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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 274 Oct. 20
Trump nominees that haven’t been Senate-confirmed are working anyway
President Trump has complained the Senate’s taking too long to confirm his nominees for federal agency posts. So it seems, for some of them at least, he’s found a solution: Let them work without going through the standard congressional approval process.
Four nominees at three government agencies were found to be essentially doing the work they would be doing in the post they’re nominated for — but they haven’t been approved by the Senate yet, according to Politico.
While Trump’s complained that Senate Democrats have been slow to approve his nominees, Democrats have said Trump’s been slow to nominate.
But Trump’s flouting of the Senate approval process could be a violation of an obscure 1998 law called the Vacancies Act, passed after President Bill Clinton tried to put a Justice Department official in a post doing work very similar to a post that required Senate approval, after the Senate had already rejected him for that post.
The nominees in question are:
- Susan Bodine, nominated for the head of enforcement position at the Environmental Protection Agency but not yet approved, who’s been acting as an adviser to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. (Bodine was a partner at a law firm that represents polluters before her appointment to work at the EPA.)
- Michael Dourson, nominated in July to be the head of the EPA’s chemical pollution office, is also currently advising Pruitt on chemical safety. (Dourson, for the last several decades, has advised some of the chemical companies he will be tasked with regulating as part of his role at the EPA.)
- Trump appointed Mary Waters in July to serve as the assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs at the State Department. She’s been doing the job she’s hasn’t yet gotten Senate approval for for months already, according to multiple anonymous sources that spoke to Politico. (Waters served in President George W. Bush’s Department of Agriculture.)
- Russell Vought is Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. He hasn’t been approved yet, but he’s already a senior adviser to OMB chief Mick Mulvaney. A White House official even told Politico that Vought is acting as the de facto deputy director of the agency. (Vought took heat from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during a confirmation hearing in June for writing an op-ed claiming that Muslims “do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”)
— Alex Lubben
Trump wrongly links rise in U.K. crime to “radical Islamic” terrorism
In an apparent attempt to justify his travel ban, Donald Trump linked a rise in the U.K. crime rate to the spread of “radical Islamic terror.” But the increase has little to do with terrorism.
In an early-morning tweet on Friday, Trump said: “Just out report: “United Kingdom crime rises 13% annually amid spread of Radical Islamic terror.” Not good, we must keep America safe!”
Trump was apparently referencing a report published by the U.K. Office for National Statistics on Thursday, which does show a 13 percent rise in crime in the U.K. for the year through the end of June. The text, however, mentions the words “terror” or “terrorist” just five times and never “Islamic terrorism.” Instead, knife and sex crimes have mainly caused the increased rate.
The main reference to terrorism in the report said that the terror attacks in Manchester and London this past year accounted for 35 of the 664 total murders. But that’s a decrease of 2 percent compared to the previous year.
A significant increase of 59 percent did occur in the number of attempted murder offenses, which the report largely attributed to terror-related cases. But attempted murders are a minute portion of the total number of crimes in the 13 percent increase.
— David Gilbert
Day 273 Oct. 19
Trump basically accuses the FBI of treason in “Fake Dossier” tweet
If we’re to take President Trump at his word — and why wouldn’t we? — some combination of the FBI, Russia, and “the r” came together late last year to fund the infamous dossier that had him paying two women to urinate on a bed once slept in by President Obama, among other things.
“Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?” the president tweeted to America early Thursday.
He’s referring, of course, to the dossier produced by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele — which is largely unproven, though some portions have since been verified — accusing him of various collusions with Russia and, of course, the pee tape.
The document, released about a week before Inauguration Day, was produced by Steele on behalf of a firm called Fusion GPS, which has so far refused to disclose who paid for the information. On Wednesday, Fusion officials invoked their Fifth Amendment rights before the House Intelligence Committee, apparently sparking Trump’s ire.
As the Washington Post points out, the FBI did hire Steele after the document was created to help with their investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia — but that’s not what the president seems to be saying.
Nor did he provide any subsequent evidence to support what amounts to an allegation of treason against the U.S. government. Instead, the president appears to have turned his attention to a “Fox and Friends” segment about Hillary Clinton.
— Gabrielle Bluestone
9 senators want Congress to keep 7-11 hours to pass Trump’s agenda
There have been 209 working days so far in 2017. But not in the U.S. Senate.
The “world’s greatest deliberative body” — as senators often refer to their employer — has been in session for only 147 of those 209 days (or just 70 percent). The congressional workweek usually goes from Monday evening to Thursday afternoon, with legislators returning to their districts and states for the weekend.
Some Republicans are trying to change that. With their legislative agenda moving just inches at a time and President Donald Trump’s nominees being confirmed at a snail’s pace, nine Republican senators sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Wednesday requesting the Senate be kept in session “full time, 24/7, to advance the president’s agenda” and attacking Democrats for “sustained, partisan obstruction.”
Republicans in Congress are increasingly under pressure from big donors and grassroots conservatives alike for not passing a signature legislative accomplishment despite controlling the White House and both houses of Congress. That pressure has been gradually converging on the Senate as the White House and Republicans in the House have been more than willing to throw their senatorial colleagues under the bus to deflect blame.
“We look at the Senate and go, ‘What the hell is going on?’” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told Politico last week. You ask me if the Republican-controlled Senate is an impediment to the administration’s agenda. All I can tell you is so far, the answer’s yes.”
Some Republican and Democrats argue that being able to return to their states and districts regularly allows them to better stay in touch with their constituents. Even so, McConnell told Republican senators on Tuesday that he intends to keep the Senate in session on more Fridays and weekends for the foreseeable future, according to Politico, but several senators didn’t think that was sufficient and urged a more rigorous schedule.
“We need to break this logjam,” said Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi on the floor of the Senate Wednesday. Wicker, one of the nine senators who sent the letter, was joined by Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Luther Strange of Alabama, David Perdue of Georgia, Steve Daines of Montana, and John Kennedy of Louisiana.
Six of those senators signed a letter this past June asking McConnell to cancel or shorten the August recess in the hopes of speeding up legislative efforts on taxes, health care, the budget, and the debt ceiling. McConnell did shorten it slightly as he tried to pass a repeal and replace of Obamacare, but the Senate still was on recess from August 4 through Sept. 5.
Diplomats really don’t want Trump in range of North Korean soldiers
Officials in Washington and Seoul are desperate to stop Donald Trump from visiting the DMZ next month — they’re afraid he might start a war.
White House staff have already scouted locations inside the demilitarized zone on the North Korean border, according to the Yonhap news agency, with Trump scheduled to visit the Peninsula as part of his 12-day, five-country tour of Asia next month.
Possible visit sites include Panmunjom and Observation Post Ouellette, both on the South Korean side of the DMZ.
However, the State Department and the South Korean government are worried that a visit to the sensitive border would further inflame already heightened tensions on the Peninsula, the Washington Post reported.
Trump’s personal safety is also a concern — especially if he visits Panmunjom, where armed North Korean soldiers stand feet away.
Asked about the possibility of visiting the world’s most militarized border, Trump said this week: “I didn’t hear in terms of provoking, but we will certainly take a look at that.”
— David Gilbert
Day 272 Oct. 18
Trump promised military family $25,000, but didn’t mail it until reporters called
President Donald Trump prides himself on delivering on his deals. Except, apparently, when he makes them with the families of fallen service members.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Trump had promised the father of one fallen service member that he’d send him $25,000, but failed to follow through. It wasn’t until hours after the Post first asked the White House about the incident that spokesperson Lindsay Walters said that the “check has been sent.”
When the Daily Beast asked Walters when, exactly, that check had been sent, Walters replied only, “I told you that the check has been sent.” CNN later confirmed that the check was sent Wednesday, the same day the Post broke the story.
The controversy only adds to Trump’s self-inflicted PR disaster, which started when he erroneously claimed that his predecessors in the Oval Office didn’t call the families of fallen service members. (They did.)
Earlier Wednesday, Trump faced backlash after Democratic congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida said the president told Myeshia Johnson, the widow of U.S. Army Sergeant La David Johnson, that her husband “knew what he was signing up for.”
Trump also claimed that he’d called the families of every slain service member, but Euvince Brooks told the Post that he hasn’t heard from the president since his son was killed in Iraq. Brooks said he now wants to join Twitter, just so he can call Trump a “damn liar.”
Clearly, Trump missed the memo that this week is — by White House proclamation — ”National Character Counts Week.”
After saying he’d send the father a check, Trump also claimed that “no other president has ever done something like this.” But, actually, other presidents have done just that: According to a book by Post reporter Eli Saslow, Americans who wrote letters to President Barack Obama sometimes received a personal check from the president in the mail.
— Carter Sherman
Trump didn’t know dead soldier’s name on call with widow, lawmaker says
Donald Trump didn’t know the name of a fallen U.S. soldier when he called the grieving widow to offer condolences, Democratic congresswoman Frederica Wilson claimed Wednesday.
Trump was criticized by Wilson Tuesday for reportedly telling Myeshia Johnson, the widow of U.S. Army Sergeant La David Johnson, he “knew what he signed up for.”
Trump refuted that account Wednesday, tweeting she “totally fabricated” what he said, and he had proof.
Johnson was one of four U.S. special operations soldiers killed in Niger earlier this month.
“You shouldn’t say that to a grieving widow,” Rep. Frederica Wilson told Miami television station WPLG Tuesday.
“Everyone knows when you go to war you could possibly not come back alive, but you don’t remind a grieving widow of that. That is so insensitive,” she said.
Wilson said the call came as she was in a car with Johnson en route to Miami airport, where the soldier’s remains were to be returned to his family.
Wilson later tweeted: “Sgt. La David Johnson is a hero. @realDonaldTrump does not possess the character, empathy or grace to be president of the United States.”
Asked about Trump’s comments Tuesday, the White House said his “conversations with the families of American heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice are private.”
— Tim Hume
Day 271 Oct. 17
President Donald Trump stuck to the teleprompters and dryly recited statistics from his tax reform plan for most of his Tuesday address to the influential conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. But when he reached a line about Christmas, Trump couldn’t stop himself from playing the hits, and launched into a “war on Christmas” bromide — two weeks before Halloween.
“Let’s give our country the best Christmas present of all: massive tax relief,” Trump said. “And speaking of Christmas — yes, you want to hear it?”
The crowd cheered.
“I just, I’m talking about Christmas presents. I’ll give you a bigger Christmas present: you’re going to be saying ‘merry Christmas’ again,” Trump continued, more than 60 days out from the holiday.. “You go to the stores and they have the red walls and they have the snow and they even have the sleigh, the whole thing. They don’t have ‘merry Christmas.’ They don’t have ‘merry Christmas.’ I want them to say ‘merry Christmas’ everybody, happy new year, happy holidays, but i want, ‘merry Christmas.”
Then, Trump enthusiastically added, “We’re going to say it again. It’s happening already. You know it. You know it’s happening again.”
The so-called “war on Christmas” has long been a favorite talking point of conservatives on outlets such as Fox News, who seem to believe the words “happy holidays” constitute an attack on Christmas. This belief predates Trump — for example, in 2013, former Fox News host Megyn Kelly suddenly declared during a broadcast that both Jesus and Santa were definitely white.
Christmas wasn’t the only cultural controversy Trump touched on during his brief speech: he couldn’t resist riffing on some of his favorite recent controversies, namely; tearing down historical statues, and kneeling for the national anthem.
Not only should children be taught to “honor our anthem,” Trump said, but Americans should also “preserve our history, not tear it down.”
“Now they’re even trying to destroy statues of Christopher Columbus, what’s next?” he lamented. “Has to be stopped. It’s heritage.”
— Carter Sherman
Trump defends himself by bringing up John Kelly’s dead son
After sparking an outcry Monday when he said his predecessors hadn’t properly honored families of fallen soldiers, President Trump on Tuesday doubled down and defended his own actions vs. President Obama’s — even bringing his chief of staff’s dead son into it.
“To the best of my knowledge, I think I’ve called every family of somebody that’s died,” Trump told Fox News in a radio interview Tuesday. “As far as other representatives, I don’t know. I mean you could ask Gen. Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
A “senior White House official” told Axios Tuesday that Kelly, whose son died fighting in the Marines in Afghanistan in 2010, did not receive a call from Obama. At the time, Kelly was a Marine Corps lieutenant general. The official did not comment on whether Obama sent any other form of condolence.
According to White House visitor logs, Kelly attended a breakfast Obama hosted for Gold Star families in 2011 and sat at Michelle Obama’s table.
Trump provoked an immediate backlash Monday after suggesting other presidents didn’t call or write to families to comfort them after military deaths, prompted by a reporter asking if he’d called the families of the four soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger Oct.4.
“The toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens — soldiers are killed,” Trump told a crowd at the White House Monday. “So the traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”
The claim about other presidents, as many pointed out, was blatantly, demonstrably false. And apparently Trump was able to pen letters to the families of the soldiers killed in Niger, and he’ll call them Tuesday, according to the White House.
Day 270 Oct. 16
Trump really wants Mueller to end his Russia probe
The “American public is sick” of the special counsel’s probe into collusion between Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government, Trump said Monday, adding that Robert Mueller should finish his investigation now.
“They ought to get to the end of it, because I think the American public is sick of it,” Trump mused during an offbeat, impromptu press conference in the White House Rose Garden.
Trump said Mueller’s investigation had found “absolutely no collusion,” and, like “the American public,” he’d “like to see it end.”
According to Trump, Russian collusion is a fantasy made up by his opponents smarting from an unexpected election defeat. “The whole Russia thing was just an excuse for the Democrats losing the election and it turns out to be just one excuse,” he said, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
However, when asked if Mueller should be fired, Trump, in a rare moment of discernment, said “no.”
Trump says Obama didn’t call fallen soldiers’ families. (He did.)
When a reporter asked President Donald Trump why, after 12 days, he hadn’t called the families of four U.S. soldiers who were killed in Niger, Trump offered a novel — and demonstrably false — excuse: Other presidents haven’t done it.
“The toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens — soldiers are killed,” Trump said. “So the traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”
That’s not true: Past presidents, including the one Trump singled out, did make those calls. Many of President Barack Obama’s top aides immediately hopped on Twitter to point that out.
There’s also photographic evidence that disproves Trump’s claim. Obama photographer Pete Souza — who just can’t stop trolling Trump on social media — posted a photo of Obama meeting the family of a fallen Army sergeant at the White House to Instagram.
“I also photographed him meeting with hundreds of wounded soldiers, and family members of those killed in action,” Souza added on Instagram.
Trump didn’t seem too committed to his broadside on the 44th president, however. When a reporter pressed him on his claim, Trump said he was just repeating what other people had told him.
“And a lot of presidents don’t, they write letters,” Trump went on. “I do a combination of both. Sometimes, it’s a very difficult thing to do, but I do a combination of both. President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn’t, I don’t know, that’s what I was told.”
— Carter Sherman
Trump campaign ordered to hand over sexual assault documents
With sexual assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein roiling Hollywood, a newly reported court filing in New York is pointing the spotlight at another outsized entertainment personality: Donald Trump.
A lawsuit on behalf of Summer Zervos, a former “The Apprentice” contestant who last year accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in 2007, subpoenaed Trump’s campaign for all documents relating to her assault accusation, as well as those of any other women who’ve made similar accusations, including nine the subpoena names specifically, BuzzFeed News reported.
It was just before the election last fall that Zervos first accused Trump of kissing, groping, and humping her when she met him at his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel to talk about a job with the Trump Organization. The subpoena was delivered to the Trump campaign in March, but its contents weren’t reported until Sunday.
The White House and Trump’s lawyer did not respond to request for comment for BuzzFeed’s story, but Trump denied any and all sexual assault allegations against him last October, following Zervos’ and at least 10 other women’s accusations.
The subpoena is the latest round of legal jujitsu between the Trump campaign and Zervos, who’s represented by high-profile attorney Gloria Allred.
Zervos previously sued Trump for defamation after he denied her allegations, and Trump campaign attorneys have sought to delay or dismiss the subpoena, arguing it is overly broad, politically motivated, and without standing against a sitting president.
— Josh Marcus
Kushner’s biggest real estate deal is reportedly falling apart
Jared Kushner’s billion-dollar plans for 666 Fifth Ave. — to make it the crown jewel of his family’s New York area real estate empire — are quickly falling apart, New York real estate brokers told Bloomberg.
The Kushner Companies’ partner in the deal, the real estate giant Vornado, is reportedly telling brokers to prepare for a much more “mundane” offering than the ultra-luxury overhaul that Kushner has been shopping around since his firm bought the building in 2007.
Finding financing for the money-losing building has gotten harder since Kushner joined the White House. The Chinese insurance giant Anbang, for example, backed out as a potential partner in March amid public outcry in the U.S. and Chinese government scrutiny.
If the 666 Fifth Ave. deal goes south, whopping interest on the loan payments that Kushner took out to pay for the building in 2007 could imperil the whole family-owned company. Kushner Co. agreed to pay $1.8 billion for 666 Fifth Ave. in 2006, at the height of the pre-recession real estate bubble. Kushner Co. must pay its mortgage — worth more than a billion dollars — in full in February 2019, and the firm has reportedly not yet paid “a cent” of that mortgage.
A spokesperson for Kushner Companies denied the thrust of the Bloomberg story in a statement to VICE News.
“All options are still being assessed, and no decision has been made about which option to pursue,” the statement said. “Any implication that an agreed-upon path has been reached or that there is contemplation of an outcome that would be to the sole benefit of one party over the other would simply be wrong.”
— Noah Kulwin
How the White House controls Trump: flatter and delay
White House officials often employ two tried-and-true tactics when trying to work with President Donald Trump: flattery and delay.
Delay decisions that could be disruptive and flatter the ego of the commander in chief in order to gain favor. That’s the current state of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which Republican Sen. Bob Corker recently called “an adult day care center” on Twitter.
National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster is in the delay camp, according to a new story by the Washington Post. “He plays rope-a-dope with him,” a senior administration official told the newspaper. “He thinks Trump is going to forget, but he doesn’t. H.R.’s strategy is to say, ‘Let us study that, boss.’ He tries to deflect.”
He’s not the first to take such a tack. Sam Nunberg, who used to work for Trump before being fired in 2015, told the Post that when Trump wanted to make a potentially “problematic” decision, he would “ask him if we could possibly wait on it and then reconsider.” He said sometimes the decision remained the same and sometimes it didn’t.
Other top administration officials, however, take the tack of lavishing the president with praise. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin often does this while on television, praising the president’s more controversial moves in response to Charlottesville and the NFL players kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police violence.
The president also received a daily folder of positive news and headlines about himself, as VICE News first reported in August.
Tillerson will talk to North Korea “until the first bomb drops”
Despite Donald Trump dismissing diplomacy with North Korea as a “waste of time,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday he would continue talking to the regime “until the first bomb drops.”
“As I have commented to others, our diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops,” he said.
Tillerson added that Trump “supports our diplomatic efforts,” despite his Oct. 1 tweet to the contrary: “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”
Tillerson’s comments were echoed by Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who told ABC’s “This Week” the U.S. is “not going to beg them to come to the negotiating table.”
“We need them to stop nuclear testing, and we need that to stop right away,” she said.
On “Fox News Sunday” national security adviser H.R. McMaster offered a more hardline approach: Trump is “not going to permit this regime and Kim Jong Un to threaten the United States with a nuclear weapon.”