live” caricature of Spicer that aired over the weekend — in which a belligerent Spicer was spoofed by a gum-chomping, super soaker-wielding Melissa McCarthy in drag — did not go over well internally at a White House in which looks matter. More than being lampooned as a press secretary who makes up facts, it was Spicer’s portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the president’s eyes, according to sources close to him. And the unflattering send-up by a female comedian was not considered helpful for Spicer’s longevity in the grueling, high-profile job[.]
“Week” 7 (January 27 through February 3)
Used the Executive branch’s immense authority over border control to inflict arbitrary cruelty on thousands of Muslim immigrants, create chaos at airports all across America, and sour diplomatic relations with the rest of the world.
Many of the actions catalogued in this post serve as testaments to our new president’s incompetence; others, to his mindless bigotry. Late last Friday, Trump signed his name to a document that affirmed both of his signature qualities — and upended the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people.
That executive order — as of Friday evening temporarily blocked by a Seattle judge — suspended the admission of all refugees to the United States for 120 days; suspended the admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely; prioritized the refugee claims of non-Muslims in the Middle East; and banned citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.
These measures were advertised as means of protecting national security. But there is little evidence that they will do any such thing. America already has one of the world’s most rigorous systems for vetting refugees, and the deadliest terror attacks on U.S. soil in recent years were executed by our own disaffected citizens.
Even if one believes that protecting homeland security requires barring travelers from the Muslim world, there is no coherent argument for why visitors from Saudi Arabia should be allowed, while those from Iran should not. In fact, no foreign national from any of the seven blacklisted countries has committed a fatal terrorist attack in the United States since 1975.
As an effort to prevent terrorism, Trump’s executive order is incoherent, and likely counterproductive. The order’s broad, overt denigration of the Muslim world aids every jihadist who wishes to tie his heinous cause to a broader war between Islam and the West. But jihadists aren’t the only ones who long for such a “clash of civilizations” — some of the most powerful people in the Trump White House believe Judeo-Christian civilization really is at war with Islam.
Many of those same people see Muslim immigrants as threats to national security, whether they’re terrorists or not. The two main authors of last week’s order — Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller — have explicitly argued that such immigrants are a threat simply because their religion will prevent them from assimilating into our society. Once you stipulate this view, the order becomes more coherent: The goal is not to stop terrorism but to halt the dilution of the white Christian population in the United States. It’s about protecting “ethno-national” security.
Nearly 60,000 immigrants had their visas revoked to satisfy Bannon’s Islamophobic paranoia. Countless refugees were stranded. But the costs of Trump’s order don’t merely fall on non–U.S. citizens. America relies on many of the countries Trump blacklisted to provide doctors for our understaffed hospitals. Now, some medical groups are preparing for a shortage of physicians in our nation’s underserved rural areas. The order has also disrupted the smooth functioning of American universities and tech companies that rely on immigrant labor.
Finally, even if one shares Bannon’s worldview — and believes all this is a small price to pay for saving America from the Muslim hordes — the implementation of the order revealed the new administration’s profound incompetence. The White House sought little input from legal counsel, Congress, and relevant cabinet agencies. It provided Customs and Border Protection with little notice of its plans. This led to chaos in airports all around the United States as visa-holders arrived to find their legal status had been terminated while they were midair. And the vagueness of the order’s wording produced confusion about who was and was not impacted by the rules. At the beginning of the weekend, the order applied to legal permanent residents and dual citizens of the blacklisted countries; by Monday it did not.
Violated court orders against his travel ban.
The sloppiness of the order did have its own silver lining: It exposed many of the Trump administration’s directives to effective legal challenge. Days after the order went into effect, judges in Massachusetts and California had issued injunctions, restraining the order’s enforcement.
But the rule of law does not seem to matter very much to the “law and order” president. As Slate’s Jeremy Stahl wrote Thursday:
It’s been more than four full days since the Boston order and more than one full day since the Los Angeles order. Nothing has changed. Travelers cleared by the two court orders to come to America have instead been blocked. They remain in legal limbo, often trapped in places that are not their homes … Trump has violated the spirit of the court rulings—and, in the opinion of experts, the letter—through a mix of legal chicanery and subterfuge, enabled by a Kafkaesque bureaucracy doing the president’s will rather than the will of the courts.
Here’s what Stahl means by “Kafkaesque” and “legal chicanery”: The judges in Boston ordered the government to cease detaining or removing individuals with “valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas.” But the Trump administration claims that it had already revoked the visas of all nationals from the blacklisted countries, prior to the order — a fact that was not publicly confirmed until Friday.
And so, Customs and Border Protection agents have carried on following their orders.
Created a diplomatic crisis with Australia — and threatened to invade Mexico.
Australia is the kind of friend that takes your side even when you’re wrong. In geopolitical terms, this means that when the United States asked for some help with our quagmire in Afghanistan, Australia sacrificed 42 of its young people to our cause.
So, when Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull reminded President Trump of America’s commitment to take in 1,250 refugees currently residing in an Australian detention center, he had little reason to believe that he’d be met with a torrent of verbal abuse.
But he was.
“This is the worst deal ever,” the president said during the Saturday call, according to the Washington Post. Trump proceeded to inform our dear ally “that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladimir Putin — and that ‘this was the worst call by far.’”
When Turnbull tried to direct the conversation to less contentious subjects, Trump abruptly ended the call — 35 minutes before it was scheduled to expire.
Later in the week, Trump tried to patch things up with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto … and kind of, sort of, threatened to invade our southern neighbor.
“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Peña Nieto, according to the excerpt obtained by the Associated Press. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”
Mexican officials later characterized this as a friendly offer, rather than a military threat.
Nonetheless, neither of these phone calls increases one’s confidence in the diplomatic chops of our commander-in-chief.
Allowed his press secretary to falsely claim that Iran had committed an act of war against the United States.
The Trump administration spent much of the past week rattling sabers at Iran. Not all of this belligerence was unprovoked — Iran did test an intercontinental ballistic missile Sunday, in (arguably) a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution.
But one thing Iran definitely did not do was “take action against” an American Navy vessel. But that didn’t stop White House press secretary Sean Spicer from saying that it had.
“I think General Flynn was really clear yesterday that Iran has violated the Joint Resolution, that Iran’s additional hostile actions that it took against our Navy vessel are ones that we are very clear [we] are not going to sit by and take,” Spicer said Thursday, intimating that Iran had committed an act of war against the United States.
In truth, a Saudi Arabian warship was attacked by fighters that the Pentagon suspects were Houthi rebels — a Shia militant group in Yemen that the Saudis have been slaughtering for over a year. Iran does back the Houthis, but the latter isn’t really the puppet of the former — the Houthis are less concerned with expanding Tehran’s sphere of influence than winning their nation’s civil war.
And yet, the White House eagerly painted a (suspected) Houthi attack on Saudi Arabia as a (confirmed) Iranian attack on America. Which makes you wonder whether or not the Trump administration will do everything in its power to avoid launching another Middle Eastern war.
Retained the author of a reactionary screed that likened the 2016 election to Flight 93 as a national-security staffer.
Michael Anton is a former Bush administration speechwriter and current national-security official in the Trump administration. This week, we learned that he is also the author of an essay titled “The Flight 93 Election.” In it, Anton argued that the 2016 election put conservatives in a position akin to passengers of Flight 93 on 9/11: They could either “charge the cockpit” or “die.”
“If you don’t try, death is certain,” Anton wrote. “To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto.”
Anton’s reasoning was simple: “The ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.”
Thus, absent an immediate restriction of “Third World” immigration, America, as conservatives knew it, would end.
This is not merely an argument against Hillary Clinton, but an argument for authoritarianism. If a Democratic victory in 2016 could have brought national ruination, surely the same would be true in 2020. Which is to say: One of the president’s senior national-security staffers is an opponent of American democracy.
Suggested that Frederick Douglass is still alive in speech on Black History Month.
At his speech honoring African-Americans’ historical contributions to our republic, the president said this about Martin Luther King Jr.
Last month, we celebrated the life of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whose incredible example is unique in American history. You read all about Dr. Martin Luther King a week ago when somebody said I took the statue out of my office. It turned out that that was fake news. Fake news. The statue is cherished, it’s one of the favorite things in the — and we have some good ones. We have Lincoln, and we have Jefferson, and we have Dr. Martin Luther King. But they said the statue, the bust of Martin Luther King, was taken out of the office. And it was never even touched. So I think it was a disgrace, but that’s the way the press is. Very unfortunate.
And this about Frederick Douglass:
Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed.
Sean Spicer was later asked what Trump had meant by this.
“I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made,” Spicer said. “And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”
“Week” 6 (January 7 through 27)
Told a demonstrable lie about the size of the crowd at his inauguration — and predicted that the media would “pay a big price” for refusing to repeat it.
Donald Trump’s inauguration attracted a much smaller crowd to the National Mall than Barack Obama’s did in 2008. This was not a surprise: Washington, D.C., is a majority African-American city, and the first black president won its vote overwhelmingly. Trump, by contrast, received a mere 4 percent of the district’s ballots. Further, Obama entered office with an approval rating of 80 percent; Trump was sworn in with one around 40.
But while Trump’s (comparatively) sparse inaugural crowd comported with demographic and polling realities, it was wildly inconsistent with the president’s expectations. And so, as he often does when reality disappoints his fondest wishes, Trump discovered a set of alternative facts.
“I get up this morning and I turn on one of the networks and they show an empty field,” Trump said. “I said wait a minute, I made a speech, I looked out, the field was, it looked like a million, a million and a half people … it went all the way back to the Washington Monument.”
“So, we caught” the media, Trump said, “and we caught them in beauty. And I think they’re going to pay a big price.”
That big price turned out to be a scolding from the new White House press secretary. Armed with visual aids, an ill-fitting suit, and secondhand indignation, Spicer condemned the press’s shameful attempts “to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.”
“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period,” Spicer baselessly declared, before vowing, “We’re going to hold the press accountable.”
Spicer then informed the White House press corps that the CIA had given Trump a “five-minute standing ovation” at the end of his speech (the audience stood throughout the speech, having never received permission to sit. Trump would later claim that this had been the “biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl”).
“That’s what you guys should be writing and covering,” Spicer said, then left without taking a single question.
Told congressional leaders at a private meeting that he only lost the popular vote because undocumented immigrants cast millions of ballots against him.
In November, Trump tweeted that he had actually won the popular vote, “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” That was disturbing for several reasons, all detailed in an earlier installment of this list.
But Trump’s repetition of the claim — in a private meeting with congressional leaders, whom he has no hope of conning on this subject — raises the alarming possibility that the president genuinely believes in his own conspiracy theory. Which is to say, the president believes that “3 to 5 million” undocumented immigrants risked deportation to illegally vote against him.
Even though there is literally no evidence for that claim. And no losing down-ballot Republican candidate has demanded an investigation into the matter. And he, himself, loudly opposed all attempts to audit the election’s results — until reporters alerted him to this apparent contradiction. Then, the president announced an investigation into such acts of voter fraud as being registered to vote in two states (which is a crime committed by several of his advisers and family members, if it were actually illegal).
On Tuesday, Sean Spicer affirmed that this is, in fact, the president’s genuine understanding of how Hillary Clinton won more votes than he did.