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Donald Trump made it clear at the beginning of his campaign that he wasn’t going to follow the normal rules or tone of politics. We’re keeping track of all the ways his presidency veers from the norm, in terms of policy and rhetoric.
Day 72 April 1
The happy White House couple could still profit from $740 million real estate empire
Jared Kushner and Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka both have official roles in the White House. They also happen to be married. And a new financial disclosure report could put them on shaky legal ground, multiple experts told the New York Times.
Despite promising to divest from their businesses and abide by all ethics rules, Kushner and Ivanka still stand to benefit from a real estate empire worth as much as $740 million, according to the report released Friday. Ivanka maintains holdings in the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., and Kushner, who resigned from over 200 positions at the limited liability corporations and partnerships that make up the multi-billion-dollar family empire, could still see money from most of those entities, the report revealed.
Last week, Ivanka’s unprecedented and unofficial advisory role — complete with a White House office — turned into an official, albeit unpaid, job. Although she promised to abide by all ethics rules in her unofficial role, an official position legally holds her to ethics standards. And Kushner, who previously served as an adviser from the president, will head the new White House Office of American Innovation.
The report, released by the White House late Friday, showed the wealth and assets of as many as 180 senior officials, including former pollster and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, former Breitbart executive and chief strategist Steve Bannon, and former Goldman Sachs chief operating officer and head of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn. Their financial holdings have already raised questions and prove the difficulty of tracking the Trump administration’s conflicts of interests.
But some Trump administration officials — like former ExxonMobil CEO and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — agreed to divest when taking their positions. Tillerson liquidated all of his assets and ownership stake in Exxon before taking on his Cabinet role.
With a combined net worth of $12 billion, according to Bloomberg, Trump’s cabinet is the wealthiest in history.
Day 71 March 31
Trump’s campaign comments keep getting him into legal trouble
President Trump doesn’t have much of a filter. And his comments on the campaign trail just added another legal challenge to his plate.
A federal judge in Kentucky ruled Friday that a lawsuit accusing Trump of inciting violence against protesters at a campaign rally last March can move forward. Trump’s lawyers tried to get the case thrown out by arguing the president’s comments were free speech, but in his opinion, the judge noted that the First Amendment doesn’t protect incitement to commit violence.
“It is plausible that Trump’s direction to ‘get ’em out of here’ advocated the use of force,” U.S. District Judge David Hale wrote in his decision. “It was an order, an instruction, a command.” Hale also noted “ample” factual support exists for the protesters’ claim that their injuries were “a direct and proximate result” of the Trump’s actions.
President Trump tweeted about Mike Flynn’s potential immunity deal at 4 a.m.
At 4:04 a.m., the president of the United States addressed reports that his now-disgraced former national security adviser was planning to testify about his dealings with Russia in exchange for immunity.
“Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!” Trump tweeted.
The missive, while nonsensical, combined a few of the president’s favorite talking points: boasting of his electoral victory and blaming the media and the Democrats for negative coverage of his administration. But it’s the FBI — not the media or the Democrats — that’s currently conducting a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump or any members of his team colluded with Russia during the election. Flynn, who was forced to resign after it was revealed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his meetings with the Russian ambassador, reportedly told the FBI Thursday he was willing to testify in that investigation in return for immunity from prosecution.
Why it’s not normal:
The FBI does not grant immunity for victims of witch hunts. The FBI grants immunity to people who may have committed a crime in exchange for testimony that would incriminate someone else. Surely President Trump knows this — last September he discussed immunity on the campaign trail. “The reason they get immunity is because they did something wrong,” the president said at a Wisconsin rally. “If they didn’t do anything wrong, they don’t think in terms of immunity. ”
“When you are given immunity, that means you probably committed a crime,” Flynn said the same month.
Day 70 March 30
Former FBI agent tells Senate that Russia is secretly tweeting at Trump
When Sen. James Lankford asked a panel testifying Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee why President Vladimir Putin did so much to interfere in the U.S. election, a former FBI special agent didn’t mince words.
“This answer is very simple and is what no one is really saying in this room,” said Clint Watts, now a senior fellow at the Center For Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University. “Which is, part of the reason active measures have worked in this U.S. election is because the commander-in-chief [President Donald Trump] has used Russian active measures at times against his opponents.”
Watts cited two examples of the Trump campaign’s use of Russian misinformation — also known as actual fake news — to damage Clinton. (“Active measures” was originally a term for Soviet political warfare techniques used both at home and abroad.) But Watts also pointed out how Trump’s strategy when faced with real information he doesn’t like mimics lies promoted by the Kremlin.
“He denies the intel from the United States about Russia,” Watts said of Trump. “He claimed that the election could be rigged — that was the number-one theme pushed by RT, Sputnik News… all the way up until the election. He’s made claims of voter fraud, that President Obama’s not a citizen…. Part of the reason active measures works… is because they parrot the same lines.”
And, Watts said, the Russians are very aware of their ability to get inside Trump’s head.
“I can tell you right now today, [Russian-operated accounts] tweet at President Trump during high volumes when they know he’s online, and they push conspiracy theories,” Watts said. “So if he is to click on one of those or cite one of those, it just proves Putin correct, that we can use this as a lever against the Americans.”
Trump’s EPA chief is under investigation for allegedly lying to Congress
Although Trump’s EPA chief told Congress he didn’t use a private email account while serving as Oklahoma’s Attorney General, the evidence shows otherwise. Now, the Oklahoma Bar Association has promised to get the bottom of it.
The state legal organization launched a formal investigation Tuesday after the Center for Biological Diversity and University of Oklahoma law professor Kristen Van de Biezenbos’ filed a formal ethics complaint, according to a letter obtained by ABC 7 News in Oklahoma. The bar association has asked Pruitt for a response to the “grievance,” according to the letter.
During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt testified before Congress that he didn’t use a private email account to conduct government business during his previous role in Oklahoma. But records obtained by the Associated Press revealed Pruitt sent an email to a member of his staff using an Apple account.
Pruitt is just one of five members of the Trump administration who stand accused of lying under oath before Congress — also known as committing perjury.
Trump declares war on members of his own party
President Trump used his personal Twitter account to declare war on both the Democrats and members of his own party — a curious political move, given that he needs the support of at least one of those groups to push his agenda through Congress.
“The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Trump tweeted.
At best, the tweet was a public dismissal of the caucus, made up of 35-40 lawmakers, who previously used their considerable influence to push John Boehner out as Speaker of the House in 2015.
Trump had refrained from criticizing the Freedom Caucus after they rejected his healthcare bill last week, forcing him to cancel the vote that had been scheduled for Friday. Initially the president blamed the Democrats for its defeat, but that restraint was short-lived.
But threatening both the Freedom Caucus and the Democrats leaves Trump with a very small pool of lawmakers left to support his legislation until at least 2018 if not 2020 – which begs the question, how does he plan on pushing policy proposals like sweeping tax reform without the votes?
Why it’s not normal:
It’s uncommon, if not unprecedented, for a sitting president to publicly rebuke a large swath of his own party. But to denounce them publicly, less than 100 days into his presidency, and on the eve of another massive legislation push, is frankly extraordinary.
Day 69 March 29
Just kidding! Ivanka Trump will have an official White House role, after all
Welcome to the Trump administration, Ivanka.
Earlier this month, the first daughter announced she would occupy a West Wing office at the White House and serve as an adviser to President Donald Trump — without receiving an official title or salary. However, on Wednesday, Ivanka Trump announced that while she still plans to advise her father, she’ll now become an official federal employee.
The terms of her planned unofficial role were not only unprecedented, they would have shielded her from the ethics rules that normally bind federal government employees. Though she promised she’d voluntarily follow the rules anyway, ethics experts pointed out that her extensive and largely unknown business dealings could lead to conflicts of interests.
“I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees,” Trump said in a statement.
It remains extremely unusual, however, for a president to hire one of his children.
Trump has business ties to at least 10 alleged former Soviet criminals, report claims
President Trump has said he has “no dealings with Russia,” but according to an analysis by USA Today, his businesses sure do.
A review of court cases as well as government and legal documents revealed a group of at least 10 former Soviet businessmen accused of participating in organized crime or money-laundering who were either involved in developing Trump properties, like the Trump SoHo hotel in New York, or owned units in Trump’s condo buildings.
The Trump SoHo, in particular, “was largely financed by illegally obtained cash from Russia and Eastern European sources, including money provided by known international financial criminals and organized crime racketeers,” former U.S. prosecutor Ken McCallion told USA Today.
A New York City realtor also told the paper she personally arranged meetings for prospective Russian buyers who wanted a sit-down with Trump before making an offer, which suggests Trump was courting wealthy Russians (who generally have links to Vladimir Putin).
According to USA Today, the list of Russian businessmen linked to Trump properties includes:
- Felix Sater, a Russian immigrant who has been convicted of offenses like stabbing a man with a broken margarita glass and running a $40 million stock manipulation and money-laundering scheme. Sater — who used to carry business cards identifying him as a Trump Organization adviser — brokered a meeting between Trump’s lawyer and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament in January. Trump’s lawyer acknowledged the meeting but denied the Ukrainian gave him a Russian peace plan to pass to Trump’s now-disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
- Alexander Mashkevich, a Kazakhstan billionaire who helped finance the Trump SoHo. Mashkevich was accused of a $55 million money laundering scheme in 2011 and paid a fine without acknowledging guilt. Anatoly Golubchi, Michael Sall, and Vadim Trincher, alleged members of an organized crime group dealing in money laundering who own condos in the Trump International Beach Resort in Florida and Trump Tower.
- Viktor Khrapunov, a former Kazakhstan mayor accused of using state-owned assets to purchase three Trump SoHo condos through shell companies.
- Peter Kiritchenko, a Ukrainian businessman accused of laundering money for a former president of Ukraine, who took a deal pleading guilty to one count of receiving stolen property. Kiritchenko owned two condos at Trump International Beach Resort.
A spokesperson for the Trump administration told USA Today the allegations are “without merit” and that the condo units were sold through third parties. But a Financial Times investigation revealed Trump was a co-owner of Bayrock/Sapir Organization LLC, which sold Khrapunov the apartments.
And though the president denies it now, he previously bragged about his Russian dealings.
“I have a great relationship with many Russians, and almost all of the oligarchs were in the room,” he told Real Estate Weekly in 2013.
Trump’s son Eric Jr. – now a trustee of the Trump Organization – also commented on the “pretty disproportionate” representation Russian oligarchs have in their businesses at a real estate conference in 2008, according to the Washington Post.
Day 68 March 28
A government ethics watchdog is going to investigate Trump’s Mar-a-Lago trips
Remember that time guests at Donald Trump’s luxury resort Mar-a-Lago took pictures of him reviewing reportedly classified information about North Korea? A government ethics watchdog is finally going to look into that.
After several top Democrats raised concerns about the handling of classified information at the Florida resort, the Government Accountability Office announced Monday that it would review security there — and look into whether Trump is making money off government meetings held at his properties.
The agency’s review — which will begin in a few months, according to Reuters — will look into what measures are used to protect classified information and provide secure communication as well as the Secret Service screening process for guests and visitors. Also under question is whether Trump has made any payments to the U.S. Treasury from profits at his hotels, which the president’s lawyer previously promised he would do.
Democrats have been after Trump’s use of Mar-a-Lago for awhile now. After his third consecutive weekend at the resort since taking office, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Tom Udall, and Sheldon Whitehouse, among others, sent a letter on Feb. 16 asking the accountability office to begin an investigation, according to Reuters.
Senate and House Democrats also introduced the “Mar-a-Lago Act” on Friday, which would require the president to provide visitor logs detailing who spends time with him at the resort. Since becoming president on Jan. 20, Trump has visited Mar-a-Lago 17 times, according to a Washington Post analysis.
Top Trump official says “Send all your kids to ‘Lego Batman,’” which he produced
One of the Trump administration’s top officials issued an unusual edict to Americans: Go see a movie starring a superhero made of Legos — which he just so happened to produce. Now, the government ethics watchdog might get involved.
“I’m not allowed to promote anything I’m involved in,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday at a live interview for the news outlet Axios, when an attendee asked him for a movie recommendation. “So I just want to have the legal disclosure; you’ve asked me the question, and I’m not promoting any product. But you should send all your kids to ‘Lego Batman.’”
One of Mnuchin’s companies, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, produced and financed “The Lego Batman Movie,” a sequel to “The Lego Movie,” according to Reuters. Mnuchin, a longtime Goldman Sachs executive who went on to create his own hedge fund, is credited as one of the film’s executive producers.
The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee isn’t pleased with Mnuchin’s promotion of Gotham’s animated crusader. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden wrote a letter to the Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub, asking the office to investigate whether Mnuchin had violated a January ethics agreement to avoid participating in matters he knows could affect his finances.
Why it’s not normal:
Trump administration officials have an unusually high number of conflict of interests — and an apparent resistance to part with them. Though Mnuchin still has weeks left before he’s legally required to divest from his companies, Wyden said in his letter that the treasury secretary has yet to provide any evidence he’s taken the necessary steps, according to Politico.
Plus, saying the words, “I’m not promoting any product,” doesn’t magically erase the fact that you’re promoting a product.
Day 67 March 27
The first White House staffer who’s agreed to testify about Russia is Trump’s son-in-law
Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisors, has agreed to answer questions about the alleged connections between the Trump campaign and Russia as part of an ongoing congressional investigation.
The Senate Intelligence Committee plans to question Kushner about a series of meetings he had with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the campaign and transition period according to the New York Times.
Although campaign officials do sometimes sit down with foreign representatives, Kushner’s meetings with Kislyak are just the latest development in the ongoing saga between Russia and the Trump team. So far, Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign less than a month into his position after he lied about meeting with Kislyak. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General, also recused himself from the investigation after he failed to mention he met with any Russian officials during his confirmation hearing. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who resigned last August after reports of his extensive connections to pro-Russia forces in Ukraine, faces even more scrutiny after an explosive Associated Press report revealed he secretly worked for a Russian oligarch to advance Vladimir Putin’s interest.
Since July, the FBI has been conducting a multi-agency investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump of members of his inner circle were involved. And congressional committees are holding their own hearings on the matter.
Update (March 28, 1:34 p.m.): It’s unclear whether Kushner’s testimony will be made public or under oath, leading democrat on the Senate Intelligence Community Mark Warner told CBS.
Why it’s not normal:
While the entire Russia investigation is inherently abnormal, Kushner is so far the only member of the White House staff who has agreed to testify — and he just happens to be the president’s son-in-law.
Day 66 March 26
Trump has visited one of his properties almost one out of every 3 days as president
That’s 21 out of 66 days or a full three weeks, according to a Washington Post analysis.
Officials deny report that Trump gave Merkel a fake $374 billion invoice for NATO defense
Update (March 28, 9:42 a.m.): After dozens of media outlets (including VICE News) picked up the story over the weekend, German and U.S. officials have denied a Sunday Times report saying Trump gave Merkel a $374 billion invoice for NATO defense.
In a bizarre stunt, President Trump reportedly handed German Chancellor Angela Merkel an invoice for more than $374 billion to cover military defense costs when they met in Washington last week. U.K. newspaper the Sunday Times reports the bill was meant to illustrate the amount, in Trump’s own estimation, that Germany has failed to spend on defense under a NATO agreement.
Trump, who has long complained about allies supposedly relying on U.S. military strength, was apparently upset that Germany, like most NATO countries, isn’t spending the amount it pledged to spend on defense. But suggesting that Germany “owes money” to NATO is misleading. Trump was reportedly referring to a pledge made by NATO states to spend 2 percent of their GDP on their own defense budgets. This money wouldn’t be paid to NATO but spent on Germany’s own defense. Only five of the 28 member states currently meet the 2 percent goal.
According to the Sunday Times, Trump’s fake invoice dated all the way back to 2002, when, according to Trump, Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schröder said he’d spend more on defense. Trump’s aides reportedly calculated how much German defense spending fell below 2 percent over the past 12 years, then tacked on interest.
Why it’s not normal:
It’s hard to know where to begin here. Sitting presidents don’t usually employ weird stunts that don’t make sense in order to intimidate leaders of countries the U.S. likes into spending more on defense. A German minister quoted in the Sunday Times called the bill “outrageous.”
Day 65 March 25
Trump tells followers to tune into Fox News program whose host just happens to call for Paul Ryan to step down
As the fallout and finger-pointing over the failed Obamacare replacement bill continued on Saturday, President Trump sent a tweet urging his followers to tune into “Judge Jeanine,” a weekly Fox News show. On the program, host Jeanine Pirro, the former Westchester County, New York district attorney and judge, opened by calling for Speaker Paul Ryan to step down.
Pirro didn’t mince words: “Paul Ryan needs to step down as Speaker of the House,” she began her monologue. “The reason? He failed to deliver the votes on his healthcare bill, the one trumpeted to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
“Speaker Ryan, you come in with all your swagger and experience,” Pirro continued, “and you sell ’em a bill of goods which ends up a complete and total failure, and you allow our president in his first 100 days to come out of the box like that, based on what? Your legislative expertise, your knowledge of the arcane ins and outs of the bill-writing process? Your relationships? What? Your drinks at the Hay-Adams with your pals?”
Publicly, both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have continued to support Ryan as speaker. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday” that the president didn’t know what was going to be on the program.
“There is no preplanning here,” Priebus said, adding that the president promoted her show on Twitter “because he loves Judge Jeanine.”
Why it’s not normal:
Even if Trump didn’t know what Judge Jeanine was going to say, presidents don’t tend to promote media coverage, regardless of whether or not the coverage is favorable to their political allies (or enemies).
Day 62 March 22
The Secret Service asked for an extra $60 million to deal with the Trump era
The Secret Service asked for about $60 million in additional funding for costs related in part to the unique challenges presented by the need to protect the Trump family, according to the Washington Post. Nearly $27 million was requested for protecting the Trumps and their home at Trump Tower in New York City, and $33 million was requested for travel costs related to protecting Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and visiting foreign leaders.
The Post reports that the White House’s Office of Management and Budget rejected the request last month, which means that the Secret Service will have to find the money somewhere in its budget. In addition to protecting the first family and other officials, the Secret Service investigates a wide variety of crimes ranging from financial wrongdoing to kidnapping.
The conservative activist group Judicial Watch said in a December report that personal travel costs for the family of President Barack Obama amounted to $85 million — over eight years.
Trump wanted a North Korea-style military parade at his inauguration, emails show
Internal Pentagon emails obtained by the Huffington Post reveal that Donald Trump wanted a military parade for his inauguration but was shot down because, among other reasons, the request was unprecedented and could have done major damage to D.C.’s streets.
The emails were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Huffington Post.
According to one email sent Dec. 13, 2016 by a Pentagon official whose name was redacted, the Trump team asked for “some pictures of military vehicles we could add to the parade.”
Though aides denied the story at the time, but an anonymous member of the Trump transition team told the Huffington Post in January that, “They were legit thinking Red Square/North Korea-style parade.”
The military wasn’t a fan of the plan, the emails show.
“I explained that such support would be out of guidelines, and that costs associated with bringing military vehicles to the NCR would be considered reimbursable,” the official wrote, adding, “I’m extremely reluctant to produce an improvised list of military vehicles that we might be held to.”
The official did not identify who was representing the Trump administration in the discussions, but did write that “the establishing guidance has come from the highest level. I do believe they will be making the request.”
The Trump admiwhy nistration ultimately opted not to make a formal request, but did ask for and receive permission for a flyover demonstration that specifically included an F-35 and an F-A/18 Super-Hornet, two military aircrafts Trump had previously referenced in a tweet seemingly intended to pit the planes’ manufacturers against one another.
The air show was ultimately canceled due to weather.
Why it’s not normal:
Though the Pentagon is traditionally involved in planning inaugural events, their contribution is typically limited to marching bands and uniformed officers. And there hasn’t been an inaugural flyover since Harry Truman’s 1949 festivities.
Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to benefit Putin
Donald Trump faces yet another Russian controversy.
An explosive investigation by the Associated Press Wednesday revealed that the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly worked for a Russian oligarch to help advance the interests of Vladimir Putin.
The investigation says Manafort signed a $10 million dollar annual contract with billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Putin, to help influence politicians, the media, and business relationships in the U.S. and Europe. Leaked documents show Manafort proposed this strategy in 2005, working with aluminium magnate Deripaska until at least 2009. The documents also show Manafort told Deripaska that he was pushing policies “at the highest levels of the U.S. government — the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department.”
The AP reported that Manafort did not disclose this work. Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby in the U.S. on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must declare it to the Justice Department.
Manafort, who has strenuously denied ever working for the Kremlin, has labelled the latest allegations against him “a smear campaign” saying they have been unfairly cast as “inappropriate or nefarious.”
Ivanka Trump’s White House role raises ethical questions that have never been answered
As an unpaid advisor with no official title, an as-yet-undefined policy portfolio, and West Wing office space, Ivanka Trump’s position in her father’s administration will be unprecedented, presidential scholars told VICE News. And her many potential conflicts of interests may force the Trump White House to confront ethical dilemmas that no previous presidency has ever faced.
“I can’t think of anybody in any other administration that had anything like this,” said George Edwards, a professor at Texas A&M University and the editor of an academic journal studying the American presidency.
While Ivanka said she will “voluntarily follow all of the ethics rules placed on government employees,” she will have immense opportunities to benefit her personal businesses as well as her husband Jared Kushner’s. And she might not be required to keep records or phone calls and meetings, according to Edwards.
Day 60 March 20
Trump, noted Obama golf critic, won’t admit how much he’s playing
Donald Trump spent years criticizing Barack Obama’s golfing habit. But now that he’s in the White House, his administration apparently doesn’t want anybody to know that Trump shares his predecessor’s love of the sport.
Since taking office eight weeks ago, Trump has reportedly visited two golf courses near his Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach, Florida, estate 10 times. But on numerous occasions, White House officials have not put the president’s game on the daily schedule or danced around reporters’ questions.
After spending seven hours at his golf club this weekend, Trump told reporters that he played “very little” golf. (Newsmax Media executive Christopher Ruddy had tweeted a photo of Trump wearing a golfing glove and a polo shirt.) Despite Trump’s confirmation, the White House still declined to tell reporters any more details.
Something similar happened in February: More than four hours after Trump arrived at the Trump International Golf Club, the press pool still hadn’t been given confirmation that Trump had played.
In a Monday press briefing, Press Secretary defended Trump’s secretive playing by saying he’s “entitled to a bit of privacy.”
Why it’s not normal:
The White House generally issues a presidential schedule and provides journalists details about what the president is up to. So it’s strange officials wouldn’t be willing to confirm whether the president did something as mundane as play a game of golf. Then again, perhaps Trump’s previous criticism of Obama makes them reluctant to draw attention to the president’s fondness for the sport.
Obama did golf a lot — 333 times during his eight years in the White House, to be exact. That’s once every 8.8 days. While the secrecy surrounding Trump’s golf game makes estimates difficult, Trump is already beating Obama, according to the Palm Beach Post: The president has golfed once every 6.8 days. And that’s not counting any golfing Trump might’ve done last weekend.
During his campaign, however, Trump promised voters that he wouldn’t spend any time on the links. “I’m going to be working for you,” he said at a 2016 Virginia event. “I’m not going to have time to go play golf.”
Trump’s official POTUS Twitter account completely misrepresented the FBI director’s testimony on Russia
Donald Trump (more likely, his staff) spent the morning live tweeting the Russia hearing from the official @POTUS Twitter account, including videos with misleading captions seemingly designed to shift blame off him and his administration.
“FBI Director Comey refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia,” the president tweeted.
The tweet implies Obama was the source of the Flynn leak. But Comey repeatedly told legislators in the hearing that he would not be able to comment on specific investigations and warned them not to read into his refusal to confirm or deny certain questions.
“Our ability to share details with the Congress and the American people is limited when those investigations are still open, which I hope makes sense,” Comey said. “We need to protect people’s privacy. We need to make sure we don’t give other people clues as to where we’re going. We need to make sure that we don’t give information to our foreign adversaries about what we know or don’t know.”
The president’s account also tweeted a similarly misleading caption and video combination featuring National Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers. He was responding to questions from Republican Rep. Devin Nunes about the NSA’s knowledge of Russian tampering in specific state vote tallies.
Rogers also offered this caveat: “I would highlight we are a foreign intelligence organization, not a domestic intelligence organization.”
Why it’s not normal
The president seems unable to stop himself from composing tweets a reasonable person would understand to be false. The line of questioning occurred at all because Trump sent a series of tweets accusing President Obama of wiretapping his office at Trump Tower, an allegation the DOJ, FBI and NSA have all denied.
Trump’s approval rating just hit another record low
In the first two months of his presidency, Donald Trump has struggled with scandals, staffing issues, and a range of miscues. And a new Gallup poll shows the public is less than impressed.
Trump’s approval rating — the lowest for an incoming president in at least 70 years — has sunk to a new low of 37 percent. That’s the lowest approval rating for this point in a first term presidency since Gallup began tracking the issue in 1945, when Harry Truman was elected. Since taking office, Trump’s disapproval rating also rose from an unusually high 47 to 58 percent.
Here’s when other presidents hit 37 percent, according to ABC News:
- Bill Clinton (the previous record-holder): his fifth month as president
- Ronald Reagan: about a year after his inauguration
- George H.W. Bush: three years into office
- Richard Nixon: in the throes of the Watergate scandal during the first year of his second term
Not only do Americans generally disapprove of Trump’s presidency, more than half of young adults don’t even fully acknowledge it. According to a poll conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press, 57 percent of young adults don’t view Trump as a legitimate president, including three-quarters of young blacks, Latinos, and Asians surveyed. A slim majority of young whites, however, at 53 percent, do consider Trump’s presidency legitimate.
Day 57 March 17
Merkel declines to laugh at Trump’s wiretapping joke
When President Donald Trump joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a press conference in D.C. on Friday, he thought it was a good time to make a joke about something he thinks they have in common: being wiretapped by President Barack Obama.
A German reporter asked Trump about the burgeoning diplomatic row between the U.S. and U.K. governments. It all started during a briefing on Thursday when Press Secretary Sean Spicer mentioned a Fox News commentator who claimed on air that British intelligence had wiretapped President Trump during last year’s election, at the request of Obama. Keep in mind, Trump still hasn’t provided any evidence for his claims that Obama wiretapped him, let alone that the U.K. was involved. And national security adviser H.R. McMaster sort of apologized to the U.K. earlier Friday — even though the administration won’t admit it.
In response to the question, Trump said: “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it. You shouldn’t be talking to me about it. You should be talking to Fox.”
Then, recalling the NSA-Germany wiretapping scandal, the president added: “As far as wiretapping, you know, this past administration — at least we have something in common, perhaps.”
Merkel didn’t look pleased. Maybe she was still upset because Trump wouldn’t shake her hand during a photo op earlier.
Day 56 March 16
Senate Intelligence Committee says there’s no evidence to support Trump’s wiretap accusations
Two ranking members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said there’s nothing to back up President Donald Trump’s tweeted series of allegations two weeks ago that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped his phones.
Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, issued a one-sentence joint statement: “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”
Burr and Warner are leading one of the investigations into Trump’s alleged ties to Russia; they reportedly met with FBI Director James Comey and the CIA in recent weeks. The pair was echoed by Paul Ryan in a press conference today: “The intelligence committees, in their continuing, widening, ongoing investigations of all things Russia, got to the bottom — at least so far with respect to our intelligence community — that no such wiretap existed.”
Trump’s defense for wiretapping claim: “I had been reading about things”
During an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Wednesday, Trump said the basis of his accusation came from reading a news report: “Well, I had been reading about things,” Trump said. “I read, I think it was January 20th in a New York Times article about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things.”
“I will be perhaps be speaking about this later this week,” Trump added cryptically.
Nowhere in the Times article that Trump likely referenced does it say Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower. The article does report, according to unnamed sources, that U.S. intelligence agencies were examining intercepted communications between various Trump’s associates for possible links to Russia.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House intelligence committee said they have seen no evidence to back up the president’s wiretapping accusation. Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Republican Chuck Grassley also said he wouldn’t schedule a confirmation hearing for deputy attorney general nominee Rod Rosenstein — who would replace Jeff Sessions on any investigations related to Russia — until the committee receives a briefing FBI director James Comey.
Why it’s not normal:
The president of the United States has access to the most in-depth and accurate classified intelligence in the world. That means he usually doesn’t extrapolate an explosive claim about his predecessor spying on them from unsourced media reports published three months ago.
Trump is first president to propose cutting the National Endowments for the Humanities and Arts
Republicans have a rocky history with funding the arts. But with the release of his budget Thursday morning, Donald Trump became the first president to propose cutting both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities entirely, according to the New York Times.
Since their creation in 1965, both agencies have played a vital role in supporting the arts and research, although comprising only a small portion of the trillion-dollar federal budget.
This apparently isn’t the first time the president skimped on the arts either. Andy Warhol claimed the family never bought paintings of Trump Tower they commissioned from him in the 80s.
Even judges who back up Trump’s travel ban think his insults are unacceptable
Even among judges who support Donald Trump’s travel ban, Trump’s comments condemning the judge who blocked it apparently crossed the line.
After U.S. District Judge James L. Robart halted Trump’s original travel ban in February, Trump took to Twitter to lash out at Robart, a “so-called judge” whose opinion he dubbed “ridiculous.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit backed up Robart’s decision, and Trump administration later withdrew its request for an appeal. In a dissenting opinion issued Wednesday, however, five of the court’s judges found that Trump’s order probably didn’t violate the constitution. Even so, they took Trump to task for his personal attacks against judges.
“The personal attacks on the distinguished district judge and our colleagues were out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse — particularly when they came from the parties,” one judge, joined by four others, wrote “Such personal attacks treat the court as though it were merely a political forum in which bargaining, compromise, and even intimidation are acceptable principles,” the judge added.
Why it’s not normal:
While the opinion didn’t mention Trump by name in its rebuke,Trump is the only “party” leveled such personal insults against Robart, as the Washington Post noted. Just as presidents usually don’t call judges’ decisions “ridiculous,” judges often don’t tell presidents to stop calling people names in their legal opinions.
A right-wing commentator said Trump called her to thank her for “fair coverage”
President Trump so enjoyed a television appearance by professional talking head Tomi Lahren that he called her that same night to thank her, she said in a new piece in Washingtonian Magazine.
Lahren, a right-wing commentator known best for hosting a controversial talk show on The Blaze, made a February appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity” that the president apparently watched live. Lahren, 24, said Trump called her later that night to compliment her appearance that night and “lauded her commentary on her show” in episodes leading up to the November election. In one episode, Lahren, who once compared the Black Lives Matter movement to the KKK, defended Trump after the Access Hollywood audio was leaked of him talking about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
After seeing her on “Hannity,” Trump “called and said, ‘Thank you for your fair coverage of me,’” Lahren told the magazine.
The president is said to watch an immense amount of television from inside the White House and often sends tweets that appear to reference segments featured on Fox News. “Hannity” is reportedly one of his favorite shows.
Why it’s not normal:
Trump has had an abnormal relationship with the media from day one. He often insults news organizations and calls outlets like CNN and the New York Times, which sometimes publish negative stories about him, names like “fake,” “failing,” and even the “enemy of the American people.”
Meanwhile, he praises conservative outlets like Fox News and the New York Post, often more than complimentary to him and his administration. By placing a personal thank-you call to a relatively unknown, controversial, right-wing commentator, however, Trump took his media bias to a new level.
Day 55 March 15
Trump overrules his NSA chief on minor staffing decision because Bannon and Kushner said so
President Trump overruled his widely respected national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, on a staffing decision, and instead sided with his 36-year-old son-in-law Jared Kushner and his close aide, former Breitbart publisher Steve Bannon, according to Politico.
The source of discord: the National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence programs, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the 30-year-old protege of former NSC chief Michael Flynn who drew the ire of career intelligence officials. On Friday, McMaster told Cohen-Watnick he’d be moving into another, presumably less influential, role in the NSC.
The precocious Cohen-Watnick wasn’t pleased with the news, and rather than accept his boss’s orders, he appealed to Bannon and Kushner, who lobbied the president on his behalf.
Trump tapped McMaster, whose incisive military criticism and success in helping turn around the Iraq War earned him bipartisan praise, to replace disgraced NSA chief Michael Flynn after he resigned in late February over misleading Vice President Pence and the American public about the nature of his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak. Flynn continues to haunt the Trump administration. Last week, he retroactively registered as a “foreign agent,” for the lobbying work he did on behalf of Turkey during the presidential campaign cycle.
Shortly after McMaster’s selection as NSA chief, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that McMaster would enjoy “full authority to structure the national security team as he wants.”
Why it’s not normal:
Questions have swirled about the independence of the NSC since late January when Trump controversially installed Bannon, who has no security experience beyond a short stint in the Navy, to a position traditionally reserved for generals.
The decision to overrule McMaster, who was brought in to stabilize the NSC after Flynn’s tumultuous tenure, once again raises questions about who wields power on the NSC: a decorated lieutenant general or a former junior Navy officer and digital media publisher?
Neither Kushner nor Bannon had any previous high-level political or national security experience before joining the Trump administration.
Who leaked Trump’s taxes and why?
Somehow, two pages of a seemingly normal year of President Trump’s tax returns found their way into investigative reporter David Cay Johnston’s mailbox. The return showed that Trump made a very normal rich-guy income of $150 million and he paid a very respectable rich-guy amount of tax, $38 million, or about 24 percent. In 2005. The White House confirmed the pages were legit.
There was no nearly billion-dollar loss, as he declared in 1995, according to Trump tax documents leaked to the New York Times in October. Indeed the only thing bizarre about them besides turning up in Johnston’s mailbox is how they were presented: in an overwrought — wait for it! — even Geraldo-like segment on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
So the question becomes, how did these tax forms — which serve the purposes of Trump in just about every way — find their way to Johnston? It’s hard to say. Johnston is the nation’s leading journalistic voice on tax policy, has written many books including “The Making of Donald Trump,” and won a Pulitzer Prize, so it would make sense he could obtain these returns.
But why leak it to him? That becomes the more interesting question than the taxes themselves. To his credit, that was the first aspect Johnston raised when he appeared on Maddow’s show, noting that Trump has a long history of leaking things that help him. “By the way, it’s entirely possible Donald sent this to me. Donald Trump has a long history of leaking material about himself of his when he thinks it’s in his interests.”
Here’s the whole clip. Skip to 3:15 if you want to miss Maddow’s preamble:
Day 54 March 14
The Kushner family’s proposed $4 billion deal with a Chinese company is an ethical minefield
A company owned by the family of Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, could earn as much as $500 million in a planned real estate deal with a Chinese company that has close connections to the Chinese government, according to Bloomberg.
The $4 billion transaction, which includes an investment in a Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Ave., would reportedly enter Kushner’s company, Kushner Cos. LLC, and China’s Anbang Insurance Group into a partnership. It would also reportedly allow Kushner Cos. to settle a loan now valued at $250 million for just $50 million.
Anbang’s previous U.S. investments, like its purchase of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, have raised national security concerns due to the chairman’s political ties in China; President Barack Obama broke with tradition in 2015 by avoiding a stay at the famous New York City hotel after Anbang’s purchase. While it’s unclear whether the current deal would prompt U.S. or Chinese review, experts who spoke to Bloomberg consider the terms unusually favorable to Kushner.
“At the very least, this raises serious questions about the appearance of a conflict that arises from the possibility that the Kushners are getting a sweetheart deal,” said Larry Noble, general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. “A classic way you influence people is by financially helping their family.”
According to Bloomberg, the deal:
- will see Kushner Cos receiving $400 million from Anbang and $100 million from other investors
- values the 41-story tower at $2.85 billion, the most ever for a single Manhattan building
- seeks participants through the controversial EB-5 visa program, which offers green cards to foreign entrepreneurs and their families who invest in U.S. commercial projects and create or save at least 10 U.S. jobs
- allows the Kushners to buy back into the retail portion of the building and maintain a 20 percent stake
- gives the company partnered with Donald Trump in his two most valuable properties — Vornado Realty Trust, whose chairman co-chairs the Trump administration’s infrastructure committee — an exit from the building with a payout
- does not disclose who’s financing the project
Kushner’s company wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the not-yet-finalized deal, but a spokesperson told Bloomberg that Kushner sought to avoid a conflict of interest by selling his stake in the building to family members. The White House also told Bloomberg that Kushner would recuse himself from any politicking related to the deal, including discussions of the EB-5 program.
Why it’s not normal:
Trump and his family already had unprecedented and problematic ties to business that could potentially cause conflicts of interest, and the proposed Anbang deal brings up a host of specific new issues, including:
- Potential financial benefits linked to a foreign power that go to Kushner’s company and family, either through investment in the building or loan forgiveness
- Potential financial benefits linked to a foreign power that go to Steven Roth, one of the people helping to steer Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan
- Kushner’s company being engaged in a deal that utilizes the EB-5 program when the White House will have a hand in Congress’ decision on whether to renew the program
Day 53 March 13
The Trump administration still needs to fill almost 2,000 roles
President Donald Trump’s transition is taking longer than his recent predecessors — and it’s not because of political opposition.
As of the end of February, the Trump administration had at least 1,987 vacant positions, most of which don’t require Senate approval, CNN reported. Yet the president also hasn’t nominated anyone for more than 500 roles that do require confirmation, according to the Center for Presidential Transition, as reported by the New York Times.
Those figures put Trump behind the last three presidents in securing positions that require Senate approval, according to CNN. Trump, however, already made that claim — 19 days into his presidency when it was too early to tell.
“There’s no question this is the slowest transition in decades,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official who spoke to the Times about the transition.
On Sunday, for example, Trump sent 36 nominations to the Senate, compared to Obama’s 70 nominations at the same time in 2009, the Times reported. And the Office of Government Ethics, which conducts financial reviews, has received only 63 disclosure reports for Trump nominees so far, compared to the 228 Obama’s team had submitted by the same date in 2009, also reported by the Times.
In many of the cases, the Trump administration hasn’t even started the screening process that nominees must undergo prior to their confirmation hearings in front of the Senate.
And Trump isn’t just slow in hiring people — he’s firing them too. Take the State Department: More than two dozen State officials were let go, according to The Atlantic, leaving agency staff in a state of anxiety without clear leadership.
For Trump, however, the vacancies may be part of his master plan.
“A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have,” he said in an interview with Fox News last month.
Yet the president has also complained about the delays in confirming his nominees. At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February, Trump said he didn’t like seeing “all those empty seats” in Cabinet meetings.
Maybe Obama didn’t use microwaves to spy on Trump Tower, Kellyanne Conway concedes
Less than 24 hours after Kellyanne Conway seemed to suggest that the Obama administration may have used “microwaves that turn into cameras” to spy on Donald Trump’s campaign headquarters, the Trump adviser has admitted she has zero evidence that this actually happened.
Day 49 March 9
House Oversight Committee gently suggests that Trump stop deleting his tweets
President Donald Trump sometimes makes mistakes when he tweets, deletes them, and then issues new cleaned-up versions. It’s a habit that some House Oversight Committee members want him to stop.
In a letter to the White House counsel, Republican House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Democrat Elijah Cummings finally agreed on something: that Trump, or members of his staff, may be violating the Presidential Records Act by deleting the president’s tweets.
“Many of the messages sent from [@POTUS and @realDonaldTrump] are likely to be presidential records and therefore must be preserved,” they warned in the letter.
Trump recently needed three tries to spell “hereby” correctly — not to mention that time he spelled “unprecedented” as “unpresidented.” On top of that, his tweets can be a bit rash. *Republicans in Congress nodding*
Why it’s not normal:
While former administration have been reminded about keeping records — like when President George W. Bush’s didn’t keep RNC email records — it’s not normal for the House Oversight Committee to publicly scold a president about his Twitter feed.
Here are some of the deleted tweets that ought to be preserved for history. Screenshots courtesy of ProPublica’s Politwoops:
Trump is “honered.”
Trump’s first try to spell “hereby.”
Trump did not replace this tweet praising ExxonMobil, for which his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson served as CEO.
Trump’s administration reportedly placed dozens of ex-lobbyists across the federal government
Donald Trump’s administration has quietly installed dozens of former lobbyists across the federal government, according to an ongoing investigation by ProPublica.
Of the 400 new hires listed so far, at least 36 are registered former lobbyists, although Propublica noted the number is “almost certainly an undercount,” since many lobbyists now avoid registering.
These lobbyists worked for industries ranging from health insurance to construction to energy, and many are now employed by the same agencies whose regulations they once lobbied. For instance, the Department of Defense hired Justin Mikolay, a former “evangelist” for Palantir, a tech company that manufactures software used by government counter-terrorism experts, according to ProPublica. (Yes, that was Mikolay’s real job title.)
Why it’s not normal:
During his campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged to “drain the swamp” and said he would “have no problem” banning lobbyists from joining his administration. Clearly, he’s not sticking to that promise.
And while it’s not unusual for the executive branch to employ former lobbyists, Trump issued an executive order that also weakened Obama-era rules that banned people who were registered as lobbyists the previous year from joining the administration, according to Politico. Now, lobbyists are free to take government gigs as long as they wait two years to work on anything they specifically lobbied about — although it’s unclear if that applies to the new hires.
Day 48 March 8
Trump’s 38 new Chinese trademarks could violate the Constitution
China is on its way to approving more than three dozen trademark applications — for businesses ranging from hotels to escort services — that Donald Trump applied for in April 2016, before he won the U.S. election, the Associated Press reported. The speedy process has left ethics experts questioning whether China gave special treatment to Trump, potentially violating the U.S. Constitution.
Over the past few weeks, the country’s trademark office granted preliminary approval for 38 applications — all but three in the president’s own name. Pending no objections, formal registration will proceed after 90 days.
During the last leg of Trump’s campaign in November, a Chinese court also granted the Trump Organization a trademark for the construction industry. The decision, which the president had been seeking for more than a decade, came at a curious time: shortly after Trump announced his commitment, for the first time, to the “One China Policy,” prompting immediate concerns about ethics and conflicts of interest, as The Atlantic pointed out.
Why it’s not normal:
The unusually speedy approval has raised red flags among ethics experts who worry that any sort of preferential treatment President Trump might be receiving in his trademark application process would put him at odds with the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, according to AP. The regulation prohibits government employees from financial gain at the hands of foreign countries.
China apparently has a law on the books that prohibits trademarks with “ill effects related to politics,” including ones “the same as or similar to the name of leaders of national, regional, or international political organizations,” as ThinkProgress reported.
No other president has become as much of a global brand as Trump — especially in China. Retailers there have been selling Trump skincare, condoms, paint, and more for years already. To ensure his company profits from the brand name, Trump has filed at least 126 trademark applications over the 10 past years in the country, about a third in the last year, according to the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, as reported by the Washington Post. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped Trump from painting China as the villain of trade and the middle class in his campaign speeches and tweets.
Day 47 March 7
Trump tweeted some nonsense about Gitmo after watching “Fox & Friends”
On Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted at “Fox & Friends” and incorrectly accused the Obama administration of releasing 122 Guantanamo Bay prisoners, as sure a sign as any that facts and irrefutable evidence are but a construct when there’s a larger point to be made.
“122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!” the president tweeted at 4:04 a.m.
He is incorrect.
Of the 693 prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay, the director of national intelligence, in consultation with the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, did indeed conclude that 122 prisoners re-engaged in fighting. But 113 of them were released under the Bush administration — about 21 percent of the total prisoners released during his presidency. The other nine were released under Obama, leaving him with about a 5.5 percent recidivism rate under his administration.
Trump’s mistake, it appears, was watching “Fox & Friends,” which had broadcast the 122 number this morning but didn’t specify when they were released.
A few minutes later, the president pivoted to address what “Fox & Friends” broadcast next.
“I haven’t found anyone up here on the Hill that knows of additional phases of the rollout,” tweeted Politico reporter Jake Sherman in response.
But then again, as Kellyanne Conway pointed out this weekend in the wake of the president’s explosive “wire tapp” tweets: “He’s the president of the United States. He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not, and that’s the way it should be for presidents.”
How can you argue with that?
Day 45 March 5
There’s zero evidence Obama tapped Trump’s phones — but Trump is calling for an investigation anyway
One day after claiming, without evidence, that his predecessor Barack Obama tapped phones at Trump Tower during the election, President Trump called for congressional intelligence committees to investigate.
In a statement released Sunday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer called for congressional investigative committees to look into whether an Obama-led, “politically motivated investigation” took place. “President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016,” Spicer said in the statement. He also took to Twitter:
Representatives of the Obama administration have denied the allegations of wiretapping. “A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement Saturday. “As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”
The president can’t order a wiretap for political purposes, as Trump is claiming. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) approves taps on communications from abroad. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who served under Obama for six years, said Sunday morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that, if there had been a FISA order to investigate Trump during the election, he would have known about it — and there wasn’t one.
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a Republican, issued a statement on Twitter Saturday, calling for the president to clarify his claims and for a transparent investigation into the allegations:
Day 44 March 4
Trump tweets, without evidence, that Obama tapped his phones
Donald Trump took to Twitter Saturday to unleash an evidence-free rant accusing former President Barack Obama of tapping his phones and engaging in a “Nixon/Watergate”–style plot against him.
To be clear: There’s zero evidence that this occurred, and any wiretap would not be approved by the president. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) approves taps on communications from abroad, for example. The Washington Post, however, suggests that Trump may have been referring to a story on the conservative website Breitbart, in which conservative radio host Mark Levin accuses the Obama administration of “police state” tactics. Axios also noted the possible connection to the Breitbart story.
The Washington Post’s Robert Costa tweeted this morning that “Several Trump advisers woke up this morning surprised by the president’s tweets. They weren’t told of his plans, a 2nd official says.”
Here are Trump’s tweets from Saturday morning:
Day 43 March 3
Trump, Pelosi, and Schumer are having a Twitter argument over who’s a sleeper agent for Russia
No matter who wins, we lose.
(Except maybe Trump loses because it took him three tries to spell “hereby” correctly.)
Here are the Trump associates who have been linked to Russia
Since pulling off a surprise win in November’s election, Donald Trump has been dogged by persistent reports linking his campaign surrogates and staff to Russia. But what’s more unusual are the attempts by Trump’s campaign and administration to hide the links, even as the U.S. intel community says Moscow actively meddled in the U.S. election to Trump’s benefit.
Day 42 March 2
5 members of Trump’s Cabinet stand accused of misleading Congress
Reports about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ contact with Russia during Donald Trump’s campaign make him the fifth member of the president’s Cabinet to stand accused of misleading Congress.
When asked if he had any contact with Russia, before or after the election, in a questionnaire completed before his congressional confirmation hearing on Jan. 10, Sessions answered “no.” He later repeated the claim during his confirmation hearing.
“I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions said. Unnamed Justice Department officials, however, told the Washington Post otherwise. Read more about the alleged contact here.
Sessions isn’t the only Cabinet member to face these allegations. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency; Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin; and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Tom Price may have all stretched the truth during their confirmation hearings.
Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, testified before Congress on Jan. 10: “I never lobbied against the sanctions. To my knowledge, Exxon Mobil never lobbied against the sanctions.”
Surprised lawmakers produced evidence to the contrary, however, including lobbying forms — although it’s unclear whether they are specifically targeting the sanctions.
During his confirmation hearing on Jan. 18, Pruitt denied using a private email while serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general. But a review of his email obtained by the Associated Press revealed Pruitt sent someone on his staff a message in 2014 using an Apple account.
During his confirmation hearing on Jan. 19, Mnuchin denied the use of “robo-signing” — when an employee signs foreclosure documents without reviewing them — by OneWest Bank, where Mnuchin formerly served as chairman and chief executive officer.
OneWest Bank, however, is known for its aggressive foreclosure practices. Court records show that at one point during the financial crisis, one employee of the bank signed a foreclosure document every three minutes.
Price stated during his congressional testimony on Jan. 18 and Jan. 24 that the discounted shares of Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd. he bought “were available to every single individual that was an investor at the time.”
Company officials, however, contradicted Price’s assurance and told the Wall Street Journal that the Health and Human Services secretary was one of only six U.S. investors given the friends-and-family discount at the time.
Why it’s not normal:
While politicians and government officials have lied to Congress before, nearly a third — five of the 17 confirmed members — of the presidential Cabinet currently stand accused of doing so.
The State Department is a ghost town
Five weeks into the Trump administration, State Department employees are just trying to find ways to fill their days, because there’s nothing to do, more than a dozen staffers told The Atlantic. They reported coming in late, taking endless coffee breaks, and heading home early. One employee even compared going to work to “coming to the hospital to take care of a terminally ill family member …. You know there’s no point. But you do it out of love.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson doesn’t seem to have a clear foreign policy agenda, while the White House is reluctant to fill vacant posts or delegate duties. No deputy secretary of state has been nominated, several undersecretary slots remain vacant, and at least a dozen people have been let go.
Though the State Department used to hold daily press briefings, it hasn’t held any since the inauguration — which has also left officials abroad confused about what policies they should pursue.
Why it’s not normal:
The state of the current State Department is a stunning change from how it’s been under previous administrations. It wasn’t just that President Obama kept the State Department busy — none of the staffers who spoke to The Atlantic are political appointees, meaning they’re career civil servants who have served under multiple administrations.
One State Department employee told The Atlantic she hasn’t seen the place so quiet since she started, more than a decade ago.
It’s not how the State Department of the richest nation on the planet should operate, another State Department official told The Atlantic. It seems like the Trump administration wants “to blow this place up,” the official added.
Day 41 March 1
Trump’s speech may have been tame, but it wasn’t normal
In his first address to Congress Tuesday night, Donald Trump was the president Republicans wanted: a calm, collected one focused on policy, not feuds. But just because Trump’s speech was tame doesn’t mean it followed typical protocol.
We’ve broken out several moments where the president departed from the norm.
Trump uses three words past presidents have avoided: “radical Islamic terrorism”
Trump defended some of his most controversial actions, such as the travel and immigration ban, as “strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism.”
The phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” has become politically divisive in recent years. And his speech Tuesday night wasn’t the first time Trump dropped it. On the campaign trail, he said that “anyone who cannot condemn the hatred, oppression, and violence of radical Islam lacks the moral clarity to serve as our president.”
Why it’s not normal:
In the 15 years since 9/11 and the start of America’s so-called “War on Terror,” presidents have taken great pains to not associate the religion of Islam and its billion-plus believers with terrorism. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama avoided the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” in fear of characterizing Islam as a violent religion and ignored criticism for the decision. Trump, however, has repeatedly flouted that bipartisan norm.
Critics on the right, such as Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon — now Trump’s chief strategist — felt leaders were being willfully ignorant of the threat posed by the Muslim world and that American values were inherently at odds with much of Islam. Such voices found a receptive ear last year in Trump.
But Trump’s new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, reportedly suggested that the president not use the term in his speech to Congress, advice that was ultimately ignored.
Trump relies on problematic data to say that most terrorists are foreign
Trump touched one of his well-worn subjects Tuesday night: immigrants committing crimes against U.S. citizens. The statistics he used to back up his claim, however, don’t tell the whole story.
The president said: “According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”
Trump was likely citing a 2016 report from then-senator Jeff Sessions, now Trump’s attorney general, who analyzed a Department of Justice list of 580 terrorism and terrorism-related convictions, 380 of which were foreign-born individuals. While the claim helps justify Trump’s immigration ban, which was blocked by federal courts, it obscures some details.
Why it’s not normal:
The Sessions report is misleading and leaves out some important context. It combines terrorism convictions with people “implicated” in a terrorist investigation, the latter being a much broader category. Only 40 percent of those 580 convictions were for planning acts of terrorism on U.S. soil and 42 percent were not even for terrorist acts. As Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute explains in a post, many of these convictions began with a terrorism tip but ended in a mundane conviction for something completely unrelated to terrorism — like receiving stolen cereal.
Other studies show an even different picture than the one Trump stated. The majority of terrorism-related charges since 9/11 have been by American citizens or legal residents, according to a study by the New America Foundation. According to that study, 84 percent of terrorism convictions since 9/11 were by U.S.-born citizens or permanent residents and 16 percent were by non-citizens or those with unknown nationality. In total, 192 U.S.-born citizens have been charged with, or died while carrying out, jihadi terrorism since 2001. This is compared to only eight undocumented immigrants, and 16 refugees who have similarly been charged.
What’s more, none of the foreign-born people from the seven countries on Trump’s travel ban list — Syria, Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and Yemen — have killed anybody in a domestic terrorist attack.
Trump expands the traditional definition of “unemployment”
Trump used his speech before Congress as another opportunity to give his vision of how badly the economy is doing under Obama’s legacy. The problem: He inflated the normal definition of “unemployment” to do it.
“Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labor force,” Trump said Tuesday night.
Why it’s not normal:
While it’s true that 94 million Americans age 16 or older aren’t employed, that’s not the number economists use to measure the health of the economy or the labor force.
When presidents talk about jobs and the economy, they’re usually referring to the unemployment rate, measured by the percent of people over 16 who would like to work but can’t find jobs.
For his speech to Congress, Trump cited the number of Americans who cannot or do not want to be working, including high school and college students, people with disabilities, stay-at-home parents, and millions of retirees.
The actual number of unemployed people people is closer to 7.6 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
On the campaign trail, Trump showed he understood what unemployment meant — he just doesn’t agree with how the government measures it. He said:
“The unemployment number, as you know, is totally fiction. If you look for a job for six months and then you give up, they consider you give up. You just give up. You go home. You say, ‘Darling, I can’t get a job.’ They consider you statistically employed. It’s not the way.”
Habibah Abass, Olivia Becker, Gabrielle Bluestone, Morgan Conley, Alex Lubben, Noah Kulwin, Carter Sherman, Christina Sterbenz, and Alex Thompson contributed to these reports.