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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 329 Dec. 15
Jared Kushner is looking for someone to manage his crises
Jared Kushner’s legal team is in the market for a crisis management public relations firm.
When the Washington Post, which first reported the story, contacted Kushner for comment, his team offered a somewhat circular reasoning.
“This inquiry from you about whether I am doing this is a good example of why we need one,” Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s attorney told the Post, adding that he was looking for a firm to handle inquiries for all of his high-profile clients.
Lowell has quietly gotten in touch with at least two firms in the last two weeks, the Post reports, though one, Mercury Public Affairs, reportedly turned down Kushner’s bid. No official reason was reported, but its cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation after lobbying on behalf of Paul Manafort in the Ukraine probably played a role.
— Alex Lubben
Trump called Putin to talk about how great Trump is
Friendship knows no bounds, it seems. Take U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who have reportedly snuck a few more chats this year than anyone might have expected, given the downright awkward aspects of their relationship. Thursday marked the fifth occasion this year that the two leaders have spoken or met, according to Putin’s own count.
According to the White House official readout, the two leaders both agreed that America’s booming stock market means Trump is doing a totally badass job as president.
The call followed on Putin’s annual four-hour-long marathon press conference Thursday, in which he offered a full-throated endorsement of MAGAnomics.
“Look at the markets, which have grown,” Putin said. “This is evidence of investors’ trust in the U.S. economy. This means they trust what President Trump is doing in this area. With all due respect to President Trump’s opposition in the United States, these are objective factors.”
Trump, of course, couldn’t agree more. He frequently talks up the stock market as if it were indisputable proof of presidential greatness. On Oct. 21, Trump tweeted: “Stock Market hits another all time high on Friday. 5.3 trillion dollars up since Election. Fake News doesn’t spent much time on this!”
Trump, for his part, doesn’t spend much time on the fact that U.S. stock values nearly tripled under his predecessor, Barack Obama.
“You know that all this was invented by the people who stand in opposition to Mr Trump.”
Either way, Trump liked the compliment so much, he rang up the Kremlin Friday to thank “Putin for acknowledging America’s economic performance.” (The two presidents also discussed working together to resolve the crisis surrounding North Korea’s nuclear program.)
Putin, of course, might genuinely believe that a booming American stock market equals #MAGA. Or the former KGB lieutenant colonel might have sized up his American counterpart, and decided that repeating Trump’s own self-compliments back to him would be the easiest way to curry favor with the leader of Russia’s former Cold War rival.
Putin went on to endorse Trump’s view that the probe into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is no more than “spy hysteria” fabricated by Trump’s political enemies.
“You know that all this was invented by the people who stand in opposition to Mr Trump,” Putin said. “This means that they do not respect the people who voted for him.”
That, too, is a view Trump couldn’t more strongly endorse.
— Greg Walters
Trump is thinking about pardoning Mike Flynn
Donald Trump has responded to the question “Will you pardon Mike Flynn?” in the most Donald Trump way possible.
“I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We’ll see what happens,” Trump said Friday. “Let’s see, I can say this: When you look at what’s gone on with the FBI and the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.”
Flynn, who was Trump’s national security adviser and a prominent campaign surrogate, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with a Russian ambassador. He is facing up to five years in prison. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of the Trump campaign’s ties to the Kremlin has also laid charges Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager.
We already know Trump isn’t afraid to pardon someone, even if that person is an incredibly controversial figure who allegedly bragged about detaining undocumented immigrants at a concentration camp. Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona after he was found guilty of criminal contempt.
— Rex Santus
Watch a Trump judicial nominee show stunning ignorance of the law
Matthew Spencer Petersen has never taken a deposition, never argued a motion in state or federal court, and can’t answer basic questions about U.S. law.
He is one of Donald Trump’s picks for a lifetime judgeship on a U.S. District Court.
A video posted to Twitter by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse Thursday showed Petersen fumbling questions put to him by Republican Sen. John Kennedy during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week.
The nominee, currently a member of the Federal Election Commission, was forced to admit his lack of experience for a role on the bench in the District of Columbia, while demurring on definitions of rudimentary legal terms.
When Kennedy asked him about a “motion in limine,” Petersen choked. “My background is not in litigation,” he said, adding: “I would probably not be able to give you a good definition right here at the table.”
Asked about the Younger abstention doctrine, the befuddled nominee said: “I’ve heard of it.”
Petersen isn’t the first Trump judicial pick to struggle. A District court nominee for Alabama recently withdrew following criticism for a similar lack of experience, while a pick for the Texas federal bench was bumped over remarks about transgender children.
— Paul Vale
Day 328 Dec. 14
Report: Trump has never held a Cabinet meeting on Russian interference
Trump has never gathered his Cabinet together to discuss Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the topic remains largely off limits in the White House, where his aides rearrange his daily intelligence briefing in order to downplay Russian intelligence that could make him angry the Washington Post reported Thursday. And subordinates have reportedly stopped going into the Oval Office to talk about Russia in an effort to avoid involving Trump entirely.
These details, scattered throughout the sprawling Post expose, which was comprised of interviews with more than 50 current and former U.S. officials, reveal just how ardently the president refuses to acknowledge that Russia interfered in the 2016 election — in spite of dedicated efforts by U.S. officials and spy agencies to convince him otherwise.
Trump has made no secret of his support for Russia and President Vladimir Putin and his adamant opposition to the notion that the country helped him win the presidency. But this opposition runs so deep, the Post reports, that it’s effectively stopped the administration from dealing with Russia at all.
Trump has alienated pretty much everybody who takes a hard line on Russia, according to the report. Fiona Hill, for example, is supposed to be his top advisor on Russia. But he reportedly once mistook her for a clerk, gave her a memo to fix, and — when Hill had the audacity to look confused — got angry at her. Their relationship never recovered, the paper reports.
And people reportedly can’t even mention the concept of Russian interference in Trump’s presence, for fear of offending the president.
Trump’s admiration for authoritarians like Putin has also poisoned his foreign relationships. And he apparently doesn’t take democratically elected leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel all that seriously: When national security advisor H.R. McMaster attempted to prepare Trump for Merkel’s visit to the White House, Trump reportedly suddenly stood up and walked into the bathroom.
According to the Post, Trump left the bathroom door open and told McMaster to just talk louder.
Aides said Trump just wanted to double-check his appearance before a public event.
Russia, meanwhile, is pretty much thrilled with Trump. Though they haven’t secured many of their policy objectives, the entire effort to swing the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton is estimated to have cost the county just $500,000. Putin, according to one U.S. official, thinks the whole plot was “more than worth the effort.”
— Carter Sherman
Pence bumps Israel trip to make sure Trump gets his tax bill
Mike Pence has delayed his trip to Israel as Congress prepares to pass a tax bill that might need the vice president’s tie-breaking vote should Republicans fail to corral their slim Senate majority, Axios reported Thursday.
At least two Republican senators reportedly remain undecided on the highly unpopular legislation, which the president is nevertheless pushing apparently to get a legislative win this year.
The move also comes amid fiery international criticism for President Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Pence was originally scheduled to leave for the Middle East on Saturday but will now remain in Washington until Tuesday to be present for the crucial Senate vote.
The VP will now arrive on Wednesday and hold a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday before visiting the Israeli Parliament.
Pence was scheduled to meet with Mahmoud Abbas on the trip, but thePalestinian president cancelled in protest of the White House’s policy shift on Jerusalem.
The U.S. had “crossed all the red lines with the Jerusalem decision,” Abbas said Saturday.
Speaking at an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul Wednesday, Abbas blasted Trump’s “crime” of giving away Jerusalem as if it were an American city, while Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the move a “red line” for Muslims.
Putin takes time out of his day to defend Trump
Russian collusion was simply “invented” by Donald Trump’s enemies, Vladimir Putin said Thursday during his annual end-of-year press conference in Moscow.
The Russian leader said the claims had “inflicted damage to the domestic political situation” in the U.S. and showed a lack of respect toward the man in the White House and for the voters who put him there, according to the Associated Press.
The accusations are “invented by people who are in opposition to Trump in order to make his work look illegitimate,” Putin said, adding that his counterpart had made some “serious achievements” during his first year.
He also said contacts between the Kremlin and Trump’s team had been routine, and should not be turned into “some sort of spy-mania.”
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded Moscow attempted to interfere in the election by way of a disinformation campaign to tip the result toward Trump.
But Putin has categorically denied the allegations, benefitting from Trump’s wishy-washy stance on the issue. At present the U.S. president remains opaque on whether he believes Russia actually interfered — at one point he suggested the meddling could have been carried out by a “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
Putin wasn’t entirely friendly toward the U.S. president, however, criticizing his administration for forcing the state-backed RT channel to register as a foreign agent.
Still, the Russian leader said relations between Moscow and Washington would hopefully improve in the future as “there are many things we can do more effectively” around the globe.
Intelligence sources inside Russia claim the government in Moscow regards the campaign to influence the election as “a resounding, if incomplete, success,” the Washington Post reported Thursday.
— Paul Vale
Day 327 Dec. 13
Apparently, the United States still isn’t ready for a ghost-hunting federal judge!
On Wednesday, Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley said that Brett Talley, one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees and an amateur paranormal enthusiast, is no longer under consideration for a lifetime appointment as a U.S. District Court judge in Alabama.
But what ultimately knocked Talley out of consideration? His two-year membership in the Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group? His background as a horror novelist? (Probably not, since he was evidently a pretty good writer with “awesomestastic gooeyness oozing from every page,” according to a reviewer quoted by the Washington Post.
More likely were the facts that Talley has never tried a case, and evidently forgot to mention to the Senate that his wife is the chief of staff to the White House counsel. Or it could have been that he reportedly posted an online comment defending what he called “the first KKK,” or that the American Bar Association declared Talley was “not qualified” to be a federal judge.
At least Talley has company in his disappointment. Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Texas lawyer Jeff Mateer was also out of the running for an appointment to the bench in the East District of Texas, after failing to be forthcoming to the committee.
Specifically, Mateer declined to reveal that he once called transgender children proof of “Satan’s plan” and admitted that he discriminates against LGBTQ people, according to audio obtained by VICE News.
“Guess what? I attend a conservative Baptist church. We discriminate, alright. On the basis of sexual orientation, we discriminate,” Mateer said in the 2015 speech to the National Religious Liberties Conference. “Does that mean I can’t be a judge? In some states, I think that’s true, unfortunately.”
On that, it turns out, he ruled correctly.
Trump’s blame game begins: I always thought Roy Moore would lose!
Donald Trump’s gracious demeanor over Republican Roy Moore’s shock defeat in Alabama lasted exactly eight hours.
Having tweeted his congratulations to Democrat Doug Jones for a “hard fought” win in Tuesday night’s special election, a Wednesday morning post suggested the president was right all along about Moore, who he said during the primaries would “not be able to win” the Senate seat.
Trump’s move to minimize the unexpected defeat came despite the president backing two out of three candidates that managed to hand the traditionally Republican state to a Democrat for the first time in decades.
Trump originally backed Republican candidate Luther Strange in the primaries, against appeals from former White House strategist Steve Bannon to endorse the more populist Moore. Strange lost.
Then, despite a flood of sexual misconduct charges, including a claim of child molestation, Trump threw his support behind Moore, who barely campaigned for most of the last two weeks before the election.
Trump had argued that despite the allegations, Republicans should vote for Moore as the Democrat would be weak on crime, the military, and borders.
Moore’s defeat, allied to a Democratic gubernatorial win last month in Virginia, is likely to raise Republican concerns about Trump’s coattails in state elections, and whether the populist insurgency that carried him to the White House may finally be running out of steam.
Muslim leaders unload on Trump at emergency meeting over Jerusalem
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Israel as a “terror state” and called Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as its capital a “red line” for Muslims in a fiery speech in Istanbul Wednesday.
Speaking at an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Erdogan called on “all countries supporting international law to recognize Jerusalem as the occupied capital of Palestine” and said Trump’s decision was Israel’s reward for “violence and murder.”
The meeting, attended by 57 leaders from across the Muslim world, was called specifically to consolidate a unified Muslim position to the sudden change in U.S. policy.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also spoke, blasting Trump’s “greatest crime” of giving away Jerusalem as if it were an American city, and claiming Washington had removed itself from the peace process.
“It will be unacceptable for it [the U.S.] to have a role in the political process any longer since it is biased in favor of Israel,” he scorched.
The change in Jerusalem’s status last week sparked regional protests and was met with international condemnation outside Israel. The White House said it will soon start the process of relocating the U.S. embassy to the holy city, a break with years of U.S. Middle Eastern policy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he expected European countries would likely follow Trump’s move and relocate their embassies to Jerusalem.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini dismissed Netanyahu’s optimism, however. “He can keep his expectations for others because, from the European Union member states’ side, this move will not come,” she said.
— Paul Vale
Day 326 Dec. 12
Pruitt under investigation for buying a $25K soundproof booth that may just be a shipping container
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s under investigation for spending $25,000 in taxpayer dollars on a soundproof booth that’s reportedly just a big, windowless shipping container.
In early October, Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to the office of the inspector general, urging an inquiry into the money Pruitt spent on the booth. On Tuesday, the inspector general’s office made it public that they’d be looking into the matter.
Pruitt’s administration has been unprecedented in its secrecy. He’s asked staff to turn over their cell phones before meetings and instituted a comprehensive anti-leak policy at the agency. He’s also the only EPA administrator to have 24-hour security detail.
Another purchase of Pruitt’s also caught the eye of the EPA’s office of the inspector general back in October: $58,000 worth of flights he’s taken on the federal dime. He’s under investigation for that, too.
— Alex Lubben
Day 326 Dec. 12
Putin monitors Trump’s tweets like they’re official White House statements
They may answer to the same boss, but the White House and President Trump’s thumbs aren’t always in sync.
On multiple occasions, officials have had to downplay the president’s Twitter habit in court in a bid to protect his administration’s policies.Their argument: Trump’s tweets aren’t official White House policy, and thus shouldn’t be treated as such in court.
The issue even spawned its own Twitter bot.
For Russia, however, the issue is a lot less complicated: Vladimir Putin closely monitors Trump’s tweets and considers them official White House statements, a Kremlin spokesperson told Bloomberg on Tuesday.
Putin receives an official report on Trump’s daily tweets, as the Russian president, perhaps wisely, does not use the platform.
Here are some of those notable official White House statements.
And here’s his latest statement on the Russia probe:
And in case you forgot, the president retweeted the leader of a far-right British hate group in late November, setting off a bitter back and forth with UK Prime Minister Theresa May and pretty much the entire UK government.
— Josh Marcus
France expertly trolls Trump by funding U.S. climate scientists
French President Emmanuel Macron benched the White House Monday by awarding 13 U.S. climate scientists millions of euros in grants and a chance to continue their research in France for the remainder of Donald Trump’s term.
The “Make Our Planet Great Again” grants, first announced in June, are designed specifically to help offset the damage caused by the climate-change denying administration in Washington, which announced its withdrawal from the landmark 2015 Paris accord earlier this year.
More than 5,000 scientists from around the world applied for the funding; of the eighteen winners, the majority hailed from the United States. Macron has set aside €30 million ($35 million) for the grants, with a similar amount coming from French universities.
France will “be there” to replace American funding for climate science projects, Macron told the winners at an event in Paris.
“France and Europe will be the place where we will decide how to make our planet great again,” he added.
World leaders are scheduled to gather in the French capital Tuesday for the One Planet Summit, held on the second anniversary of the signing of the Paris accord, which pledged to keep global temperatures below a 2 degrees celsius increase this century.
Fifty global leaders are expected to attend, as well as representatives from the World Bank and the United Nations.
— Paul Vale
Day 325 Dec. 11
Trump administration promises witnesses to discredit all of Trump’s accusers
Hours after three women came forward Monday to again accuse President Donald Trump of unwanted kissing, groping, and showing up in a Miss Teen USA dressing room, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump has eyewitnesses who can disprove their allegations.
“The president said himself he thinks it’s a good thing that women are coming forward,” Sanders told reporters in the Monday press briefing, “but he also feels strongly that a mere allegation shouldn’t determine the course. And in this case, the president has denied any of these allegations.”
She added, “Several reports have shown those eyewitnesses also back up the president’s claim in this process and again the American people knew this and voted for the president.”
It’s unclear, though, what “reports” or incidents Sanders is referring to, since more than 16 women have said that Trump sexually assaulted them or acted in a sexual inappropriate manner around them.
One British man told the New York Post last year that Jessica Leeds — who said Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt on an airplane — was “wrong, wrong, wrong.” The man, who said he was on that flight, offered his “good photographic memory” as proof. But the man also said that Leeds was wearing a white suit at the time, and Leeds says she’s never owned a white suit.
Leeds, Rachel Crooks, and Samantha Holvey all shared their stories during the 2016 election, but said Monday that they were speaking out again in the wake of #MeToo and the wave of sexual harassment allegations that have taken down dozens of powerful men in the last two months. Crooks and Holvey say they want Congress to investigate Trump, just as they’d planned to investigate Sen. Al Franken before he decided to resign.
“The investigation by Congress is probably the only thing we can ask for,” Crooks said.
During the White House briefing, Sanders largely refused to answer reporters’ questions about the women’s accusations and any personal discomfort she may feel about defending Trump (who in turn has endorsed Republican and alleged pedophile Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race).
“I’m not here to speak about my personal experience,” she said, when asked whether she’d been sexually harassed, though she added she had empathy for those who had been. “The president has first-hand knowledge on what he did and didn’t do, he can speak directly to those [allegations] and he has and he’s addressed them and I don’t have anything further to add.”
— Carter Sherman
Day 321 Dec. 7
Former Fox News anchor accuses Trump of trying to kiss her in an elevator
A former Fox News anchor has accused President Donald Trump of trying to kiss her without permission during a meeting at Trump Tower in 2005 — an incident that occurred not long after Trump married his third wife, Melania, in a lavish ceremony at Mar-a-Lago.
Juliet Huddy, now a guest host for a radio show on WABC, made the allegations on “Mornin!!! with Bill Schulz,” where she described how Trump took her to lunch and tried to kiss her on the lips in the elevator after..
“He took me for lunch at Trump Tower, just us two,” Huddy said. “He said goodbye to me in an elevator while his security guy was there, and rather than kiss me on the cheek he leaned in to kiss me on the lips. I wasn’t offended, I was kind of like, ‘Oh my god’.”
Huddy said Trump referenced his attempt in a later TV appearance, saying “I hit on her but she blew me off.”
Huddy, who settled with Fox News in January over separate sexual harassment claims against Bill O’Reilly, said she didn’t realize at the time how inappropriate the president’s behavior was.
“Now I have matured I think I would say, ‘Woah, no’, but at the time I was younger and I was a little shocked. I thought maybe he didn’t mean to do it, but I was kind of making excuses. The elevator incident and the lunch was 2005 or 2006.”
At least 19 women have now accused Trump of sexual misconduct, with allegations ranging from groping and forced kissing to lewd comments. Trump and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders have both denied the allegations, calling all of the women liars.
Trump has not yet addressed Ms. Huddy’s credibility, but it presents a certain logical conundrum for the president, who has repeatedly touted Fox News as the only “real news” network. We’ll update if and when he decides how to respond.
Trump adviser dismissed as “coffee boy” sucks at making coffee, fiancée says
The Trump administration may be painting George Papadopoulos, the first campaign adviser to plead guilty to lying to the FBI, as a mere “coffee boy.” But according to his fiancée, the 28-year-old played a much bigger role than the Trump camp are making out.
Simona Mangiante told ABC News that Papadopolous had “set up meetings with leaders all over the world” for top campaign officials and was “constantly in touch with high-level officials,” including former advisers Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn.
All that work was also approved by the campaign, according to Mangiante. “He never took any initiative, as far as I know, [that was] unauthorized,” she said, adding that she had been instructed by lawyers not to share with reporters emails that could back up her story.
The Trump administration, however, has described Papadopolous as a “young, low-level volunteer” and a “liar,” while campaign adviser Michael Caputo has dismissed him as a “coffee boy.”
“I would love George to learn how to make a coffee, because it’s absolutely out of his skills,” Mangiante told ABC.
Papadopoulos, a former campaign foreign policy adviser to Trump, pleaded guilty in October lying to the FBI about his repeated attempts to set up meetings between Trump and Vladimir Putin during the campaign.
Mangiante said her fiancé was “very loyal to his country,” as he would demonstrate by cooperating with the FBI as “the first domino in the Russia investigation.”
— Tim Hume
Day 321 Dec. 6
Trump Jr. reportedly cites attorney-client privilege over call about Russia meeting
Donald Trump Jr. reportedly told the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday that his phone call with his father about his Trump Tower meeting with Russians linked to the Kremlin was protected by attorney-client privilege. Trump Jr. asserted the privilege because there were also lawyers on the call, the New York Times reports.
Trump Jr. also said he spoke to Hope Hicks, and not directly to his father, about crafting the misleading statement he released when the story was first breaking, according to CNN.
It was reported at the time that Trump Jr. had communicated directly with the president over the phone while Trump, along with Hicks and other members of his team, were flying back from the G-20 conference on Air Force One. What Trump knew, when, and what role he played in the statement are still largely unclear.
Though Trump Jr. met with House investigators about Russia for more than eight hours Wednesday, House Democrats say there’s a lot that he claimed not to remember.
Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, a Democrat on the committee, tweeted there were many “unanswered questions” after Trump Jr.’s testimony.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California also said that while Trump Jr. acknowledged talking with his father, his assertion that the call was privileged wasn’t convincing.
“In my view there is no attorney-client privilege that protects a discussion between father and son,” Schiff said.
Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas had a different take, telling reporters, “”From my perspective, all of our questions were answered.”
— Alexa Liautaud